Interesting things are afoot in, of all places, Gloucestershire.
I mean no disrespect to that fine county.

Alright I mean a certain amount of disrespect: I was born and bred in Herefordshire. We don’t have much to look down on but we try to look down on Gloucestershire. Though they have a very nice cathedral and can make a passable bottle of cider.

I didn’t ask Jon Hall to comment on these matters.

Though he has worked for Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service and now he runs Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service.

And their Highways department.

And he’s the Chief Fire Officers Association lead on National Resilience (deploying CBRN and USAR teams in the event of significant incidents).

And he’s one of a growing band of “suits” (uniforms in this case) championing social media. He tweets as @GlosFireChief and where he has influence he is using it to make better use of new technology.

Twitter streams have popped up for Gloucestershire’s Fire and Rescue Service, Highways, and Local Resilience Forum. Localgovcampers will be delighted to learn that Gloucestershire has joined the ranks of the twitter gritters*.

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Commanders find that they are strongly encouraged from the top to get on twitter. In fact Jon believes that social media is a core skill for everyone working in civil protection and crisis management.

“If you are a Station Commander and you are not paying attention to social media, you cannot know your patch” he says.

Despite the global reach twitter gives him, Jon has found the most significant benefits from the local community. Through twitter he has made connections with parish councillors and other local community leaders that he would struggle to meet in the real world of a large, mostly rural county.

So he encourages everyone to get on social media if only to listen to what’s going on. He is very clear on the importance of local intelligence. In fact some of his officers were embedded with Gloucestershire Police intelligence analysts during the August riots.

His Head of Highways role is a pragmatic response to reorganisation imposed by the cuts but it has given the county a new perspective on issues like flood planning and road safety.

It seems fair to say that Jon is not hidebound by traditional ways of doing things. Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has just announced an integrated command with a river rescue charity: Severn Area Rescue Association. One SARA team is now based within a Fire Station and firefighters and volunteers deploy together.

Jon says that SARA brings different capabilities. The Fire Service needs slipways, SARA can launch craft down muddy banks. Close working means the Fire Service can have confidence in the training and quality of the volunteer partner.

I asked him whether this was a one off or the start of more state/volunteer integration. He definitely sees more of this sort of thing in the future. Though I’m not sure he was thinking about digital volunteering programmes like standby taskforce (which I was).

Despite the enthusiasm, Gloucestershire hasn’t yet started including social media in exercises. Jon is also conscious that more imaginative uses could be made of the technology. He pointed me towards #woofwednesday which has been used to talk about UK search dog teams, personal safety when dog walking and a whole host of other messages targeted to dog lovers.

And finally, Jon has a simple message for his fellow Chief Fire Officers.

“Take the reins off and let people go for it”

*If this is your sort of thing you might like my social media checklist for councils gearing up for winter.