How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
The service is good in each of the five areas to do with keeping people safe and secure. It has a well-developed system for understanding and managing the risks faced by the local community. It works with partner organisations to predict likely risk and demand for fire and rescue services.
The service has an effective risk-management plan. Wholetime staff review risk information regularly, and update it.
The service has a range of community safety activities. These are aimed at preventing fires, promoting community safety and improving the health and wellbeing of local people. Operational firefighters and specialist fire prevention staff visit schools to teach children life skills about risk and safety.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. It uses a risk-based audit and inspection programme, with monitoring according to risk level. The service takes a robust approach to enforcement action.
At present, the protection team has insufficient capacity. Additional staff are being trained. The service has taken measures to successfully reduce the number of unwanted fire signals.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service benefits from its control room collaboration with Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria fire services. Cross-border mobilisations are used to achieve the fastest speed of response. Fire engines and other resources have been redeployed to consistently meet the service’s ten-minute attendance standard. The response model uses a pre-determined attendance policy for various types of incident.
Staff command incidents safely and assertively. However, the concept of operational discretion for commanders to make their own decisions in certain situations is not yet fully understood and accepted everywhere in the organisation. Operational learning between the collaborating fire and rescue services is clearly happening. The service has adopted the national Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP), working together with other organisations when responding to major multi-agency incidents. The service makes effective use of social media to communicate with, and work with, the public.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
All fire and rescue services should identify and assess all foreseeable fire and rescue-related risks. They should also prevent and mitigate these risks.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
Understanding local and community risk
The service has a well-developed process for understanding the risks the community faces. It consults with the public to develop its four-year integrated risk management plan (IRMP) and annual IRMP delivery plan. The service explores the needs of the community by holding face-to-face meetings with community groups. When developing the IRMP for 2018/19 the service held ten roadshows in major centres of population. The service contacts various black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), disability and community groups to inform them of the consultations. It also uses fire and rescue authority members to extend its reach into local communities.
The service is keen to ensure it includes the views of the public in its decisions about changes to services. For example, when considering removing the second fire engine at Ellesmere Port, it held an initial public consultation. This was followed by the engagement of an independent consultant to review the evidence. Consequently, the fire and rescue authority has now asked for further work, to see what alternatives are available.
The service uses a range of data, some drawn from local authorities and NHS bodies, to understand the community risks in Cheshire. The IRMP is based on the service’s knowledge of risks. It is used to develop community safety and operational response strategies. The service tests the possible impact of decisions it makes on the basis of the IRMP, using five years of past incident data. Its data modelling includes the location and availability of support to Cheshire from neighbouring services’ resources. It then uses this information to prioritise fire engine locations and community safety activity.
The service also aligns its plans with the community risk register. It works constructively with partner organisations to develop the community risk profile using local authority planning and population data, road and traffic accident data and Mosaic data to predict likely risks. The service also carries out an annual analysis of the political, economic, societal, technological, environmental, legal and organisational factors affecting the county which may have an impact on risk and community safety. Using this analysis, it looks at possible future changes and predicts future demand for fire and rescue services.
The service is taking steps to engage better with hard-to-reach communities, especially those who may be vulnerable. It has worked with partner organisations in Cheshire East to access details of unregistered houses in multiple occupation, where many migrant workers live with their families.
Having an effective risk management plan
Each fire and rescue service must produce an IRMP, based on its assessment of risk. The plan sets out the priorities and nature of the risks faced by the various communities. It also details the steps and resources needed to manage those risks. This risk management plan gives overall direction to the service.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s IRMP focuses on risk. This has clear links to prevention, protection and response activity through the annual activity plan. The service’s financial and workforce plans are intended to ensure that it can continue to maintain the right level of operational response to manage the risks effectively within the resources it has available.
The service has a response standard of attending house fires and road traffic collisions within ten minutes on 80 percent of occasions. The data supplied by the service during fieldwork shows that for the 12 months ending 31 March 2017 it achieved this on 87 percent of occasions. It targets its prevention and protection activity in areas where it is harder to achieve a ten-minute operational response. An established sprinkler campaign encourages registered social landlords to install sprinklers in high-rise buildings, using funding set aside by the fire authority.
