My first article, penned last September, gave a brief overview of the Kingdom of Bahrain and the structure of Civil Defence. Having now been here for eight months I intend to describe my early thoughts and how the Senior Management Team of the Bahrain Civil Defence has created an Organisational Development Plan.
Firstly, I was struck by just how open everyone was, from the very top of the organisation, to the firefighters on the stations, allowing me to collect a great deal of information in a relatively short period of time. The Director General of Civil Defence wanted me to concentrate on the risk critical area of Operations, in particular to review standards on stations, physical fitness, training, vehicle replacement programmes, and the creation of specialist teams. In addition, I was asked to review the Civil Defence Strategic Plan that had been written to support and add detail to the community safety aspects required under the 2030 Vision for Bahrain.
My work programme for the initial three months was quickly mapped out and resulted in over 120 detailed meetings and discussions with personnel from all levels and across each of the four functional areas, Operations, Protection and Safety, Planning and Development and Administration. On completion of the field work I then set about writing a series of reports covering various elements including, standards on station, creating a training needs analysis, firefighter’s fitness, the role of support functions and specialist teams (Marine, USAR and Haz Mat).
Probably the biggest challenge facing me was having my own preconceived ideas as to how I believed Civil Defence should operate when I hadn’t even grasped the fundamental differences in culture and working practice in Bahrain compared to the UK. Thankfully, the other major challenge, that of language and communication is made so much easier by the majority of people within Civil Defence having a good grasp of the English language. Unfortunately, this has had the effect of me not putting in sufficient effort to learn Arabic!
Development of Strategic Plan
Although the first three months were somewhat challenging, to be expected really when settling into a new home in unfamiliar surroundings in another part of the world, it also proved extremely absorbing and interesting. As we moved into October a series of meetings were organised with Major General Tariq Al Hassan, Chief of Public Security where my reports and recommendations were reviewed and discussed. Following this high-level scrutiny, I was then tasked to make a presentation to the Minister of Interior, Lieutenant General Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa who approved the strategy and directed that a detailed project plan be created to help drive the work forward.
The strategy covers five key areas, being:
- Organisational Changes
- Developing the Workforce
- Improving Civil Defence Capabilities
- Investing in the Fire Stations
- Operational Development and Sustainability
The detailed project plan specifies each of the above development areas describing the main goals, objectives, projected cost and action plan. It therefore creates a comprehensive road map to the development of the organisation. The plan was designed to engage Civil Defence personnel in the development of their General Directorate with each project being assigned a lead officer to ensure leadership, accountability and teamwork.
Whilst the budgetary considerations were being discussed at Ministerial level the Chief of Public Security directed his officers to make progress on specific elements to ensure the initial momentum wasn’t lost. Following briefings with Colonel Ali Al Hooti (Director General of Civil Defence) it was agreed to concentrate on four elements:
- Introduction of Fitness Testing
- Introducing Operational Audits
- Review of Specialist Teams
- Officers Training
At the time of writing this article (1 March 2020) the following progress has been made.
To be fair the Ministry of Interior has in place an annual fitness test for all employees to encourage a healthy way of living. As would be expected these tests are not aimed at setting standards for the rigours of firefighting merely to encourage a basic level of fitness, which in my view is to be applauded.
Taking account that across the world, cardiac arrest accounts for 45% of all work-related deaths among firefighters it was agreed to concentrate on improving the cardiovascular fitness of all operational personnel. Not surprisingly the test chosen was the Multistage Fitness Test, more commonly referred to as the ‘Bleep Test’. Easy to set up, administer and with a clear testing procedure this test can be downloaded onto smart phones through an App, allowing firefighters to practice at times convenient to themselves, in groups or on their own. Instructors from the Training Centre visited all watches to introduce the procedure and to allow personnel the opportunity to practice the test prior to it going live on 22 December 2019. The fitness policy has clear age-related standards with a pass mark, a minimum achievement level and failure to achieve. Personnel not achieving the minimum level are sent for a medical to ensure there are no underlying health issues, following which they have three months to reach the necessary standard. All the tests were completed at the Training Centre to ensure continuity and compliance with the testing procedure. The aim is to reach a position where the Stations administer the tests themselves on an annual basis.
The fitness testing procedure will be reviewed early in 2021 to measure both compliance with the standards and to consider moving to a more occupational style of testing.
An essential part of any organisation is to carry out audits and to review its policies, procedures and practices. In order to achieve continual improvement, provide best practice and to ensure the safety of its personnel, the Civil Defence must audit and review its preparedness for operations and how effective it is while in the operational arena. To achieve this two types of audit have now been implemented, Preparedness and Efficiency.
The Preparedness audit takes place on station with an unannounced visit by me and two officers from a pool of six that have been trained. Each watch will receive at least one of these audits per year concentrating on the following aspects;
- Appliances and Equipment; maintenance, testing, and use.
- Administration and Records; concentrating on risk critical areas such as vehicle logbooks, BA tests and safety issues.
- Theory test for firefighters.
- Practical test for firefighters in a simulated scenario
Early indications are that these audits are having the required effect providing valuable insight into vehicle maintenance, the performance of support functions, identifying training needs, dealing with premises defects, introducing new technology and generally sharpening up the skills of operational staff. The efficiency audits will be carried out by the same group of officers and will take place on the incident ground at incidents of four pumps and above or where the operational response is dealing with an unusual, complex or protracted job.
A restructure within the Operations Directorate has taken place bringing Marine firefighting, Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) and HazMat under one officer whose responsibility is to review each function and to make recommendations for improvement. The Marine team is based at Mina Salman Fire Station and currently comprises a small team of firefighters with specialist equipment including rigid inflatable boats, deep lift pumps, and a wide variety of maritime equipment to ensure a safe method of working. This unit has been developed over many years to provide emergency cover to the extensive dock and ship building yards of Mina Salman and Hidd. However, in keeping with the Kingdom’s ambition to transform itself into a major tourist destination it is felt necessary to broaden the marine fire and rescue capability thus providing an all island response similar to the Coastguard.
Development of the USAR capability predates my arrival and has been ongoing for some time, so much so that the team has already attended an intensive training course with the Saudi Arabian Civil Defence. As in other areas, the current focus is on research and development of the techniques and equipment for rescue from collapsed structures.
The HazMat Team is based in Riffa and up until quite recently was situated in the fire station but now has its own purpose-built premises. Several reviews relating to CBRN response have taken place with the assistance of various specialist contractors and equipment manufacturers. Plans are already in place to carry out an extensive review of the Civil Defence HazMat response identifying any gaps between current standard operating procedures and international best practice.
The priority regarding training needs is for the delivery of core progression courses such as Watch, Station and Divisional Command, in addition to Specialist Instructor programmes covering Breathing Apparatus, Road Traffic Collision and Fire Behaviour. Discussions have been ongoing for the past three months and it is hoped that a training provider can be in place to commence delivery of these courses by the end of the summer.
I look forward to writing future articles where I can hopefully share learning from Operational Efficiency Audits and other aspects of our development journey.
For more information, go to www.gdcd.gov.bh