Sarah Gilding, head of joint vehicle fleet management at South Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, shares how staff have responded to the Covid-19 crisis as she outlines a day in the life of her fleet operation during the April peak. As told to Sarah Tooze.
8.15am: Arrive at office
I have been coming into the office every day throughout the crisis. We have three workshops – two in Rotherham and one in Chapeltown, near Sheffield, where I am based – and I can’t expect my workshop staff to come in and fix vehicles while I’m at home. It would send completely the wrong message. And I want to make sure the team is okay.
So, my deputy Jo (Buckley) and I are in. But we don’t put ourselves or others at risk. We have separate offices and the first thing we do when we enter the building is to use a hand sanitiser which lasts 24 hours. We also wipe down our workstations. The cleaners have also been busy wiping down touchpoints.
Some administration staff, who are vulnerable, are working from home. They keep in touch through Skype and that makes a real difference, rather than people being totally isolated; they still feel part of the team.
8.15am: Check accident report
I have to keep a daily eye on accidents and any write-offs because it could leave us short of vehicles. We had 25 beat vehicles and seven high performance vehicles on order prior to this crisis. They’re now stuck in those
manufacturing plants with no indication as to when they will come. We will be considering any stock vehicles that may become available, provided they’re tested for police use, so we’ve got a pool to use.
The coronavirus crisis has affected the national police tender for vehicles. That should have closed at the end of March but that’s been on hold because the manufacturers couldn’t respond. It’s going to take some time to get back to normal throughput so we may have to keep vehicles on longer than we would have done. We typically keep beat vehicles for five years/150,000 miles and high performance vehicles for four years/ 150,000 miles but we do always get a percentage of write-offs and we thought we’d successfully planned for that. We had forward planned six months into the year with the order for 32 vehicles, but this has thrown it out.
8.30am: Contact suppliers
In light of the vehicle supply shortage I am keeping a close eye on manufacturer emails. BMW, for example, is constantly updating us via email and I am speaking to them two or three times a week.
We’re getting updates from our tyre provider, updates from other parts companies on what they have and haven’t got in place, and checking which dealers are open or closed. I have to check every day where everybody is at because the situation today could be completely different tomorrow.
We increased our parts supply in the early days to take account of this and the same with fuel. We have a national contract with Allstar as well as our own bunkered fuel. BP has offered free fuel for emergency services through the Allstar cards so we fed that out to all the teams and told them where the BP locations were and said go there first so we could maintain our own stocks. There’s a potential saving there for us so we’re tracking that as well.
There are a lot of emails coming in from different suppliers, ones we’ve not used, too. Just to say ‘perhaps we can help with this, please pass our details on’ so there’s been a lot of support.
9.30am: Speak to workshop managers
Myself or Jo ring the managers at the Rotherham workshops at least once a day as well as checking on the workshop here. We were in the middle of merging the two sites at Rotherham to create an HGV workshop and bodyshop facility (www.fleetnews.co.uk/syorks) but we’ve had to stop contractors working on that and put that on hold.
A lot of proactive things have stopped. We would have been progressing telematics for the fire service vehicles, for example, and we would have been doing a lot more proactive work in terms of getting the data out to districts and departments and trying to make savings. Things like that have gone on hold because everybody is consumed with coping day-to-day on the basics.
We continue with routine vehicle servicing. We have nominated people to clean everything at the start and end of the day, and every time vehicles are swapped over. We’ve got a designated cleaning station and cleaning kit for every vehicle with protective equipment in.
Workshop staff, such as technicians and storekeepers that are dealing with parts, are also wearing gloves and masks.
We’ve tried to reduce how often more than one person works on a vehicle but there are still times where one may need another’s help which is why we’ve gone with the masks so they’ve got that added protection. When they can just stay in their own workstation environment on a ramp they are doing that.
We’ve introduced other distancing measures. For instance, officers no longer drive into the back of the compound, we’re asking them to wait outside the front of the building, and we’ve changed meal breaks so there are not as many people having breaks at the same time.
We have a plan should workshop staffing levels reduce. We would prioritise which
vehicles are serviced, ensuring we service the ones doing the high speeds and those that have the risks first. Those that aren’t used for responding, that are doing day-to-day enquiries or day-to-day deliveries, would be pushed lower down.
We have also done some weekend servicing to get ahead of the game in case we do have a reduction in staffing. We put people on notice to do overtime while they’re well.
The fire service has continued to do mobile servicing of vehicles and appliances.
Their work has shifted in terms of response to fire. They’re doing more work with the police and the NHS to assist with Covid-19, delivering PPE to people. They’ve stopped their routine things like house calls.
The focus of work for our drivers has changed. Normally, they would be doing a daily post run, we’ve cut that down to three times a week. Or they would be moving witnesses about – there’s none of that because of social distancing. The courts are closing so the movement of files and things isn’t as urgent.
The ad-hoc jobs for them are now mainly Covid-related such as delivering laptops and getting PPE out to people.
