Floods bring remarkable year to an end for our firefighters
- Credit: Archant
It was a year like no other for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue that culminated in being called upon to deal with extensive flooding across the county.
Here we take a look at 2020 – as seen through the eyes of its chief fire officer since 2016, Chris Strickland, and awarded the Queen’s Medal in the New Year’s Honours.
The tally of calls received throughout 2020 is formidable – in Cambridgeshire alone there were 10,000 emergency calls.
Cambs fire and rescue sent fire engines and officers to more than 6,000 incidents, including 1,800 fires and more than 300 road traffic collisions.
Crews attended 116 animal rescues, ranging from cattle stuck in water to kittens trapped in cars.
Chief fire officer Chris Strickland noted that “the year ended with another major incident being declared in the days before Christmas as wide-spread flooding hit the county.
“Crews, officers and senior leaders were kept busy throughout the festive period helping those affected by the flooding and joining multi-agency calls to coordinate the emergency response”.
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But despite 2020 bringing unprecedented challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the fire service believes it has continued to deliver vital services to the residents of Cambridgeshire.
Even before the pandemic fully began in March, storms Ciara and Dennis hit the county with high winds reaching between 50 and 70 miles per hour.
Crews and call handlers were kept busy helping residents deal with the bad weather while also working with other services to help prepare and respond where needed.
The service also invited around 200 delegates to a conference in February to highlight the importance of sprinkler systems. Held in St Ives, the focus of the day was about the challenges faced by the fire and rescue service in higher risk buildings and protecting vulnerable people.
The pandemic was declared a major incident by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Local Resilience Forum in March.
This led to many staff having to work from their homes, while operational staff based at stations, and Combined Fire Control at Service HQ, had to ensure they were social distancing and making the premises Covid secure. Regardless of the challenges, the service says it had more fire engines available to respond when needed than in previous years as many of our on-call staff were furloughed form their main employment.
Mr Strickland said: "The Covid-19 pandemic presented us with unprecedented challenges in so many different areas. “Our primary focus was keeping our staff safe and well so we could provide the services that residents needed. This meant staff across the service having to adapt to new ways of working, while also juggling family commitments.
"Our staff have all worked exceptionally hard to keep things going. For instance, we still needed to recruit staff, both for operational and support roles, so we had to modify our processes and carry out interviews and selections virtually.
“We also had to continue to train our operational staff and carry out assessments on their competences, which required an entirely new way of doing things."
More than 60 new firefighters joined in 2020, most arriving during the pandemic. The service’s training centre adapted the initial programme to ensure the new staff were able to join and get the required input they needed. Additionally four new emergency call handlers joined Combined Fire Control along with 20 new staff arriving in support roles.
"It wasn’t just within the fire service where our staff were needed,” said Mr Strickland.
“Driver training instructors were seconded to the East of England Ambulance Service Trust to train new ambulance drivers.”
On-call firefighters were also called upon to support the trust by driving ambulances due to demand. Other staff joined the county’s community hub to provide support for vulnerable residents, from delivering vital supplies to making welfare calls to homes.
Mr Strickland concluded: "It really was a challenging year for us but thanks to our staff who have really gone the extra mile this year, we have continued to deliver our service to the people of Cambridgeshire.
“I am very proud to work with such a dedicated group of people, who are passionate about serving their communities.
"We begin 2021 in another national lockdown and we will continue to do all we can to help people through these tough times. I’m sure we will face further challenges too when Covid has passed, but I am confident we’ll all be able to rise to these and continue to keep Cambridgeshire residents safe."
For Mr Strickland the year also ended with him being recognised by Her Majesty the Queen in her New Year Honours List.
He was awarded the Queen's Fire Service Medal for his distinguished service.
Cllr Kevin Reynold, chair of the fire authority, said: “Chris has provided outstanding leadership throughout his career in Cambridgeshire, which has been particularly prevalent during the pandemic.
“This has certainly been a contributing factor in us being recognised as one of the top performing services in the country."
Mr Strickland said: “I am truly honoured to be receiving this award from Her Majesty. I never thought when I began my career that I would be recognised in this way.
"I thought I had encountered most things, then I found myself in the midst of a global pandemic trying to keep an emergency service operational.
"I wouldn't have even been considered for this honour without the help and support of the great team I work with; I will receive the medal on their behalf and wear it with great pride."