I Can’t Stand the Rain!

I’ve woken up in another city and I can’t stand the rain on my window, beating down outside the fairly standard chain hotel room I find myself in. It’s a bleak look out into the outside world on a wet dreary midweek morning. Where am I? Why am I here? The eternal questions almost everyone asks themselves at some point or other in life. However, this time I wasn’t trying to figure out the meaning of life or the answer to everything, which is of course 42 (only Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fans will get this).

No no no no no…..none of the above. At last my mind clicked into gear, of course it’s the National Operational Guidance (NOG) roadshow! Ten cities across the UK in six weeks, its little wonder I’m having a few problems orientating myself. London, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Cambridge have all seen the mighty NOG machine roll into town. Raising awareness of the programme, engaging with FRS staff around the UK and listening to various views and opinions was the order of the day. Which day and which town didn’t seem to matter, it was more rich data to feed into the NOG cog of ongoing learning and development.

To some, reading pages from a website with whizzy charts and fancy diagrams seemed somewhat forbidding, no matter how well written. Face to face chats, discussions, presentations and the soliciting of views from up to 20 people in each workshop twice a day suddenly made things clearer.

Take our framework, for instance – a chart with squares, lines and words. By the time Nick or Doc (Programme Director and Programme Manager) had finished explaining it, along with debugging the colour code, we could see the light bulbs of understanding illuminating faces within the room. It reminded me of the ‘Ah Bisto’, TV ad campaign of a past era. You could almost hear people think “Ah that’s what it means”. One person commented, “It all makes sense now!”

Our presentation summarised the programme’s current position, and what lies ahead up to March 2018. It included a snappy little diagram on how the guidance fits around an incident scenario. This really helped people to see how different pieces of guidance could be threaded together to benefit those on the incident ground.

We also included a Blue Peter-esque exercise of sticking Post-it notes to boards, which to be fair most endured rather than enjoyed. However, the information garnered gave the programme valuable data regarding where services are in terms of adopting the guidance, operational learning, etc., and using our ‘Cool Wall of Communication’ they stated preferred communication tools.

Finishing off with a round robin plenary which proved to be a real hit with most people, attendees remarked that more of this type of thing was needed. The NOG programme team certainly benefitted from the somewhat punishing schedule we put ourselves through. Waking up in one city, falling asleep in another, and rising in a third one in a matter of days may have been onerous at times, but the opportunity to gain insights from staff up and down the country was priceless.

Oh yes, I remember where I was now, Newcastle! Suddenly I looked out again at the wintry spring weather front facing me and realised that unlike Tina Turner, I CAN stand the rain on my window!

Paul Bruce
NOG Programme Team

Exercising and learning

We followed the progress of Exercise Unified Response with great interest. For us, seeing that kind of collaboration between the emergency services is a vindication of why fire and rescue services are working so hard on bringing their operational guidance up to date.

While at first glance it may seem that what we are doing is purely about how the fire and rescue service carries out its own tasks, it doesn’t do these in isolation. When the fire and rescue service responds to incidents – and the collapse at Waterloo station is a tough example of what the service can face – it doesn’t work alone. In some cases it can work across borders with other fire and rescue services but most often it will work with the other emergency services.

And for those working at the scene of any incident, it is incredibly important that everyone knows what to expect from the fire and rescue service. This is the whole point of the guidance – consistency and predictability. There may be some local variation, but fundamentally the principles are the same.

The process of exercising – testing it out, like Exercise Unified Response – means that the way in which firefighters are working can be seen in action and analysed in a structured way. It will show what works, what needs adjusting and what lessons can be learned to improve response even more.

One of the newer projects under the National Operational Guidance Programme is focused on operational learning. We are working on defining good practice and mechanisms for capturing operational learning. These are then complemented by some cultural change – we want to promote reporting, extracting learning and evaluating for all incidents, not just the unusual or the simulated.

For us, there’s a real benefit from a consistent approach to capturing that learning as we can then feed it back into the guidance and update it quickly so that everyone can share it. The national approach, done once but shared many, many times, that’s the strength of our process. National Operational Guidance at its best.


When the floods returned

In January 2005 I was visiting my family near Carlisle when a weather front produced unprecedented rainfall levels (up to 180mm) which led to a large part of Carlisle and the surrounding area being flooded.