10.30am: Check Covid-19 updates
We set up a central Covid-19 team at the beginning of March to deal with contingency planning and it sends daily updates to all staff such as where we are at with PPE, staff being off and where we are in the peak.
As a police force and fire and rescue service, we have business continuity plans and we carry out exercises to try to test for situations like this. I’ve sat in those exercises and thought ‘well, this will never happen, will it?’. And this is beyond any expectation.
We’ve certainly been tested to the limits in terms of technology and resilience.
In the early days there was a lot of activity looking at HR policies, how we could work differently, getting laptops to people who needed to work from home but didn’t have them. The IT element really had to step up.
A lot of departments were looking where to get PPE from. We, in fleet, did come across a supplier that could supply masks and hand sanitiser so we ordered some from them and we fed that into the central team as well.
When that arrived, you could see the difference in staff because they’d been very anxious prior to that and the anxiety was building because they knew we needed them to come in, but they felt vulnerable. We now have a regional procurement team which has been nominated to source PPE.
That’s delivered to a central location and then distributed. It comes into the Covid-19 team and then gets handed out in terms of priority, looking at the staff still having to work with the public and those most at risk.
Staff receive Covid-19 updates via email, our dedicated intranet site and through notifications on an app called Backup Buddy, which is mental health app for police and can be customised by each force.
It has hints and tips for wellbeing and mindfulness techniques.
11am: Daily business conference calls
I still having ‘business-as-usual’ type meetings with department heads from the fire service and the police, either using Skype or Zoom.
1pm: ‘Gold’conference call
Once a week we have a ‘gold’ conference call to discuss Covid-19. It is led by the assistant chief constable with heads of departments and district commanders participating.
We have analysts looking at the absence figures and how things are doing nationally and they feed that into these meetings.
We have to plan for how we would cope if we lost 10%, 30% or 50% of our staff.
We have had some people self-isolating but they’ve returned in fleet so we’re in a good position at the moment. It’s a similar picture across the organisation I would say with people being off and then returning.
We are also now able to test up to 50 police staff a day at the testing station which has just been set up at Doncaster airport so we can get them back to work quicker, provided they test negative.
2.30pm: Finance conference call
I speak with police finance staff on a regular basis to discuss the fleet budget. We have already done a lot of cost-cutting over the years and I expect there will be further budget constraints as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
3pm: ‘Silver’ conference call
In addition to the ‘gold’ conference call we have a ‘silver’ conference call, which takes place once a day. It’s led by a superintendent who is responsible for the ops planning team and traffic.
I tend to feed into the gold and silver calls and Jo will do silver when I can’t. Typically, the silver calls are attended by the deputies of the people in the gold group. We’ll feed in things like vehicle supply issues.
We also have a ‘bronze’ conference call to discuss things like stock levels of PPE which Jo feeds into.
4pm: Speak to local forces
We have been in contact with local forces if we need anything, although there is probably less contact than before the coronavirus crisis because everyone is focused on getting their own teams through this. The regional meetings between police fleet managers have stopped.
4.30pm: Health and safety conference call
I have regular conference calls with health and safety representatives to discuss things like risk assessments.
5pm: Leave office
Although I am working ‘normal’ hours, the Covid-19 team members have my contact details for call-outs should they need me.
The workshop also closes at 5pm, although they will do overtime if required.
I’m really proud of people’s commitment. The staff have really stepped up and there is a good team spirit that we’re all in it together.
You have to remain calm and look on the positive side and encourage people to keep going.
Frontline fleets: Case studies
Inspector Jason Booth, South Yorkshire Police
Road officers at South Yorkshire Police are as busy as ever, despite the volume of traffic falling due to the lockdown. However, with fewer drivers on the road, it makes it easier to spot those who are up to no good, according to inspector Jason Booth.
“Our role is quite dynamic, we’re responding to anything that comes in on the radio such as collisions or vehicles that have been stolen, burglaries and other crimes at night, as well as looking after the road network,” he says. “We did that before and we’re still doing that now.”
Contrary to some media reporting, the police are not patrolling the roads looking specifically for breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, but it is inevitable that they frequently come across them during the course of their daily work.
“We had a motorist from a neighbouring county saying they were going ‘to view a kitchen’ - at 11 o’clock at night,” says Booth. “We had another motorist driving more than 35 miles to deliver a letter instead of using a stamp. We’ve had people driving out to buy some cannabis. We’ve had people say they were ‘out to buy a KFC’ despite the fact they were all closed. These are just a few examples!”
He adds: “Those are not valid reasons for being out and we have taken some positive action (i.e. fines). But, everything we do is proportionate; it’s not a numbers game. It’s about supporting the local communities and the Government message.
“We have also been operating ‘educational’ stop sites across the force each afternoon. Here, we engage with motorists about the Government guidance around lockdown.”
Officers are aware key workers and commercial vehicles need to be allowed through quickly. Social distancing is adhered to for all conversations with motorists, which are intended to ensure they are out for the right reasons.
No prosecutions take place at these educational sites; they are not designed to catch people out, simply to educate and inform.
