Kent Fire and Rescue Service is one public sector organisation seeing significant benefits from being involved with Driving for Better Business. Award-winning journalist David Williams spoke to Director of Operations Sean Bone-Knell, Transport and Fleet Strategy Manager Garry Mitchell and Head of Operational Policy and Development Mark Rist, to discover what important changes they are making – and why they embarked on this worthwhile journey in the first place.
Few fleets have the commanding presence – or attract as much public attention – as those belonging to the fire and rescue service.
Largely comprising big, imposing, bright red vehicles, often driven to high-profile emergencies in a blaze of flashing blue lights and ear-piercing wails, they’re impossible to miss.
All of which makes it vital that fire service vehicles are driven – and seen to be driven – as safely, expertly, efficiently and as compliantly as possible. Because even the tiniest error or oversight is there for all to see, potentially triggering a flood of criticism and undermining public trust.
Kent Fire and Rescue Service is a case in point. Covering an area of 1,442 square miles, including 250 miles of motorway and major trunk roads, with 139 miles of coastline and serving around 1.8 million people, it is constantly in the public eye.
To perform its vital day-to-day operations, it has a substantial fleet and – contrary to what many believe – not every vehicle has flashing lights, hoses, breathing apparatus and ladders: the fleet includes cars, vans, trucks and tankers – even an off-road Unimog to reach incidents away from the road, such as animal rescues or woodland fires.
Of course, the vehicles that most are familiar with are the fire engines themselves, and Kent has 95, spread over 56 fire stations.
In addition, there are 30 specialist vehicles including turntable ladders, support and command units, tankers capable of carrying 14,500 litres of water, trucks for delivering payloads to incidents, specialist vehicles for carrying equipment to deal with building collapses and search and rescue operations, and high-volume pumps to move water during wide-scale flooding incidents.
As well as this high-profile kit the Service has mobile technician units to keep all the equipment ticking over, as well as 74 liveried response cars for officers attending incidents and 89 liveried pool cars enabling personnel to carry out duties including fire prevention, education and a wide range of other essential activities.
“Having a fleet of this size, we were always looking for efficiencies and striving to deliver the best service we can,” says Bone-Knell, Director of Operations since 2014.
“But when we changed our fleet and removed lease cars, we took the opportunity to take another long hard look and realised that there were many more efficiencies to be seized – efficiencies which could make us even safer, even better trained and more cost-effective.”
One of the Service’s first ports of call was to the Driving for Better Business website where inspiring case studies from others demonstrated how major improvements had been put into practice UK-wide.
It’s about doing exactly what a public service should be doing and what the public would expect
“Attending DfBB workshops, hearing how other organisations had improved their operations, and picking up inside tips from DfBB Champions who had been along the same path made a big difference,” says Bone-Knell. “Critically, it enabled us to take a more holistic view of our entire fleet and road operation.”
One of the Service’s first big changes was to introduce telemetry and tracking to its entire fleet and CCTV for all vehicles with ‘blue lights’. This captures, where possible, a 360-degree field of vision around the exterior of each fire engine and specialist vehicle, and front and rear footage for response cars. Both moves were to prove pivotal in overhauling the Service’s operations.
“Being an emergency service and having people responding on blue lights meant we had been involved in a couple of quite high profile accidents, which involved large claims and legal fees,” says Bone-Knell. “Naturally, this was something we were very keen to avoid and, after investigating the possibilities, we invested in CCTV on all our ‘blue light’ vehicles, along with telemetry to avoid unnecessary expense and wellbeing issues for the Authority and service drivers in the event of an accident or complaint.