The response was generally effective though it was ad hoc and poorly equipped for what was at that time a very unusual event. Fire service personnel who responded to the floods as the event unfolded reported that they didn’t have any drysuits or specialist equipment and were just doing what they could to assist residents.

There was also no nationally produced guidance for rescues from water.

Last Friday I drove to Cumbria for a weekend of walking with my wife. By lunchtime on Saturday it was clear that Storm Desmond was wreaking a similar level of havoc to that experienced in 2005, though over a wider area. The question was would the response be different?

Whilst it is too early to make an assessment of the effectiveness of the response, what was immediately clear was that there is now a sound understanding of how all emergency responders should work together at wide area major incidents. Professional rescue efforts were taking place throughout the county with well equipped, well trained teams from various organisations working together to provide a co-ordinated rescue effort.

I was particularly interested in this as I am involved in the current review of the National Joint Doctrine written as part of the Joint Emergency Services Principles (JESIP), and the National Operational Guidance Programme is soon to publish its revised National Operational Guidance for Water Rescue and Flooding.

We will now undergo a review to ensure those documents offer best practice guidance.

As for my weekend in the Lakes? I was lucky enough to only suffer the inconvenience of coffee shops being closed and roads being inaccessible. I managed to stay dry and warm, though my thoughts were with those either involved in rescues or being rescued.

Doc Holliday, Programme Manager

Some thoughts about partnership

We were all really honoured to win the Partnership of the Year Award at the Excellence in Fire and Emergency Awards on 4 December. There were thirty or so nominations in this category and so many excellent contenders drawn from across the fire and rescue service: we know it was pretty special to win.

While awards are a wonderful recognition of our work, we also know that at the crux of this is the critical need to work together. For us, working together means, at a programme level, a strategic working relationship between the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, the Chief Fire Officers Association, the Local Government Association and the London Fire Brigade.

With their combined strategic direction and vision, our programme has been able to touch every single fire and rescue service in the United Kingdom. And every single one now contributes financially to make sure that the guidance is developed and made available for everyone.

We like to think of the programme as a partnership of equals. Partnership isn’t about telling others what to do. Fire and rescue services want to work with us because by sharing expertise and experience they can benefit from each other and drive change at a national level.

We often use the phrase ‘by the fire and rescue service for the fire and rescue service’, but we know not everyone can contribute to what we are doing. However, as long as enough are able to participate, the guidance will capture best practice to be used by this and future generations.

Using partnership to drive change is of course nothing new to the fire and rescue service. Community safety partnerships have been around for many years. There are amazing examples of fire and rescue services working closely with health – just look at Twitter to see how #fireasahealthasset is gaining more and more traction.

Working alongside JESIP means we are extending our interpretation of partnership well into the other emergency services. That intraoperability piece that we so often talk about, making sure fire and rescue services are consistent across boundaries is equally important when thinking about interoperability with the other emergency services.

And following this weekend’s flooding in northern parts of England, this is more important than ever.

In times where collaboration is seen as the route to efficiency, the need to forge partnerships and work hard at them is more important now than ever before.


We are really pleased to be able to launch our blog on the first day of Road Safety Week, which runs from 23-29 November. It might not seem immediately obvious why the National Operational Guidance Programme might be interested in this, but there are lots of connections for us.

We published our Performing rescues guidance in April this year. Our guidance looks at searching for casualties, extricating them and casualty care. Our programme isn’t just about fire, but includes the very important work that fire and rescue services do to respond to road traffic collisions.

When responding to an incident, the highest priority for us is to the safety of the public involved and the fire and rescue service responders attending. Our guidance, informed by the very latest best practice, is helping those first responders to be effective and informed so that they can reduce the hazards they face and protect their own safety and that of the public.

Today we told our Twitter followers all about the excellent work of the Brake Charity – they co-ordinate the campaign and have been doing this for the past 17 years. They work closely with the very well known and long standing government road safety campaign, THINK!

We will be tweeting throughout the week to remind people about our guidance and how it helps the fire and rescue service. We’ll be using #drivelesslivemore.

Brake deputy chief executive Julie Townsend said of this year’s theme, “drive less, live more”:

“We’re doing this because we have become increasingly conscious that road safety is not only about people driving as safely as they can, using the Green Cross Code, and otherwise obeying the law and Highway Code, crucial though these things are. Road safety is about getting around in a way that causes no harm to yourself and others and the planet we depend on. A big part of that is driving less.”

That sounds good to us.

For more information on this week’s campaign visit: