When a report of a vulnerable missing person came through to police in Liverpool recently, they turned to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) to help them in their search.
Fears for the safety of the resident, who lived near Garston Dock, were heightened because of the close proximity of the River Mersey and other potential hazards in the area.
With their expertise in search and rescue, firefighters were able to access difficult areas where the Police would have struggled. Fire service dogs, trained in finding people in collapsed structures and confined spaces, proved invaluable.
The operation was run from Merseyside Fire and Rescue and Merseyside Police joint command and control centre.
In an arrangement that many fire and police services across the country are moving towards, the operational, planning and policy teams of the two blue light services are located together and joined-up.
Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Dan Stephens said: “The police force centre manager and fire mobilising officer are effectively next to each other. Our urban search and rescue team is trained across a broad spectrum of areas and assist the police in things like gaining entry, safe work at height and confined space work – areas that it is problematic for police to maintain skills in. For us, that’s what we do. That knowledge of each other’s capabilities is invaluable.”
In another example of that co-operation, MFRS has helped police gain access to cannabis farms, using techniques similar to those used to extract people from collapsed buildings and vehicles to tackle doors fortified by drug dealers.
MFRS also has joint arrangements with the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS). The NWAS Liverpool hazardous area response team is co-located with the fire service urban safe and rescue team. Crews attend the same incidents, train together and eat together, providing a “seamless first class service”.
Integration with other blue light services is now going further. MFRS is building a new community fire station which will also be a police station. The facility will be fully integrated, with shared communal spaces, gym and youth engagement facilities.
It will bring significant savings by eliminating the cost of maintaining old fire stations, cutting capital costs and halving overheads.
The new build is one of three such arrangements, where pairs of older fire stations will be replaced with a brand new facility roughly equidistant from the obsolete ones.
MFRS was awarded £1.5 million from the Government’s transformation and efficiency fund for each station. The plans minimise the impact on the public of budget cuts which have led to the loss of 100 firefighters and a reduction in the number of fire appliances from 42 to 28.
CFO Dan Stephens said: “Minimising the effect on response times was critical. The new buildings will be staffed with one whole time fire engine that will be the first response engine, maintaining that essential level of cover”.
A second fire engine at each station will be crewed by ‘whole time retained’ staff – firefighters from across Merseyside who can be called in when off-duty – on a 30 minute call out basis.
“This extended response time gives us a strategic reserve when the overall supply of fire engines falls below a certain point,” said CFO Stephens. “It also ensures we have highly trained staff so we don’t have to worry about recruiting and retaining and retraining other people.”
Setting up shop in the same building as Merseyside police is just the start of greater integration: “We are moving towards what, in essence, would be a shared support services function, such as shared estate and ICT. We are currently taking that through to a final business case,” said CFO Stephens.
Councillor Dave Hanratty, Chair of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, said the authority encouraged closer cooperation with police and ambulance services wherever possible.
“If we can share facilities, it offers a greater amount of protection of those facilities and working together means offering a better service to the public,” he said