Fire Safety

Shropshire Outreach Vehicle – An Interview With Rabinder Dhami

With support of FireAngel, Shropshire’s Outreach Vehicle has recently been renovated to a new standard after an incredible ten years of travelling around Shropshire promoting fire safety.

In recognition of this achievement, we spoke to Rabinder Dhami, Prevention Manager at Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, about the vehicle’s objectives, how it’s helped communities,  and why it’s been able to last so long!

So Rabinder, what is your involvement with the Shropshire Outreach Vehicle?

Well, as the Prevention Manager at Shropshire FRS, the average vehicle that normally comes through here is managed by me, alongside the variety of  staff that will use that vehicle.

What inspired Shropshire FRS to create this vehicle ?

The vehicle came about as we identified a gap in the fire safety prevention work that we were carrying out. There were certain areas where it was difficult to actually get fire safety messages across to people. This was partly because of the remoteness of where they were, but also because of the lack of resources or venues.

So the concept of the vehicle does originate from that – having a vehicle that could actually go to remote areas, but also a vehicle that can become a venue itself .

When an FRS officer takes the vehicle out, what does a typical day involve?

Well, we identify certain areas where we need to use the vehicle, but it does have a wide range of uses. If it’s not needed as a set venue, for example, then we will look at travelling to particular areas where we feel that fire safety information is not easily accessible. We will then go to this rural area and set up.

Fundamentally, this will give local people the opportunity to talk to us, or voice any queries that they may have. Unlike urban areas, where people are more familiar with the fact that Fire Rescue Services carry out free safety visits to the home, rural areas are more neutral. In fact, there may be some apprehension in these areas as people are not used to seeing the Fire and Rescue Service, and are more likely to ask “Why would the Fire Service want to come to my home?”.

Therefore, by going into these neutral areas it gives people the opportunity enter into dialogue, often resulting in a rise in confidence. People will speak to our colleagues, and start to see the benefit of us coming out and carrying out a home safety visit. So it does serve a very good purpose, both for giving fire safety advice and for generating referrals.

How has the use of the vehicle changed over the last 10 years?

The vehicle was brought in at the end of 2005 and was live by the beginning of 2006, and over the years it has come to find its own niche really. As time has progressed the way in which the vehicle is utilised has diversified. I wouldn’t say that everything that we’ve done with it has been successful – we’ve tried things that haven’t worked so well, but we’ve also trialled areas that were extremely successful. Over the years it has developed into a very useful resource that’s not too big or small – it’s just the right size to make an impact.

Originally, at a lot of the events the people/companies would have a marquee and the concept was about giving information followed by literature. But, as time has changed and technology has advanced, the public demand has also changed. People’s perception of going into a marquee and seeing plain information doesn’t have the wow factor any more!

In recognition of this, the Shropshire Outreach vehicle has got TV screens where we can display messages, clips of videos etc, because that’s the kind of thing that people now relate to. It’s about the way in which people want to see information, and as a service we have to adapt to that.

What did the renovating process involve?

One of the main focuses of the renovation was the fact that we’re in  in the process of changing our home visits to a more generic home visit –  more of a ‘Safe & Well visit’ that encompasses a bit more than just fire safety. We have a good relationship with FireAngel, who provide the smoke alarms that we give away as part of our home visits, so it was a pleasure to work alongside them when designing this new vehicle.

Do you have any memorable examples of when the vehicle helped someone?

I think the vehicle has helped a great deal of people, in a number of ways, because many people don’t want to call the FRS to their home. However, after directly speaking to a fire safety personnel, then an individual will be much more likely to organise a home visit. Without this interaction, they probably wouldn’t ask for advice in the first place!

Who is in charge of the vehicle?

We have a dedicated prevention team with people trained to drive the vehicle and deliver the information. We also have a number of operational personnel that can support the vehicle, who also have the training to be able to deliver the fire safety message. It’s a flexible and versatile resource, and there are a whole host of Fire and Rescue Officers who use it.

What is the vehicle’s primary objective?

I suppose raising awareness is the vehicle’s primary objective. The vehicle itself does go to a range of events, schools and shows, and communicates a range of fire safety messages. Visually, it will get people’s heads turning – it’s a permanent billboard advertising fire safety. Even if this just gets members of the public starting a conversation, then the vehicle has done its job.

The important thing for us is that the vehicle is able to come to you to talk about fire safety, rather than the other way around.

The kitchen is the most dangerous room in the home, especially in terms of risk of fire. How are you promoting fire safety in the kitchen using this vehicle?

In addition to directly talking to people about fire safety in the kitchen, we have various video clips we use which are particularly powerful in showing just how quickly fire can spread and where they can start. For instance, kitchen fires can easily start when you leave cooking unattended during a phone call, or sit in another room for 5 minutes – these are all things people can relate to.

Do you think there is a possibility of another vehicle in the future?

Well, given we’ve just renovated this vehicle after 10 years, it shows you that the system is working! And it certainly has a lot of life in it still to come and, as long as it still remains a success, I don’t see anything changing.

With regards to Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service potentially having another vehicle, I think this would be difficult from a resource point of view. Of course, there would be benefits of having more vehicles, but spreading the message of fire prevention is almost limitless! You could quadruple the teams and still not run out of work. The information we provide is for the whole public. It doesn’t matter what age group or with whom we speak to, there’s advice we can give to everyone.

What is typically on the Shropshire Community Vehicle agenda?

Our busy period is coming up now. We do attend a lot of end of school fetes, shows and events, from small to some very large venues, such as the flower show in August.

However, the vehicle can also be used to provide reassurance in locations after fire, or attend multi-agency events where a number of partner organisations want to join together to promote similar safety messages.

Even during the quieter winter months, we are continually looking for places where we can use the vehicle. It’s a versatile resource that can be used throughout the year.

How can people find out more information about the Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service Outreach Vehicle?

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service can be contacted via telephone 01743 260 200 or by email on Interestingly, we’ve been contacted by a range of other Fire and Rescue Services who’ve wanted to have a come in and have a look at the vehicle, which may result in other Services acquiring vehicles of a similar nature in the future.

If you would like to know more about fire safety, with a particular focus on staying safe in the kitchen, you can now download FireAngel’s free eBook!

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