Chair's opening - rising to the challenge
If there’s one thing we in public sector comms are famed for, it’s our ability to rise to the challenge in a crisis.
We’re well versed on it in our sector. Knowing that any day set aside for planned activity, thinking about the next campaign, or even catching up on admin can be ambushed at any moment by an incident that needs immediate attention.
So it’s no surprise that when coronavirus came along, we were ready and on it. However, this time, we found ourselves not in the midst of the crisis, but more looking at how we keep our staff informed and our communities reassured that we’re still here and able to help them if needed.
The moment I realised this was a game where we were a minor player was when in the early stages of the pandemic I was called by an old friend who now works in comms for Public Health England. She said: ‘We’ve just been discussing in the office and wondered, what are fire and rescue doing throughout all this?’.
I was stumped. I’d spent the last two weeks working long hours, frantically setting up new comms mechanisms, having clear messaging, advising leaders how to remain visible using only digital means, making sure the team was OK with working from home and set up to support the huge information flow to our staff. Could I really only say, ‘we’re spending all our time just making sure we’re still here’?
But instead of resting on our laurels and sticking to business continuity, the fire and rescue sector did what sometimes public sector organisations are not famed for: we put lots of effort into supporting our partners.
I’d like to think that when people look back at the coronavirus crisis and see fire and rescue’s role in it, they’ll see those firefighters who swapped red trucks for yellow to become ambulance drivers. They’ll see those firefighters who delivered food to the most vulnerable. They’ll see it was fire and rescue staff who carried out the antigen tests, and perhaps more. And they’ll see that it was fire and rescue communicators who used our high reputation and access to communities to support our partners’ messages.
As we move out of lockdown, we’re now seeing the focus move to us again. The sector has seen a huge spike in fires in the open as people burn waste or head to parks and countryside to have BBQs and campfires. Dorset and Wiltshire’s battle with the Wareham Forest fire is a clear indication of the risks we face as the dry weather continues.
This is where we now need to recall those favours. And where our role on local warning and informing groups can be used to influence partners to get behind our prevention messages to stop the next major wildfire from happening.
In the last newsletter, I talked of the great plans the FirePRO National Committee had for this year. And while coronavirus has set us back a little, we’re determined to realise them as much as possible so that you can have access to affordable, sector-focused learning and development.
Unfortunately, it will mean that the FirePRO conference won’t take place in November, but we we’re not cancelling it altogether, just delaying to a time when we can be confident we can deliver it to the same standard or better than previous years.
As always, we want to hear about all the great work you are doing, so if you have a campaign or piece of work you are proud of or you’ve seen another service do, share it with us firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chair of FirePRO
Head of Communications and Engagement at Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue
What now? Our annual conference and new training events
Booking venues, contacting speakers, persuading sponsors - three things that national committee members would have been doing, right about now, in order to bring everyone's favourite conference to life in November.
Not this year, sadly.
Assuming you've already read the Chair's opening piece, you will be well aware that this year's FirePRO Conference won't be going ahead in November.
The event was understandably high on the agenda at our most recent (virtual) meeting as, whilst it's still early days in terms of lockdown, we can't plan anything effectively without a solid date in mind.
That's why we've taken the difficult decision to postpone until we can set that date. Emphasis, there, on the word postpone. The event will return, we just don't know when.
In the meantime we've been looking at what we can do this year to support fire service communicators.
Just because we can't physically come together doesn't mean we can't keep up with our professional development. Arguably, it's never been more important to do so.
So, in the absence of the conference, we'll be running some smaller, virtual training events this year - covering topics raised in the sector wide survey we did recently.
We'll publish more information about these sessions soon - watch this space!
And, last but not least, something else discussed during our latest meet was the development of sector-wide standards - specifically for fire service communication.
The committee is starting to think about what good looks like for us when it comes to things like strategy, campaigns, learning and internal communication.
Again, watch this space!
FirePRO Committee Vice Chair
Campaigns Manager at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue