Fire Officer halves fires across inpatient units

Richard is currently Lead Fire Officer for Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Before joining us, Richard was a Fire Fighter for 32 years. It’s this extensive experience that has given him the passion and determination to help prevent fires. He now works in a team of 3 who, from April 2013 - March 2014, trained over 2000 new and existing staff in fire safety.

He said: “I joke that people say to me ‘Gosh, that guy needs to get out more!’ because they think I may be a little extreme in the lengths people should go to in order to prevent fires and to make sure they know how to get out of a building should the unthinkable happen. But the reality is that I have seen first-hand the horror that a fire can bring and the speed which smoke can overcome someone and I do not want anyone else in the Trust to have to experience that. It is my job to make sure that everyone knows what to do and to do everything I can to reach that target of 0 fires.”

Richard has been at the Trust for 6 years now and is proud of his achievements in that time. Most recently, he has introduced cigarette stub containers to all of our inpatient units; this has halved the amount of fires that occur at these sites. He has also changed the training so that instead of being generic, it is tailored to staff's role. He explained: “We were teaching people that were office-based procedures for ward-based staff. Now we have different levels of training and you do what is relevant for your role. I want to roll out more staff training to try and reduce the amount of false alarms that call the fire brigade out, like when someone burns toast. The fact of the matter is that if the fire brigade are on their way to what turns out to be a false alarm they cannot possibly go to a real fire and it really does put lives at risk. It is a small change but it really has made a big difference.”

Richard has also introduced fire wardens to the Trust. He explains: “It is ultimately up to the managers to make sure that fire risk assessments are up to date and correct but fire wardens are volunteers who help ensure that standards and procedures are met and can flag up concerns to the fire leads regarding fire hazards and protocol. They also carry out fire alarm tests, sweep the buildings during fire drills and take a register. One of my next projects is to try and ensure that every Trust site has two fire wardens.”

Richard is supported by two other part time Fire Officers, Martyn Sutcliffe and John Smith, both of whom are former Fire Fighters in Lancashire. He said: “I have a great team and we work closely with estates, with the information governance team, the legal and investigations team and with the communications team. Because Cumbria is such a massive place having Martyn and John in the team means that we can go out and meet Trust staff face to face and regularly, something that I feel is very important and that I was unable to do effectively when I was on my own.”

Richard is fire lead for the mental health teams in the Trust and he explained how this has its own unique difficulties: “Being prepared for a fire if you work in a mental health ward is a little more difficult because even having a fire alarm test can cause understandable distress in patients. However, everyone needs to know what one sounds like. We have to simulate a lot without causing undue distress to the patients, but this does not mean that mental health wards do not have fire drills - they do.”

Richard and his team are always thinking of how the Trust can do things better and he is always working towards that target of 0 fires. His next project is to introduce easy read sheets for every premise in the Trust so that should an incident happen, the emergency services have the information they need at their fingertips.