High Sheriff of West Sussex ‘deeply impressed’ by West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service in the face of coronavirus challenges

High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing on projects in the county, takes a look at West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and how it has adapted in recent weeks.

I have been deeply impressed by the way West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (WSFRS) has adapted its impressive range of services to meet the new challenges being created by coronavirus.

In West Sussex, there is currently an emergency service in operation that can rescue your dog from under a bus, deliver a prescription, carry out a safe-and-well assessment to help people’s wellbeing, identify areas where people need support, and reduce the risk of fire, support the distribution of personal protection equipment, provide education packs to children, is standing by ready to support the ambulance service as an additional driver and, at the same time, remain on permanent stand-by to attend multi-vehicle road accidents and manage every aspect of fire-related emergencies - from a burning garden shed to a concrete factory, or worse.

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It is, of course, the WSFRS, led by Chief Fire Officer Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, and, as High Sheriff, I have been very grateful to the CFO and members of her team for helping me to learn more about this remarkably versatile and mobile emergency service.

Chichester Red Watch delivering supplies to the charity Stonepillow

Although WSFRS works in close partnership with the other emergency services across Sussex and the south east, our fire service comes under the umbrella of the local authority and this ensures that West Sussex has a particularly strong strategy in place to help individuals and businesses to be safer, stronger and more resilient.

The service has 25 fire stations strategically situated around the county, six of which are crewed at all times, whereas the others operate with varying combinations of highly-trained teams of permanent and retained crew. Supporting them is a great host of volunteers, some of whom are retired firefighters.

Specialist equipment is also carefully placed. For example in Storrington, the team has access to an Environmental Protection Unit, and in Horley, the Technical Rescue Unit has a specialist team with equipment to manage the most complicated of rescue scenarios.

Of course, the service is on stand-by at all times for emergencies, about a third of which are fires, with a slightly higher number of call-outs being fire false alarms and just under a third being non-fire incidents. However, it takes equal pride in the work it carries out to prevent fire and injury and it is certainly no accident that, even though the number of calls to WSFRS remains as busy as ever, domestic fire rates have dropped and fire-related fatalities stand at their lowest level for 40 years.

Worthing firefighters joining in Clap for Carers at Worthing Hospital

It has been proven that with a working smoke alarm we are four times more likely to survive a fire and so initiatives, such as the Safe and Well Home Visits, have ensured that appropriate alarms are installed into the homes of those who are most at risk, such as the elderly. Lives have been saved as a result.

However, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the fire service has also proved itself exceptionally well-equipped to respond to the multitude of new challenges faced by the county. Working in conjunction with the NHS, ambulance service, police and others, it has been able to rapidly mobilise its fleet of vehicles to ensure food and medicines have been delivered in time until more long-term solutions have been put in place.

Covid-19 has powerfully reminded us that the best way to avoid a crisis is to be well-prepared for it, and Steve Philby, watch manager at Littlehampton, thinks we should be equally well-prepared to protect our homes.

His take-home message was straightforward: “Almost all domestic fires are preventable, so be prepared, follow all the fire safety advice and if you need some help, call us.”

Lancing firefighters joining in Clap for Carers

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Mathew Gravell from Billingshurst delivering prescriptions

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Shaun Beales from Horsham delivering prescriptions