LANCASHIRE Fire and Rescue Service appointed a new Chief Fire Officer at the beginning of May, so we sent former firefighter turned reporter, Amy Farnworth, for a chat with Justin Johnston, to find out if it would be business as usual for the brigade, or if a change at the top meant new changes all round.

Justin Johnston joined Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) as Deputy Chief Fire Officer in 2012, and during that time he's had responsibility for everything from health and safety and strategic planning, to firefighter fitness, taking the brigade from strength to strength.

He said: "We were inspected last year and came out very well from it - in fact we were the top performing service out of the 15 that were inspected.

"We're in a really strong position in Lancashire at the moment and I want to make sure that we keep taking as many opportunities as a service to keep moving forward."

One of the main areas Mr Johnston is keen to develop is the use of new technology on the fire ground, and with many new pieces of equipment already in operation within the brigade, he's hoping these innovations will enhance the reaction and performance of his crews as well as helping to keep them safe.

He said: "We have two new pieces of equipment now in permanent service, called Stingers, one of which is Blackburn. We helped develop these and trialled one in 2017. Essentially the Stinger is a tall boom that sits on top of the engine and can pierce through buildings to fight the fire from the outside, keeping the crews safe, meaning less fire fighters will be needed for certain incidents.

"We also use drones extensively throughout the brigade now. These are equipped with thermal imaging technology which provide the Incident Commander with a better situational awareness, enabling them to better identify hot spots in a fire from above as well as providing information to assess potential risks. We're actually leading the way on this in the country."

With the introduction of new technology, inevitably, comes the question of job losses, and following extensive budget cuts and major changes to the brigade over the last ten years, it's only natural to wonder if continued innovation will eventually lead to station closures and firefighter redundancies.

However, Mr Johnston says this isn't and won't be the case: "It won't change the numbers at all. We've had to change the way we crew stations in the last few years but we won't be closing any.

"We're back into regular recruitment as well, and over the last two to three years have taken on around 160 new recruits. We now have a whole-time workforce of around 630 and a retained workforce of around 400."

"If we had an incident that required eight appliances and took five hours to control, then using new technology will mean we can reduce the time spent at these incidents and free crews up to attend other incidents, and effectively help keep the county safer."

And as the second anniversary of the Grenfell tragedy approaches, it was reassuring to discover that LFRS have already taken steps to ensure the safety of those living in the region's high rise blocks remains of paramount importance, with Mr Johnston eager to stress that keeping the whole community safe is their number one priority.

Mr Johnston said: "After Grenfell we went out and inspected all 76 of our high rises and made sure they didn't have dangerous cladding, and we'll be looking at the outcome of the enquiry closely as no doubt there will have to be some changes to legislation.

"Ultimately, going forward though, we must continue to provide a first class emergency response and give the community confidence in our service."