Social distancing measures have also changed the way the police interact.
“We no longer have a team briefing sat in the same room. In the main, we brief at the start of the shift via Skype with staff in cars, dialing in via laptops,” Booth says.
“It’s quite alien because the team briefing is an integral part of our day and is good for team building, but we need these measures to protect each other and protect the department.
“When we do go into the office, we enter the building one way and leave another. We use hand sanitiser and take our temperature when we enter to make sure we’re not bringing people into the work environment who may potentially have symptoms of Covid-19 and pass it on to others.
“We have social distancing within the office, and we wipe down the office very regularly with special cleaning solutions.”
Cleaning measures have also been implemented for the cars, where officers usually work as a single crew.
“We’ve had to take car cleaning to the next level. We are using special cleaners at the start and end of every shift. It’s about minimising any opportunities to pass anything on to the next person that uses that vehicle,” Booth explains.
“All our cars have PPE (gowns, gloves, goggles, paper mask, biohazard bag and sanitiser on board), each officer has individual hand gel and a full face mask, as required, and all staff are used to carrying gloves due to the nature of our job.”
Should they transport anyone suspected of having Covid-19, officers have access to vans and have set up a dedicated custody suite.
“Despite the difficult circumstance, team morale is generally good, and we all appreciate this is national situation and we need to support each other while doing our job and making our a contribution to keeping the roads and people of South Yorkshire safe,” says Booth.
“We continue to have some really good success, and this translates into a boost for morale. We are also active on social media, promoting the work we do, and the public’s supportive comments are a real boost.”
Ben Dalton, firefighter at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue has been working hard to support the fight against Covid-19, with a range of actions that assist other emergency services and the wider community.
Firefighter Ben Dalton explains: “We’ve been training up staff to drive ambulances, we’ve been delivering food parcels, prescriptions and PPE, we’ve been testing face masks for doctors at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, we’ve been ringing up vulnerable people for a welfare chat to make sure they’re OK for essentials, and we’ve been supporting the NHS ‘clap for carers’.”
He adds: “We try not to affect our operational response by sending operational fire engines, so the things I’ve mentioned have been done by drivers on their day off or by civilian staff.”
Dalton has himself helped ambulance services to gain access to premises where someone is suspected of having coronavirus.
“If the ambulance service turns up at a house and somebody isn’t answering, but you can see them the other side of the door, they’ve collapsed, we’ll gain access by drilling the lock so the ambulance service can get in,” he says.
“If we do have to go into the property to open the lock, we’re wearing our personal issue respirator and goggles and we are thoroughly decontaminated afterwards. We have a spray which we can put on our uniform which cleans it within 15 minutes.
“We’re spending about three hours of our 11-hour shifts cleaning so at the start and end of each shift we do a thorough clean of the fire engine, the fire appliance equipment and the station. We’re also cleaning when we turn back to the station from call-outs. You can’t be too careful with something like this.”
Social distancing has changed the service’s daily routines, including working practices and leisure times.
“When we all line up at the beginning of the shift to be detailed our duties for the day, we’re spaced two metres apart instead of being stood side-by-side and when we’re having lunch we make sure we’re spaced apart,” Dalton says.
“We’re staggering how many people go into the gym at one time – normally we go in as a crew and train together but we’re limiting it to three or four people – and we’re cleaning all the equipment. It’s good that the fire service has allowed us to train because it’s important we maintain our physical fitness to be able to carry out the role appropriately and it helps with mental wellbeing.
“When we’ve been to the gym and checked our equipment, we normally do some operational training, which we call drilling, for the job so we practice different scenarios such as responding to road traffic collisions or search and rescue, and putting up ladders. There are certain limitations now as to what we can do, we try not to get within two metres, so we’re doing less drilling provided we’re ‘in date’ for certain competencies.”
Generally, each engine accommodates four firefighters during a call out: a driver and an officer in charge in the front and two breathing apparatus-wearers in the back, with plenty of space to sit apart.
However, the amount and type of call-outs have changed slightly, with an increase in ‘nuisance’ fires and a reduction in road traffic collisions as the number of cars on the road has dropped.
Dalton adds: “But I’ve noticed that drivers are a lot more complacent – they’re not indicating as much or looking when they pull out – as the roads have been quieter. I’ve found pedestrians are in a similar mindset when they’re stepping out onto the road. I’ve also seen drivers treating the road as a racetrack!
“I’ve not had to attend a road traffic collision since the outbreak but the protocol is to have the minimum amount of people close to each other working on the car. Unfortunately, there are some scenarios where you need more than one. For example, when you’re extricating a casualty from the car you need more than one person to physically remove the casualty and then we’ll wear goggles and a respirator. But we’re trying, where possible, to minimise the amount of people around a vehicle.
“We’re all trying to be positive and support each other and get on with what needs doing.”
In tomorrow's frontline fleets, Paul Gatti, fleet director at Royal Mail, reveals the processes the UK’s biggest fleet operator has put in place, while postal worker Andrew Philips explains the changes to his daily routine.