In his third and final assessment of England’s fire and rescue services before leaving his post in March 2022, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, Sir Thomas Winsor recognises the vitally important work of fire and rescue services.
The 13 inspections by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) carried out between February and August 2021 have informed the assessment of the progress made by the sector, including progress against national recommendations. These 13 inspections formed the first tranche of the current second round of inspections. The second inspection round resumed in February 2021, having been postponed in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The second round of inspections of all 44 services continue into 2022.
The Chief Inspector previously made six recommendations for national reform of the fire and rescue sector in previous reports. One of these recommendations was to introduce a code of ethics. Following the publication of the code in May 2021, the Chief Inspector has said he had already seen evidence of services making the code part of their values and policies.
However, Sir Thomas Winsor said four of his recommendations have still not been implemented. These include giving chief fire officers operational independence, reviewing the machinery determining terms and conditions, and the Home Office determining the role of fire and rescue services and firefighters.
HMICFRS have made a number of national recommendations. They are designed to promote reform of the sector and address the barriers that HMICFRS have found in every service since they started inspecting fire and rescue services.
Sir Thomas Winsor highlights that the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has carried out commendable work on developing national fire and rescue policy on areas such as leadership, data and digital.
The NFCC is also working with National Employers and the Local Government Association on the ‘Fit for the Future’ initiative. When completed, Fit for the Future will set out all three organisations’ joint objectives for the future of fire and rescue in England, as well as what is needed to achieve them. The three organisations will also establish how they will work together to best serve the public. In May 2021, the Local Government Association, the NFCC and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners published the Core Code of Ethics for Fire and Rescue Services. The code also become one of the eight standards published by the Fire Standards Board.
In addition to the eight fire standards already published, a further seven fire standards are currently in development by the Fire Standards Board.
These include Safeguarding; Fire Investigation; Emergency Preparedness and Resilience; and Data, as well as three Leadership Fire Standards.
This consultation was completed late 2021 with the results and revised standard being presented to the Fire Standards Board in December. Quality assurance has now been completed and this standard is due for publication in January 2022.
Consultation for this standard was completed in December. Quality assurance is set to take place in January with expected publication by March 2022.
Emergency Preparedness and Resilience
This standard, which has seen a name change from Emergency Planning and Resilience following peer review feedback, is set to go out for consultation in January 2022.
The Data Fire Standard has been drafted and is due to go out for consultation in spring 2022, depending on feedback from the peer review.
Leadership x 3
These standards are currently in the peer review stage, with consultation set to take place in spring.
The 13 service inspections HMICFRS completed between February and August 2021 have given a clear picture of the sector’s current state and the progress it has made since their first round of inspections, and inspections of how services responded to the pandemic (which are still being carried out). They assessed services’ work and their ability to continuously improve.
Changes were made to the HMICFRS methodology for the second round of inspections on the basis of feedback from services. These changes included a greater focus on diversity, productivity of services; identifying and planning against known risks to their communities and more case file review so protection and the role carried out by services in fire safety regulations.
Full details of all the inspections carried out can be found here.
In the ‘State of Fire and Rescue’ report, Sir Thomas Winsor raised concerns that some control rooms are not adequately set up to handle multiple fire survival guidance calls or are able to adequately exchange real-time risk information with incident commanders. This was also raised in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report. He stated that services must also make sure that control staff are well trained and equipped with the technology they need to work effectively. All too often we see that control staff aren’t sufficiently included in training plans, and that support is prioritised for their response colleagues instead.
The report also stated that other services have used technology to improve arrangements in their control room. For example, Bedfordshire fire and rescue control staff use technology effectively to pinpoint the location of callers and to access live images from incidents. They use this information to inform their assessments of risk and response. The service can also access a live video feed once they have had permission from the caller. Footage from the feed can also be passed on to incident commanders and the other emergency services.
During the 2021 inspections, inspectors examined in detail the range of risk information that was collected and passed on to firefighters, incident commanders and control room staff. This is an area of great emphasis and focus, following the recommendations made in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s Phase 1 report. They were pleased to find that most services were collecting good-quality risk information, including for high-risk and high-rise buildings, but were concerned that some services haven’t sufficiently prioritised making sure up-to-date risk information is available for firefighters, incident commanders and control room staff.
In some services, they also found that control room staff didn’t have immediate access to the same risk information available to incident commanders at the incident in question. A lack of consistent risk information could very well materially lower the quality of fire survival guidance provided by control room staff to people who may be trapped in a fire and it could have an adverse effect on communication and co-ordination between the control room and incident commanders.
Many services are generally proactive at looking for opportunities to work with other emergency responders. There are many examples of positive collaboration, particularly from some services that work in the same buildings as other emergency services. Some services share control rooms to save costs and improve services. Merseyside FRS has a programme under way to develop a new training and development academy with the North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust. The ambulance service plans to base its hazardous area response team at the site. Other services work together on joint procurement, such as buying new vehicles.
Inspectors highlighted the importance of continuity arrangements to services, and their control rooms in particular and the need to have robust provisions in place so that they can continue to provide a service during periods of disruption. During the 2021 inspections, inspectors found that most services don’t test their control room continuity arrangements often enough. Many services haven’t tested a full evacuation of their control rooms since before the pandemic; in some cases, it has been much longer. This means that staff aren’t fully aware of what they should do if an evacuation is needed.
It is recommended that services should test their evacuation plans often. Some services, such as Avon fire and rescue service, have tested their evacuation plans throughout the pandemic and carries out four exercises each year to test its arrangements.
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