Maintaining risk information
Firefighters require up-to-date information about complex buildings and those where there are hazards such as chemicals. This helps them to respond with the right people and equipment effectively, should there be an incident.
The service has a good understanding of risk. Staff regularly review risk information from high-risk sites and carry out site visits to ensure they are familiar with them. The Cheshire resilience forum actively exchanges information, and statutory partner organisations such as the planning authority share new risk information when developments are planned. Information from these sources is added to the database regularly and shared quickly when changes are made.
Firefighters receive information from the fire control room when they are mobilised and sent out to an incident, and through computer terminals on fire engines. Important changes to information are communicated to staff by email. The service undertakes dip-sampling to ensure the information is accurate and sufficient. The IRMP planning process uses this information in its assessment of risk.
On-call staff do not carry out the same range of site visits as their wholetime colleagues, due to time limitations. Instead, wholetime staff will update the risk information. The service uses table-top and video presentations to keep on-call staff up to date on relevant risks. If there are significant changes, site visits are arranged.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
The service has a broad programme of community safety activity. It aims its activities at preventing fires and improving the health and wellbeing of local people. The service uses local and national incident data to target resources and activity at those who are at most risk. It has a clear rationale for targeting its fire prevention activity. The service also seeks to make the most of its face-to-face contact with the public, working with local commissioning groups to identify how partner organisations can benefit when firefighters meet the public. Figures demonstrate the service’s effectiveness in targeting activity. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service carried out 36,379 home fire safety checks targeted at the elderly (age 65 and over) and 1,465 home fire safety checks targeted at those registered as disabled. Respectively, this represented 85.8 percent and 3.5 percent of all home fire safety checks completed by Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service.
The service has a Safe and Well programme. This is aligned to risk and is given by both local station-based and specialist fire prevention staff. The Safe and Well programme provides home fire safety checks and health and wellbeing checks. These include, where required, stroke reduction (atrial fibrillation) checks and referrals to:
- ‘warmer homes’ affordable warmth advice;
- bowel cancer screening kits;
- alcohol reduction advice; and
- advice on giving up smoking.
The service has been prioritising people over the age of 65 for Safe and Well visits. It is carrying out a review using incident data to see whether this is still the best group to target.
Several well-established joint community safety programmes are in place across the county, to reduce the risk of fire and improve the lives of local people. An example of this is work with the NHS Innovation Agency, screening people to provide early warning of any risk of stroke. Although the service has some evidence of the benefits of community safety activity (76 people have been signposted to their GP), no systematic cost/benefit evaluation has been made.
The organisation carries out customer satisfaction surveys after Safe and Well visits, to identify improvement. However, this follow-up activity does not attempt to measure how far behaviours may have changed because of the intervention.
Senior officers are active in national working groups on road safety, assistive technology (which helps vulnerable people in the event of fire) and fire prevention.
Promoting community safety
The service has adopted the national campaigns calendar to make the most impact from national publicity. In addition, there is an established programme of local community safety activities.
The prevention team, as well as operational crews, undertake Key stage 2 school visits for children aged 7–11 years. Operational crews carry these out in urban areas, while the prevention team covers rural areas. Older pupils are taught life skills in a realistic setting called Safety Central. Using a range of technology and computer simulations, they receive immersive education on:
- Safer Choices – consequences of decisions (cyber safety to police custody);
- Safe as Houses – causes of accidents and fires;
- Street Safe – road, railway and canal safety; and
- Rural Risk – dangers in the countryside.
Some schools find arranging attendance at Safety Central is limited by their ability to fund transportation. The service is examining whether funding could be made available to support the schools in most need. It has invested in an online area for children on its website, called Sparkton. The area has games, videos, tests and other resources to teach children about hazards in the home.
The service works with police community support officers in an ‘on the streets’ initiative. This team engages with local children and young people to target and prevent anti-social behaviour and fire-setting. The community safety team is trained in counselling children and young people who indulge in fire-setting behaviour. An arson reduction manager works with local fire stations and police, making sure that prosecutions proceed where appropriate. An action plan is in place, and there has been a reduction in deliberate fires.
