WILTSHIRE Fire and Rescue Service chief fire officer Simon Routh-Jones has been answering your questions today.
Here's what he had to say as he took to the hotseat.
How important do you think it is the government changes the law so all landlords have to fit smoke detectors and not just in newer properties?
Certainly smoke detectors are fundamental to saving lives and the more there are fitted the safer the community is. My wish is the government goes further and makes it a legal requirement for automatic sprinkler systems to be fitted in new build residential premises. At the moment a significant number of deaths or injuries caused by fire occur before the fire service has even been called so a sprinkler will hold the fire in its original place so we can deal with the situation. There has been a significant government and local campaign in the initial of domestic smoke detectors. Within our community we are fitting a considerable number of smoke detectors which has made people aware of a fire early on so they can make their escape.
When will Wiltshire and Dorset Fire authorities merge?
At this stage there is no definite merger and we are considering a wide range of options with regards to how the service can go forward but ensuring we can maintain provision for the safety of the community. The Combined Fire Authority Members were given a paper in December for us to get permission to consider a number of possible options. The intention is we will take a paper back to them in September for them to decide on what to do next. If we merge with Dorset, which is only one thing we are looking at, we will need a change in legislation from the fire minister at the start of 2015 for us to combine the two fire authorities. We are looking at how we can work much closer with Swindon and Wiltshire and how we can drive the savings and service delivery across both authorities. We are working with Swindon Council and partners in the One Swindon Agenda and it is important we continue to do that.
What will be the big difference we will see if the fire services do merge?
There should be very little difference seen at the delivery of services if anything does happen. The expectation is that the combination will be at the strategic level of the organisation making us far more resilient and more integrated. The savings will come through bringing together a lot of services. For example there would only need to be one fire chief.
What do you think of the government cuts to the fire budget?
I recognise the whole country is in a financially difficult situation and the public sector, like everyone, needs to address the austerity measures put in place which the fire service needs to play a part in. There is no doubt it has caused us considerable difficulty but it also allowed us the opportunity to deliver a different service to meet the changing needs of the public and society in general. Further cuts however will give us considerable pressures to front line service delivery and what we are trying to ensure through seeking combination with Dorset and greater collaboration with councils is to meet those challenges but continue to deliver a first class service.
With a predicted 50 per cent fall in funding to the service between 2010 and 2017, what are the absolute minimum numbers of front line staff required to keep operations stable in Swindon, and what numbers will be active in the town following the planned merger with Dorset?
The proposal of the merger is to find the short fall in the budget and the savings required year on year but at the same time deliver a resilient, effective and efficient service. The service has been on a journey of transformation since the original government spending review in 2010. Projects looking at staffing levels will still need to be undertaken in anticipation of any merger being considered. However, if a merger goes ahead it will be anticipated a similar level of delivery will continue in the Swindon area.
Are any fire stations in Swindon under immediate threat of closure?
There are no stations under immediate threat from closure in Swindon but this is dependent on how the service is moved forward. There are financial savings which are required which are being considered through the possible merger and working with the two local authorities we will seek to avoid this.
As an emergency service, should fire fighters be allowed to strike?
My personal view is it is everyone’s right to take industrial action although I do not agree with strike action in the type of service where delivery to the public is dependent on life and death. All differences of opinion in employment should decided through negotiation. It is my belief that the fire service is a critical life saving service and strike action should not be taken which puts the general public or fire fighters who are working at risk.
Although Swindon wasn’t affected by floods as some other areas, how big a role does the fire service play in flood prevention?
The role of the fire service has changed over the years and instances such as flooding are becoming an increasing issue of concern across the whole country. My belief is the fire service should be at the forefront of dealing with similar natural disasters at the initial response stage. Working with our partners to assist but not to lead in the recovery of such incidents. I believe the fire service is an emergency service and should deal with all emergencies as the public require.
What is the most common call-out Wiltshire Fire and Rescue receive?
Our calls have changed over the years. Primarily the fire service was set up for response to fire incidents only. This has now changed considerably so we deal with a wide range of incidents, such as car collisions. More recently we have seen a considerable increase in call-outs for things such as flooding. Over the years we have been very successful in driving down automatic fire alarm calls which have taken the fire service away from its original aim.
Should the Safe Drive Stay Alive talk be made compulsory for all teenagers before they learn to drive?
The Safe Drive Stay Alive presentation is very powerful and it is always amazing to see the effect it has. In my opinion the programme has been highly successful and has given a far greater understanding to teenagers of the dangers when driving. We are working not only with teenagers but also within other parts of the community such as the army and motoring organisations. Since the introduction of the course we have seen a huge reduction in the number of casualties in the 16-19 age range on the road. I would like to see it as a compulsory part of the curriculum for PSHE in schools. We are working with driving instructors to see whether there is something we can do to incorporate it into the process of learning to drive.
When a victim dies during a rescue operation conduction, how do you and your fire fighters deal with it in the aftermath?
The fire service is fairly unique in that we work very closely as a team and when such tragedies occur fire fighters are able to talk through the circumstances which helps them come to terms with whatever has happened. In addition there is a fire service chaplain, a counselling service and our occupational health service where fire fighters who feel the need for further assistance can go for help.