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Transforming challenges into new opportunities

COVID-19: A cautious look ahead as restrictions continue to ease

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service

With COVID-19 lockdown restrictions currently easing, and a cautious and gradual return to a more familiar way of life underway, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service remains alert to the need to be ready to adapt to sudden and unprecedented challenges.

Since the virus reached the UK nearly 15 months ago, the organisation has taken on many extra responsibilities to support the work of the Government and partner agencies, and a greater role in the communities of Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, while remaining committed to its core responsibilities to the public and its staff.

Working with local authorities, healthcare providers and emergency services under the umbrella of the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum Strategic Coordinating Group, we have helped develop and deliver a combined response to people’s needs, including:

  • Helping set up and provide logistical co-ordination at a number of vaccination centres.
  • Supporting the deployment of surge testing.
  • Driving ambulances for South Central Ambulance Service.
  • Delivering essential supplies to vulnerable and shielding members of the community.
  • Providing PPE training sessions for care home staff.
  • Helping set up an isolated repatriation centre for 150 British citizens returning from China.
  • Providing targeted safety advice to businesses, schools and vulnerable people.
  • Ensuring our fire stations and offices are Covid-secure.
  • Sharing public health guidance to help protect the public and our staff from the risk of infection.

We have also dealt with significant incidents, including the flooding which affected parts of North Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes at Christmas, as well as continuing with planned activities, such as the opening of the new Blue-Light Hub in Milton Keynes and firefighter recruitment.

Earlier this year, our response to the challenges created by the pandemic, and our positive contribution to the community, was noted in a government report. It followed inspections of all of England’s fire and rescue services carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), commissioned by the Home Secretary, to evaluate the way we had responded to the pandemic.

HMICFRS said we had been well prepared, maintained our core functions of firefighting, promoting fire safety and responding to emergencies, adopted new and innovative ways of working and looked after our staff by providing guidance, support and extra wellbeing services.

It also noted that we had good arrangements in place to make sure that our control room, shared with Royal Berkshire and Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue Services, had enough staff during the pandemic, and our low level of sickness absence in general.

The report concluded that the arrangements for managing the pandemic may carry on for some time, and that in planning for the future, fire and rescue services should determine how they will adopt the new and innovative ways of working introduced during the pandemic, make lasting improvements and be as efficient and effective as possible.

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service intends to maintain and embed many of the  innovative measures it has made to its ways of working in response to COVID-19, including the new technology it has introduced to facilitate virtual meetings.

For example, meetings of Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority – the publicly accountable body which manages Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service on behalf of the communities it serves – are accessible to many more people now that they are live-streamed on the internet.

The service is also now able to facilitate some flexibility for office-based staff to work remotely, while recognising the need to maintain a balance of face-to-face interaction.

While looking forward to the easing of restrictions, we remain alert to the possibility of further disruption, and committed to making Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes the safest places in England in which to live, work and travel.

Chief Fire Officer Jason Thelwell said:

“COVID-19 has been the biggest threat to this country in a generation. I am incredibly proud of the work we have been involved with, supporting other vital partner agencies in response to the pandemic and helping to keep people within our communities safe.”