How we inspect fire and rescue services

This is the first time that HMICFRS has inspected the fire and rescue service in England.

The fire and rescue service inspections will focus on the service provided to the public. They will assess how well fire and rescue services prevent, protect against and respond to fires and other emergencies, and how well they look after the people who work for the service.

Our inspection reports will tell you about the efficiency and effectiveness of your local fire and rescue service.

This page sets out the:

The aim of the inspection programme

The fire and rescue services inspection programme enables HMICFRS to draw together evidence from inspections of all 45 fire and rescue services in England. The inspection programme was developed with the fire and rescue service by recruiting experts from the sector to carry out the inspections, and by taking advice from senior service representatives. The inspection programme is designed to promote improvement in all aspects of the work undertaken by fire and rescue services.

HMICFRS will inspect the fire and rescue services that carry out the principal functions of a fire and rescue authority: fire safety, firefighting, and responding to road traffic accidents and other emergencies. We will inspect all 45 fire and rescue services in England, in three sets of 15 services, beginning in summer 2018 and concluding in Autumn 2019.

This will be the first full assessment of all 45 fire and rescue services for some years. At the end of each set of inspections, HMICFRS intends to publish a report of its assessment of each fire and rescue service inspected in that tranche, as well as a summary of themes emerging from the inspections. The resulting assessments will include graded judgments of each fire and rescue service. HMICFRS’ assessments are designed to enable the public to see how each fire and rescue service’s performance changes over time and in relation to the performance of other services.

This inspection programme is a rounded assessment of all fire and rescue services and will include an assessment of:

  • the operational service provided to the public (including prevention, protection, resilience, and response);
  • the efficiency of the service (how well it provides value for money, allocates resources to match risk, and collaborates with the police and ambulance services); and
  • the organisational effectiveness of the service (how well it promotes its values and culture, trains its staff and ensures they have the necessary skills, ensures fairness and diversity for the workforce and develops leadership and service capability).

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The questions in the inspection programme

The principal questions which the fire and rescue services inspection programme is designed to answer are set out below, along with the corresponding inspection focus:

Principal question Inspection focus
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks? How well the fire and rescue service understands its current and future risks, works to prevent fires and other risks, protects the public through the regulation of fire safety, responds to fires and other emergencies, and responds to national risks.
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks? How well the fire and rescue service uses its resources to manage risk, and secures an affordable way of providing its service, now and in the future.
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people? How well the fire and rescue service promotes its values and culture, trains its staff and ensures that they have the necessary skills, ensures fairness and diversity for its workforce, and develops leaders.

Effectiveness

Our assessment of effectiveness will consider how well the fire and rescue service is performing its principal functions in relation to fire safety, fire-fighting and road traffic collisions. The inspection will give prominence to the principal themes of how effective each service is at preventing, protecting against and responding to incidents; whether the service provides value for money; and whether the service understands its current demands and where future risks lie.

Efficiency

Our assessment of efficiency will consider whether the way in which each fire and rescue service operates represents value for money, and how well it is matching resources to the risks faced by the public.

People

Our assessment of how each fire and rescue service looks after its people will consider leadership at all levels in the organisation, including training, diversity, values and culture.

Our inspection framework for fire and rescue services

We will gather information to inform our assessments using a range of methods that include: analysis of documents and data; reviews of operational incidents; surveys of the public, and of fire and rescue services staff; interviews; focus groups; and observations of fire and rescue practice.

Following the first round of full inspections, HMICFRS intends to move to a risk-based inspection programme, which will be developed and consulted on separately. This allows inspection activity and resources to take account of known risks to public safety and to reflect the assessed performance of each fire and rescue service.

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Graded judgments

Fire and rescue services will be assessed and given graded judgments.

The categories of graded judgment are:

  • outstanding;
  • good;
  • requires improvement; and
  • inadequate.

Good is the ‘expected’ graded judgment.

Good is based on policy, practice or performance that meets pre-defined grading criteria that are informed by any relevant national operational guidance or standards.

If the policy, practice or performance exceeds what is expected for good, then consideration will be given to a graded judgment of outstanding.

If there are shortcomings in the policy, practice or performance of the fire and rescue service, then consideration will be given to a graded judgment of requires improvement.

If there are serious critical failings of policy, practice or performance of the fire and rescue service, then consideration will be given to a graded judgment of inadequate.

Readthe detailed judgment criteria. Please note: this document is currently in draft, subject to consultation with the service.

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Areas for improvement, causes of concern and recommendations

HMICFRS identifies:

  • areas for improvement; and
  • causes of concern – with an accompanying recommendation.

Areas for improvement

If HMICFRS’ inspection identifies an aspect of a fire and rescue service’s practice, policy or performance that falls short of the expected standard, it will be reported as one or more area(s) for improvement.

Area(s) for improvement will not be accompanied by a recommendation.

Causes of concern

If HMICFRS’ inspection identifies a serious or critical shortcoming in a fire and rescue service’s practice, policy or performance, it will be reported as a cause of concern. A cause of concern will always be accompanied by one or more recommendations. HMICFRS will recommend that the fire and rescue service(s) (and sometimes other bodies) make changes to alleviate or eradicate it.

Due to the serious nature of these shortcomings, HMICFRS will regularly review fire and rescue services’ progress (and the progress of other bodies, where appropriate) in alleviating or eradicating a cause of concern. The method and timing of this review will be determined by the precise nature of the cause of concern.

HMICFRS has already applied this approach to making recommendations to PEEL inspections and is currently rolling out the process to other thematic and joint inspections. In the case of joint inspections that are not led by HMICFRS, this approach will be advocated.

How areas for improvement and causes of concern relate to graded judgments

The following table shows how areas for improvement and causes of concern affect the awarding of graded judgments:

Graded judgment of core question Cause(s) of concern and accompanying recommendation(s) Area(s) for improvement
Outstanding no no
Good no possible
Requires improvement possible yes
Inadequate yes possible

If a core question is judged as requires improvement and a cause of concern and accompanying recommendation is identified, an area for improvement may not be needed.

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This is the first time that HMICFRS has inspected the fire and rescue service in England.

The fire and rescue service inspections will focus on the service provided to the public. They will assess how well fire and rescue services prevent, protect against and respond to fires and other emergencies, and how well they look after the people who work for the service.

Our inspection reports will tell you about the efficiency and effectiveness of your local fire and rescue service.