From starting line to finishing line: delivering a safe and secure Commonwealth Games

CFO Phil Loach with Sam Burton.

The multi-venue Commonwealth Games was the largest event in which West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) has ever been involved. More than three years’ planning and collaboration with partners culminated in a packed programme of world-class sport, broadcast to a global audience from 28 July to 8 August.

Words: Phil Loach, Chief Fire Officer, West Midlands Fire Service         

More than 700 WMFS staff volunteered to join the service’s dedicated Games workforce, working a total of some 20,000 hours during the competition. I’m proud beyond words of our staff’s contribution to successfully delivering a safe and secure Games in venues across the West Midlands.  

We achieved all that we set out to – balancing the demands of the Games with delivering our ‘business as usual’ services to our communities, while creating an exclusive experience for our staff. The planning itself was a monumental undertaking for our dedicated team. The team can look back with pride having delivered something amazing.

Those who were able to visit – estimated at five million – will know that there was an electrifying buzz around the West Midlands. The amazing opening ceremony, with its show-stealing animatronic bull, set the mood for the entire Games.

Using venues across the West Midlands

The Games took place across 11 venues, including the city’s Alexander Stadium and a new, purpose-built aquatics centre in Sandwell. Sutton Park played host to the triathlon events, while the city centre, suburban streets and part of Wolverhampton provided marathon and cycling time trial courses. WMFS also worked closely with fire colleagues in nearby Staffordshire and Warwickshire, as well as London, where mountain bike, velodrome and road cycling events were staged.

Inclusive approach

Our inclusive approach meant that colleagues from across WMFS were able to resource the Games. We did our very best to ensure that as many of our staff who wanted could be involved in this once-in-a-career event. This included many members of support teams filling what might, in the past, have been regarded as ‘uniform only’ roles. We are already talking about the legacy of the Games, and this approach is something we want to take forward in the future.

Bespoke pages on our intranet and regular staff briefings in the run up to the Games were designed to give everyone the information they needed – not only to fulfil their many and varied roles, but to enjoy the Games themselves.

Embracing all areas of our work

From fire safety inspections of sporting venues and athletes’ accommodation, though to the potential impact of road closures upon emergency response, our to do list for the Games was immense. 

Our Incident Room and a dedicated logistics hub at its headquarters in Birmingham coordinated the work of eight station logistics hubs and of the staff working in multi-agency control rooms at Games venues and other locations. 

Many of our fire protection staff were based at the athletes’ accommodation and were able to interact and share fire safety advice with possibly one of their most diverse communities ever.   We took advantage of the international footfall to engage with visitors and show the West Midlands and our own service in the best possible light, which included valuable fire prevention engagement at many of the pop-up events and festivals.

Robust planning process
From the earliest planning stages, working side-by-side with our partners at all levels – operational to executive – meant we could deliver robust plans which took account of other agencies’ needs and approaches.
We established a Concept of Operations (ConOps) that outlined how we would deliver business as usual  and, with partners, help to deliver a safe and secure Games. It complemented the Games Organising Committee’s own ConOps, which set out how partners would work together to deliver a successful Games.

WMFS’s operational responsibilities formed one of the key areas of focus in the ConOps. We wanted to ensure the safety of our communities, visitors to the West Midlands, and for any emergency response with the potential to impact the Games to be assertive, effective and safe. 

To achieve this, we needed to provide an extensive range of services and support – ranging from statutory fire services and resources, together with command, control and communication structures, through to more specialist disciplines such as scientific support and technical rescue.

Command structures

I was the fire gold commander and was supported by Area Commander Samantha Burton as silver commander. The dedicated WMFS incident room and separate logistics hub oversaw fire station-based logistics hubs. We also had specialist officers present in the Multi-Agency Command Centre, event control rooms, Games venues and athletes’ villages. Several WMFS fire stations and appliances were identified to provide Games cover to specific venues.

The Games infrastructure included training venues, festival sites, road closures, the Queen’s Baton Relay, celebratory events and transport hubs, as well as a multi-site athletes’ village model which using facilities provided by the Universities of Birmingham and Warwickshire as well as hotels at the National Exhibition Centre.

Learning from the experience

Enabling our staff to volunteer to work at the many venues, directly alongside our partners, undoubtedly helped them to forge lasting working relationships, friendships and memories. We’re confident that our wide-ranging contribution to the Games was achieved at much less cost than previous models, and we’ll be looking to apply a similarly cost-effective approach to supporting events in the future.

Ultimately, of course, it was about delivering a safe and secure Games. I’m extremely proud to say we helped to achieve that. We stayed in our lane and made it to the finish line.

Sam Burton will be speaking at The Emergency Services Show on 21 September.