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Friday, 8 June 2007

Fire prevention - reducing harm

This is as good an example as any of the kind of work in which I specialise.

We got managers from several Fire and Rescue Services together at a workshop on political-management for professionals.
•To enhance understanding of politician/officer working
•To understand the separation of roles
•To appreciate inter-political dynamics
•To learn more about working with politicians individually and at meetings
•To increase confidence in working with politicians from all parties
•To help develop the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to deal with a range of specific political contingencies

Themes: Working positively with the chair and members of your Fire Authority. Agreeing and applying a working definition of “best practice”. Constructing trust between lead politicians, professionals and managers. Appreciating political structures and processes and their interaction.

This has taken a good deal of planning with me doing films of lead members and fire officers to add to my archive of political-management conversations. Working with training officers from the three services we'd written over a dozen examples of the class of problems arising. We were joined by a senior politician and three chief fire officers in the afternoon. What a bright bunch of self-educating practical people, ready to help each other, enthusiastic about ideas, keen to solve problems and make things better; as concerned about one fatality as many - and developing a new kind of hero who stops fires and road crashes before they happen (they're working with the police on road safety). This sort of preventative work doesn't photograph, yet it stops the weeping before it starts. One of the people at the workshop was doing a masters on civilising and decivilising

He referred me to the work of Norbert Elias
and the course he was doing led by Professor Adrian Linklater at Cardiff.
In a chat at lunch he mentioned his focus on genocide in the Balkans. I said I'd send him the reference to Mark Mazower, who's edited essays about Greece's recovery via 'the reconstruction of family, nation and state' after the decivilising of the 1940s. It seemed right that in services directing creative attention to fire prevention I should find someone who could point me towards Elias and Linklater - that the darkness historians recorded was preceded by a prolonged and undramatic process of leaching out civility that, even now, evades understanding.

On my way home I was given a lift to N. I had an hour to pass and cycled into the centre where I came upon the grave of Robert Owen, founder of the Co-operative movement. It was in a restored churchyard by a roofless church. Gravestones had been laid flat. I chatted to an old lady who'd asked me the name of the blue flowers thriving on top of a stone wall. I did a bit of weeding. On one gravestone it said in pink slash "DIE PAKI". On a board fixed over an empty window were affectionate and recent mementos in grafitti smudges to a pal who'd died young in the trenches of small town anomie. The old lady shared her memories of the town with me and wished me well on my holiday in France. 'We've got too many Poles here" she said. "What's the problem?" "They're taking houses ... and jobs." We spoke more about the loveliness of the garden. I promised to try and recall the flowers' name. "Come again. Goodbye."

I went to the station. The train was late. There was a long platform with no-one on it until a young man came by chatting on his mobile. I was reading 'Prospero's Cell". He finished his call and stood near me then sat on 'my' bench and breathed and seemed to sigh. I was irritated but kept my thoughts to myself and went on reading. On the train I sat opposite a trainspotter with a little notebook who began a longish phone chat about the various ways he could get back to Newcastle. At Shrewsbury, where he got off to head for Manchester and the north, a younger man came in and talked cheerfully on his phone all the way to Birmingham. I had a call from a friend in Corfu who wondered of I'd like to do a charter, saling someone to and from Paxos. "There's good money in it". I said I was on a train in England. "OK, Another time.See you. Miss you." "Me too. Bye."

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Simon Baddeley