As I am sure you know, there has been considerable debate within Norfolk, and in other areas of the County, as to whether the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service should remain independent, responsible to you via the County Council, or whether it should be subsumed wholesale into the Norfolk Police, under the authority of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).
We have listened to all that the PCC has had to say and in expressing the views expressed below I am not yet voicing the official opinion of the current administration. There is every reason for us to be proud of the high level of professionalism in our Norfolk Fire Service. On the other hand I have seen nothing that makes me believe the Fire Service will be more efficient, better resourced, have an improved esprit de corps or be a more locally focussed institution if we agree that it becomes an arm of the Norfolk Constabulary.
I think it worthwhile quoting from NCC’s Community Safety Strategy 2018/20:
“To work together effectively to save life, reduce harm and make Norfolk a safer place for everyone”
In order to do this, we set out five overarching priorities:-
1. Reduce the volume, impact and harm from all emergency incidents
2. Help those most at risk through early intervention
3. Work in partnership to deliver inclusive educational and development engagement with young adults and children
4. Work with our communities and other regulators to inspect and protect our businesses and buildings
5. Work collaboratively to strengthen our local partnerships
Translating these back to local priorities, I see the key points as follows:
1. Keep all 42 Norfolk fire stations open. The Conservatives were committed to this at the last local election and there is no reason to change now. I see no merit in ‘downsizing’ Heacham to a couple of land rovers and an ATV: how would they have helped us control the widespread field fires at Ringstead and elsewhere this summer? How would fewer, centrally located fire engines have protected life and property via early intervention?
2. This includes Improving visibility locally to promote both interaction and engagement, through community events, projects and station open days; this helps us to recruit more locally based Community Volunteers (we badly need volunteers here in Hunstanton, by the way: contact me if you are interested).
3. Fire protection measures are key components in offering a greater level of safety to both buildings and people, particularly in some of our higher risk buildings, such as ‘sleeping risks’ (Care Homes, Hospitals, Houses of multiple occupants). This assessment is best known about, if not carried out by local officers aware of the buildings that they live amongst.
4. Risk based assessments of our local businesses are best taken by people working and living locally
5. One area which has long worried those of us with responsibility for our communities has been the opaque lines of reporting and responsibility in the event of a major breach of a sea wall and resultant flood. However, I can confidently predict that when you are struggling up to your armpits in sewerage it will not be any of those bright sparks in high-viz jackets that jump in front of the camera to take any credit: it will be your Fire Service: they are the only people remotely trained to do it.
We are proud of the services that we provide to Norfolk communities via services like this and while we work hard to make the best use of our resources, we do not take this responsibility lightly. We feel a local presence is a vital resource and, like the departure from our streets of PCSO’s their loss in rural areas is as much community based as operationally based.