The challenge ahead: the damage caused by the dispute has caused huge damage to public perception, says the CACFOA President, and suggests community engagement as the route to regaining public confidence - News Comment
As the Service continues to go through one of the most difficult and potentially self-destructive periods in our history, some thought has to be given as to how some of the collateral damage caused through the current dispute can best be recovered.
The issues of pay, conditions of service and reforms to the Service will bring about not only their own challenges, but also rewards, and personal development opportunities. This in turn will eventually regain some of the lost ground within the Service.
However, the area that may present the greatest and longest challenge is the loss of public confidence in our Service. We have always enjoyed the deserved position of `number one' in the public's opinion of their local services and, while all is not yet lost, we would be fooling ourselves if we did not recognise what has occurred over the last few months.
As a member of the Service for 35 years I would not have believed that, for whatever reason or actions, we could have lost so much ground in terms of public opinion and public confidence. While it has taken only a relatively short time to lose our `number one' mantle, it may take years to regain it.
The Service needs a strategy for recovery, not only in terms of internal morale and relationships, but also an external relationship programme, which can regain the public's confidence. The excellent job our staff undertakes, particularly at emergency incidents, will, of course, help to regain our position and the intrinsic ability of all staff to help others in need through charitable work has always been outstanding. However, it will take even more than this, which after all, has traditionally been our basic instinct and raison d'etre.
The opportunities arising from the recommendations of the Independent Review of the Fire Service, coupled with the recent statutory duties of community wellbeing and community safety placed upon fire authorities, further complimented by innovative local staff strategies, are the launching pad for our road to recovering the public's confidence.
We could go on forever holding postmortems as to why this damage to the Service has occurred, or who we may feel is responsible. However, to do so is simply wasting time and losing even more ground in terms of serving our communities and regaining their full confidence.
My association is doing all it can to ensure that the future White Paper on the Fire Service will enable us to serve the community in the broadest sense possible and to re-establish the Fire Service as the `number one' public service. However, this will best be achieved if, firstly, all stakeholders in the Service face up to the problem and then work together in terms of creating the strategy to address the issue and deliver the subsequent action plan.