The service is an active member of the Cheshire road safety partnership.
The service encourages staff to develop new projects. The Be Safe – Be Seen project targets young people and their parents in Cheshire East. It involves firefighter crews going to schools at the start of the day. Children who cycle are given road safety advice and have lights fitted to their bikes; those walking to school are given reflective tags to attach to their school bags. In the winter months of 2017/18, the crews distributed 500 high-visibility beanie hats.
Watch managers spoke positively about how the service had set realistic targets for road safety initiatives, such as ‘think drive survive’, and summer drink-drive
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it allocates enough resources to a prioritised and risk-based inspection programme.
All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in buildings and, where necessary, require building owners to comply with fire safety legislation. Each service decides how many assessments it does each year. But it must have a locally-determined, risk-based inspection programme for enforcing the legislation.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service uses a risk-based and intelligence-led approach to achieve its audit plan. Specialist fire protection staff carry out audits of complex high-risk premises. Local station-based staff make thematic inspections, such as shops which have sleeping accommodation above them.
The service has analysed incident data and has found that the majority of non-domestic fires come from preventable electrical fires. Frontline staff have been trained to provide advice to businesses through the course of their work.
Officers use a risk-scoring system to prioritise the audits according to the risk found at each site. The risk level determines how often inspections happen at the property; for example, a sample of high-risk properties is visited annually. Risk can be upgraded or downgraded after a fire safety audit, because of an incident, or because of enforcement activity.
Monitoring of national risks takes place regularly. After the Grenfell Tower fire, all protection activity focused on auditing and providing advice in high-rise buildings.
The service sets a maximum five-day response standard for reactive work like complaints or requests for advice. This varies according to the risk associated with the type of premises. For example, if there is a complaint about a high-risk sleeping premises such as a care home, an officer attends by the end of the day.
The service has a target of 1,800 fire safety audits per year. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service carried out protection audits on 1,317 of the 27,374 known premises (excluding single private dwellings) in the service area. This equates to 4.8 percent of known premises and is a decrease when compared to the 12 months to 31 March 2017, where 6.0 percent (1,629 premises) of the 27,235 known premises were audited. This decrease in audits was due to a change in focus caused by the Grenfell Tower fire. The service has a plan to achieve the target for these audits in 2018/19.
The level of resources within the protection department is sufficient to meet its statutory duties within the fire safety legislation. However, there is very little capacity to monitor compliance following an incident, or to achieve the planned inspection target. The protection team currently does not have sufficient capacity, as eight of the staff are still being trained. When all eight are qualified, the department will be able to meet all its planned targets. The service recognises this and has plans to increase the capacity of the teams.
The service follows the Regulators’ Code, engaging and working with businesses to achieve compliance. For those who fail to comply with fire safety regulations, the service has a robust approach to enforcement action. When the service has taken action, there is a similarly robust approach to those who fail to comply with fire safety orders and enforcement notices. The service follows the national enforcement management model and uses the full range of prohibition and enforcement notices. Recently a persistent offender was prosecuted and sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment. The corporate communications team engages with local news and media outlets to publicise the outcome of prosecutions, to act as a deterrent to others.
Before proceeding to prosecution, the protection team consults its legal team and sees whether the case passes the legal and public interest tests. Having consulted with the legal team, the protection team sometimes recommends that prosecution is not the best course of action. Operating in this way has meant that all prosecutions so far have been successful.
The service has regular meetings with the four local councils (Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton and Warrington), the planning authorities and environmental health teams. At these meetings, information and areas of concern are shared. The service also conducts joint inspections with local authorities and housing.
