No one day is the same. You’ll hear that a lot if you speak to London Fire Brigade staff. It’s something that draws us to the job we do. Well, no year has been quite like 2020 and as I end my first 12 months as London Fire Commissioner I can categorically say it has been a whirlwind. But I couldn’t be prouder.
Adapting to meet every challenge
The dedication, professionalism and courage shown by all of our staff has been immense. We have a history of stepping up when being called upon to do so and we have adapted to meet every challenge thrown our way with humility and a willingness to serve that has been the hallmark of London Fire Brigade for over 150 years.
More than 450 Brigade staff stepped forward to drive ambulances for the London Ambulance Service. We also saw nearly 100 members of staff volunteer to recover the bodies of Londoners who sadly died from Covid-19 in their homes.
An incredibly difficult job with risks but carried out respectfully and with dignity. The formal agreements between London’s emergency services that allowed all this to happen show what we can do together when the chips are down and the strength of the capital’s blue light partnership.
And it didn’t stop there. We stepped up with our logistical skills to help deliver over 20 million items of Personal Protective Equipment to those in the community who needed it. Firefighters also made over 40,000 face shields for hospital staff and across London, fire crews delivered food and medicine to vulnerable residents.
Away from the frontline, staff were equally quick to rise to the challenges of 2020 and take on extra responsibilities. Community safety staff called hundreds of vulnerable residents who had taken part in fire, safe and well visits to check and see if they were ok during the lockdown. During one of these calls, the resident became unresponsive. Community Safety Health Team member Cindy Roberts called for an ambulance and got the lady the medical attention she needed.
Pandemic hasn’t prevented progress on improvements
The pandemic arrived at a time when the Brigade is undergoing some important and significant changes, but it hasn’t prevented us from making progress on the improvements we need to make. I am committed to implementing all of the recommendations made by Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
This year I was able to meet with some of the Grenfell community group and I was humbled by their unwavering commitment to find the truth and seek justice for the terrible losses they have suffered. This Christmas, sadly too many families are still living in buildings with flammable cladding and those residents won’t feel safe until the urgent remedial works that are required are carried out. We will continue to strive for better fire safety in buildings in 2021.
It is now also a year since we were reviewed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services. We have listened to their findings and we will forge ahead in 2021 to carry on building an even better Brigade. This year will bring both opportunities and challenges, with the formation of our new four-year plan and the completion of ambitious changes in how we deliver our service, set within significant budgetary challenges facing many public sector organisations.
Working hard to change attitudes
We continue to work hard to encourage people to see the fire service as a career for everyone. In March, we helped launch the book ‘My Mummy is a Firefighter’. This would not have been possible had it not been for the dedication of Principal Fire Engineer Lynsey Seal, who has worked hard to change attitudes towards women in the fire service. A book like this is long overdue but we still have a long way to go so more people feel like they are truly accepted and valued in the fire service.
We are not at the end of this pandemic but hopefully, there are brighter days ahead. My kids will undoubtedly interrupt more of my virtual meetings this year but 2020 has made me think about what is important in life and of those who are less fortunate.
So as we move into a new year, let’s put kindness and understanding at the forefront of our minds in everything that we do and I’m sure our resilient city will thrive once again.
For more information, go to www.london-fire.gov.uk