Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service is the UK’s largest non-metropolitan fire service. Its headquarters – located in Clyst St George, close to the city of Exeter – are set amongst green pastoral fields with an abundance of space. Like many other fire and rescue services in the world, Devon and Somerset FRS is facing severe budget cuts following the economic downturn. However, a recent change in policy by the UK Government has meant that fire authorities are now able to start providing some of their services on a commercial basis. The FRS evaluated the expertise it already had in house, and concluded that it could generate income from some of its service expertise in order to replace some of the grant that would be lost. Chris Thain was brought in from the private sector as the Commercial Business Development Manager for the newly set up trading arm of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service – Red One Ltd.
Chris explained that the UK Government has been very specific on how this commercial work should be provided. ‘We looked at every available trading option including setting up a community interest company (CIC). In the end, we chose to establish a limited company, primarily because our advisors informed us it would be the best option in our particular case. However, as it turned out, there is not really very much difference between the two types of trading entity. A CIC has certain caveats within its constitution about what can be done with any income and profit earned. Red One’s aim is to redirect any income and profit straight back into Devon and Somerset FRS. We are simply trying to ensure that our level of service remains of the highest possible quality.’
Red One strives to look at as many ways as possible to bring additional income into the fire service. At the moment the company offers an array of services to private and public sector companies alike, such as contracted support services for industrial fire and safety projects worldwide, including:
• on-site stand-by rescue cover
• working at height
• confined space
• stand-by water rescue
• on-site industrial response
• maritime fire training
• access and rescue training
• advanced safety driving
• fire behaviour and BA training
• positive pressure ventilation
• leadership and incident command.
In addition, the DSFRS Training Academy delivers BTEC and City and Guilds-accredited courses to both commercial clients and other fire and rescue services, from its highly specialised training locations at the Clyst St George Headquarters, and Camels Head Fire Station in Plymouth. The service is currently also investing in newly-built world class training simulators and facilities at Exeter Airport.
The Training Academy consists of the following schools:
• Fire Fighter School
• Access and Rescue School
• Maritime School
• Fire Behaviour School
• Fire Safety School
• Driving School
• Aviation School
• Leadership School.
Chris indicated that the Access and Rescue training school is situated at the headquarters’ premises and contains highly advanced equipment in its training facility. ‘Having this on our site makes us a very attractive supplier to come and talk to. We have invested in our own training equipment as well, such as the new confined space training simulator, which we have here in Clyst St George’. In addition, our maritime school at Camels Head Fire Station in Plymouth has a purpose-built ships rig structure where seafarers are trained according to the IMO STCW95 (Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping) requirements. We also provide the necessary security training there in the light of the increasing piracy threat,’ he explained.
On January 1 2017, the IMO’s STCW95 Manila Amendments become mandatory, and from July 2013, anyone sailing under a new STCW95 certificate has to be trained and certified in fire fighting. This consists of an initial course to obtain the STCW95 certificate, which then has to be renewed on a mandatory basis every five years. Chris adds that STCW training did not need to be refreshed prior to the Manila Amendments. ‘You could have taken your training in 1971, and still have a valid certificate, although obviously firefighting technology has completely changed over that time. The new amendments dictate that seafarers now have to show that they have been keeping their training up to date.’
Another example of the services that Red One provides is training for high-risk industries. Earlier this year the company sent instructors to an oil facility in Abu Dhabi to train local personnel on the firefighting equipment that had been installed. Chris highlighted this as another means to earn income that is then reinvested in the service. ‘Our overarching rule is that we won’t do anything commercially that would ever negatively impact our main duty, and that is to keep the inhabitants of Devon and Somerset safe.'
Health and Safety at Work Act
All UK employers should be aware of the fact that by law if a construction project is being carried out near or over water or at height, there should always be a stand-by rescue provision at the scene. In addition, if an incident should occur without a stand-by rescue provision, the employer may have to carry the costs of calling the emergency services out, which is altogether more expensive.
Chris explained that Red One Ltd can provide the specialist stand-by water rescue team for the commercial sector, but in addition it can also deliver services for rescue at height, confined space and other scenarios where specialised technical rescue teams are required. ‘Of course Red One can also train employees of these high-risk companies so that they can form their own on-site stand-by rescue team. So this is just another way of us generating income for our fire service. The future really lies in us working much more closely with industry and the commercial sector.
‘Much of our business tends to be regional, and high-risk companies have a wish to work closely with their local fire service, because they feel it is better to work within their local community. For instance, we have a very good working relationship with the large energy providers, since we have a nuclear power station in our region. It is a symbiotic relationship; they feel it is right and proper to work within their local community, which in turn can help to mitigate any risk arising from the nature of their business,’ Chris said.
The fact that the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has a very open minded fire authority that enables its service to venture out into the commercial world does not mean that controls are not also in place. Chris explained that there is a very strict reporting and governance system within Red One Ltd. ‘We have to justify our costs and activity to the authority. If we can show that there is a positive business case for an activity, they will allow us to pursue it. However, we always have to answer to the members of the authority and, ultimately, the public. We are also trying to provide our own staff with wider opportunities to enhance their own incomes beyond their normal duties, so if we can help them earn more money for themselves and their families, while at the same time helping support their own fire service, it is a great thing. And if this also helps to further enhance safety for our customers, it is even better,’ he concluded.