Working with others
The service has been monitoring unwanted fire signals from automatic fire alarms since 2008, when over 3,000 were received. The service has introduced a policy of call challenge, and where appropriate, non-attendance. The policy is to no longer go to automatic fire alarms unless they are out of hours, there is sleeping risk, and/or a caller makes a 999 call. Data supplied by the service shows that this combination of measures has seen the number of unwanted fire signals fall to 554 in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, of which almost 200 originated from hospitals. The service has established a dedicated hospital liaison role, working with hospitals to improve their systems, plans and policies. The protection team proactively reviews all fire signal incidents, and visits premises where repeat unwanted fire signals occur. During these visits, they give advice about how to reduce the number of unwanted fire signals.
The service runs business seminars on different topics. Recently the service gave a free half-day seminar to care-home businesses, outlining their legislative duties regarding fire safety. The feedback, with 60 people attending, was positive.
The service recognises that many business owners do not have time to attend seminars. The protection teams now collaborate with local authorities to run Impact Days. For example, in Chester, local authorities and other services, including fire, visit businesses to provide advice. Unless they identify significant problems, they do not take enforcement action. Local protection teams carry out two smaller impact days in their area. Across Cheshire, six events are carried out each year.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Managing assets and resources
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service mobilises its resources through the North West Fire Control (NWFC). This is a collaboration between Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria fire services. One benefit is that the NWFC control room knows the location of appliances over the border. This helps the control operator to send the fastest response possible, regardless of the region of origin.
has made some changes to its operating methods to meet its attendance standard consistently. This has involved removing and redeploying the second fire engine in some urban areas. There have also been some changes to the duty systems staff work, to match resources more closely to risk. This spreads resources to meet the ten-minute attendance standard across Cheshire. The average attendance time for primary fires in Cheshire in the 12 months to 31 March 2017, is nine minutes 56 seconds.
The number of firefighters on duty at any one time is often close to the minimum number required to operate, as determined by the service. Staff working overtime are used to cover absences and to keep some on-call appliances available. This provides an effective method of maintaining fire cover, but relies on the availability of staff prepared to work overtime. The alternative would be to employ more wholetime staff.
The service has a well-understood process for attaching markers to incident records to provide information to crews about vulnerable residents. These may include risk factors such as extreme hoarding, those who might have physical difficulty in leaving their home, or those using oxygen therapy. Providing the right information about an incident enables the service to respond appropriately, using the right level of resource.
Central to the response model is the pre-determined attendance policy. This sets out the type and number of fire engines needed to respond to different incidents (such as house fires). This policy uses information from task analysis, risk-assessment, site plans, together with professional judgment to decide what resources will attend. Certain sites have specific pre-determined attendances. The service reviews these regularly.
One member of staff is dedicated to ensuring that service policy and practice conform with national operational guidance. Operational debriefing, incident monitoring and attendance at mandatory central training all serve to check the crews’ understanding of changes to policy. We found staff had a good understanding of national operational guidance.
Operational risk information is available on mobile data terminals and laptops on all fire engines. The service prioritises updates to operational risk information. The scheduling of updates depends on the level of risk. But each watch can publish material without delay if needed.
The NWFC is able to command assets from all its four fire and rescue services. It can direct fire engines into Cheshire from outside if they can get there faster than an engine from Cheshire. It can do this because it knows the locations and availability in real time. Cross-border mobilisations ensure the fastest response for the community.
Staff have a good understanding of how to command incidents safely and assertively. However, there are areas where procedural changes are not routine practice across the service. Most staff understand the concept of operational discretion for commanders to make their own decisions in certain situations, but it is not fully part of routine practice everywhere. The service has drafted an operational discretion statement. This has been circulated to everyone in the service.
The service has worked to adopt JESIP. These are national principles helping all emergency services to work together at incidents. All incident commanders must undertake training and assessment to national standards. Senior managers must attend relevant strategic incident command training and assessment. Staff are confident and well trained to command incidents. Many spoke with pride about the command training and development available within the service.
Keeping the public informed
The service makes effective use of social media. It uses Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the public, particularly about road closures and road traffic collisions. It uses some analytics to evaluate the success of broader communications campaigns. The service recognises there is scope for further use of social media channels and targeting of local communities.
