Norfolk’s fire and rescue service will soon have a new director, in the form of Ceri Sumner. Local Democracy Reporter NOAH VICKERS spoke with her to find out what’s at the top of her in-tray.

The announcement of Ms Sumner’s appointment this week came just days after the devastation of heatwave blazes, which destroyed homes in locations across the county.

The service’s new director, who will take up the post in September, said Norfolk’s firefighting team was “very proud of how they were able to respond to those pressures”.

She added that lessons had also been learnt from the heatwave, such as potentially investing in more agile, off-road vehicles.

“I think there will be some learning around the capability and the kit that we need to deal with those types of issues, particularly wildfires out in fields,” she said.

“We’ve already had conversations with the team about potentially some different types of vehicles that might be more agile in reaching those spaces.

Eastern Daily Press: Fire crews are at the scene of a commercial building blaze in DitchinghamFire crews are at the scene of a commercial building blaze in Ditchingham (Image: Archant)

“Some off-road vehicles, rather than the huge appliances, which might be more cumbersome.”

In addition, Ms Sumner said she wanted to work with the farming union to understand how better to work with rural workers impacted by the fires.

And she said that she hoped to collaborate with scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) to get a clearer picture of how global warming may trigger further incidents in the county over the years to come.

“I think our previous risk management plan rated wildfires as low and I would not expect that to be the case going forwards,” she said.

“We’re very lucky that we’ve got the UEA on our doorstep who are experts in these areas, so I’ll be reaching out to them to see if there’s any learning that we can pick up and build into our planning assumptions.”

Eastern Daily Press: The hot, dry conditions means accidental wildfires can start and spread easilyThe hot, dry conditions means accidental wildfires can start and spread easily (Image: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service)

Ms Sumner’s appointment also coincided with the publication of a critical report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, which rated the service in Norfolk as ‘inadequate’, based on an inspection it made in autumn 2021.

Inspector Roy Wilsher said he was especially concerned about how the service “keeps the public safe through its prevention activity”.

The service’s new director said responding to the report was top of her agenda.

Having worked at the county council since 2011, most recently as director of community, information and learning - which covers trading standards, customer services, libraries and adult education - Ms Sumner said she was up to the challenge of turning things around.

“I’m particularly keen to look at some of the prevention activity in relation to vulnerable people.

“One of the reasons that I was keen to apply for this role is that for the last two to three years, I’ve done a lot of work around supporting vulnerable people in Norfolk, including through the Covid response, supporting clinically extremely vulnerable people.

Eastern Daily Press: People have been warned of the dangers of accidental wildfiresPeople have been warned of the dangers of accidental wildfires (Image: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service)

“So I’m hoping that all of those things will be really beneficial to some of those things that have been particularly brought up from that prevention perspective, and how we can get underneath that.”

The report also said the service needs to do more to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination - 16 pc of staff surveyed said they experienced harassment and 15pc discrimination.

To help address this, Ms Sumner said she hoped to “create a culture where people will feel safe to speak up and to bring those issues to the fore”.

She said: “I really want to understand whether that is happening and people’s concerns aren’t being taken seriously, or whether people are not raising those [concerns] in their management meetings.”

In addition to improving the service’s diversity, Ms Sumner said she also wanted to see how people could be encouraged to join the service at different stages in their lives.

Eastern Daily Press: A firefighter dampens down a round a charred hedgerow in BrancasterA firefighter dampens down a round a charred hedgerow in Brancaster (Image: Chris Bishop)

“There’s some conversations nationally about having different entry points into the service,” she said.

“Potentially, I know it’s something the police have been looking at as well, but could you have a graduate entry scheme, could you have a mid-career entry scheme?

“It works in quite a linear fashion at the moment, and there might be some merit to attract more diversity in by taking a different approach, which would enrich the service overall.”