Some fire stations have received training to use Twitter, although some staff are concerned to use it, fearing they will get it wrong. The service issues updates about ongoing incidents on its website and on social media relating to public interest issues. Communications staff will only attend major incidents, or when there is media presence. Officers receive training on the use of social media and can tweet from low-risk incidents.
The organisation has measures in place to safeguard vulnerable people. There is evidence of this taking place throughout the organisation. Most staff were clear about what circumstances would require a safeguarding referral, but some staff would benefit from refresher training.
Evaluating operational performance
A system is in place for gathering learning at a debrief immediately after an incident. Supervisory managers record this, along with incident data. The incident recording system prompts operational learning at certain incident types. The outcomes are reviewed centrally and shared with relevant departments. Staff were very positive about the way of sharing information, good practice and learning, known as safety flashes.
When someone provides feedback, a process is in place to keep them informed about progress. We found this was used to good effect in some areas. In cases where outcomes took longer to achieve, the value of the progress report was lost, as it became a holding email.
Staff understand the process of incident command assurance. This is applied at pre-determined incident types, or whenever two or more fire engines are sent to an incident. On arrival, the officer makes an assessment and will either monitor the incident or, if circumstances dictate, take command. The officer completes an operational audit, recording his or her observations. Any training needs are discussed with the incident commander and his or her line manager, to agree a development plan. The process works well as a mentoring mechanism, but it was not clear how managers record poor performance at operational incidents.
We found evidence of operational learning between fire and rescue services. For example, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service realised they had different approaches to making the scene safe for emergency responders on the roads. That difference has now been resolved, and learning shared by both services.
All lessons learned through local resilience forum (LRF) activity and exercises are initially collated and used to structure the multi-agency debrief. The debrief must be attended by all LRF partners. The learning is shared, along with any action points for the future. The service also monitors and contributes to the national JESIP joint organisational learning database.
During mandatory operational training courses, there is an update on national learning. Here staff discuss the incident, what happened, and where improvements have been made as a result.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
All fire and rescue services must be able to respond effectively to multi-agency and cross-border incidents. This means working with other fire and rescue services (known as intraoperability) and emergency services (known as interoperability).
The NWFC updates the national resilience-reporting tool every day. It records the availability of national assets, such as high-volume pumps and swift water rescue teams. Control operators monitor this system regularly, highlighting any changes immediately. The control room can mobilise national assets from all four services regionally and nationally.
The service has requested and deployed a variety of national assets, including national strategic advisors, to incidents ranging from the woodmill fire at Bosley, a chemical tanker fire on the M56, and a light aircraft crash during a classic car festival.
The LRF has multi-agency plans in place for all the sites controlled by legislation requiring co-ordinated planning for the control of major accident hazards (COMAH). Multi-agency plans are stored online to ensure information is up-to-date, secure and available to all relevant organisations.
Staff are able to access information on mobile data terminals and laptops on all fire engines. However, the information about sites outside Cheshire that is available on the mobile data terminals is limited to up to 3km. The service may want to consider whether limiting the availability of operational information in this way is appropriate in all cases.
Working with other services
The organisation has effective arrangements in place to ensure a successful cross-border response. At the time of the inspection, the service was providing five appliances and crews per day to another fire and rescue service in the north west, to help tackle large-scale moorland fires. Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has learnt from previous national deployments. As a result, it mobilised on-call crews from out of the area, which meant it had enough resources available to meet any risk across Cheshire.
Working with other agencies
The service plays a central role in the Cheshire LRF, providing expertise in multi-agency exercises and debriefing. It organises and participates in multi-agency exercises at COMAH sites every three years. It also carries out yearly table-top exercises to do with COMAH sites, flood plans and counter-terrorism. An annual exercise events calendar is shared across the LRF. All exercises are designed to test preparedness and response to such incidents.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s local arrangements take into account the requirements of the national co-ordination and advisory framework. The service takes an active part in this forum and is the lead agency for the JESIP protocols.
The service has been the lead on planning and arranging multi-agency exercises in public entertainment venues. These exercises have involved the management teams from these venues and all partner organisations within the LRF. The service was the lead for the exercise at Manchester airport in July 2018.