Dorset and Wiltshire 2018/19
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
An effective fire and rescue service will identify and assess the full range of foreseeable fire and rescue risks its community faces. It will target its fire prevention and protection activities to those who are at greatest risk from fire. It will make sure businesses comply with fire safety legislation. When the public calls for help, the fire and rescue service should respond promptly with the right skills and equipment to deal with the incident effectively. Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
But the service needs to improve its effectiveness in terms of its understanding of risk. An external organisation has assessed and approved its community safety plan. It uses a software solution to understand its risk profile.
However, the service needs to ensure that:
- it is gathering and recording up-to-date risk information, as at present some of the information is out of date;
- it is communicating risk information more consistently to staff about temporary events, such as festivals; and
- its visits to premises are carried out promptly and not overdue.
The service communicates its safety information to staff well – although we found no mechanism that showed staff had actually read it.
Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires. In particular the service:
- delivers safety messages to children;
- targets safe and well visits towards those who are more vulnerable; and
- works well with its partner agencies and other organisations to prevent fires.
It needs to improve its response to fires, however. In particular, it needs to ensure:
- it has enough on-call appliances available; and
- it meets its standards on response times, especially in some rural areas.
The service works well with other services. Its joint mobilising function with two neighbouring services, Hampshire and Devon & Somerset, means that all three can operate effectively in each other’s service areas. This ensures the fastest possible response.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it gathers and records relevant and up-to-date risk information.
- The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information about temporary events.
All fire and rescue services should identify and assess all foreseeable fire and rescue-related risks. They should also prevent and mitigate these risks.
Understanding local and community risk
The service conducts a strategic assessment of risk. It looks at a range of factors that may affect the organisation, from opportunities and challenges within the fire sector and within the wider public sector. The assessment highlights the strategic, operational and local risks facing the service, and how the service intends to deal with them. As well as using internal data, it considers information from partner agencies and specific plans from the police, health, local authority and National Fire Chiefs Council. The assessment also considers the future development of the road networks around the two counties and the increase in housing stock. The number of homes is expected to increase by 40,000 by 2030. This informs the community safety plan, which the service calls its integrated risk management plan.
An external organisation that specialises in consultations has assessed the service’s consultation process that led up to the first combined community safety plan. It judged that the process was in line with best practice. The consultation exercise involved focus groups and online forums, among others. The service did not receive any significant feedback that made it reconsider any of its consultation proposals.
The service has a good understanding of its risk profile. It uses a range of information from outside sources to build the profile. Available at all stations, it draws on a range of datasets: lifestyle, the national land and property gazetteer, and home fire safety check and incident information. It gives users access to maps that identify the highest levels of risk in any chosen area. The communications team has used local community focus groups to help the service better understand the local risk profile within the service.
The service plays an important role in both the Dorset & Wiltshire local resilience forums. We saw these forums sharing risk information to understand the impact of waste fires, for example. Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service takes part in community safety and health and wellbeing boards. This enables it to gather risk information and share an understanding of local risks and vulnerability.
Having an effective risk management plan
Its community safety plan is in line with the requirements of the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England. Using the service’s strategic assessment of risk, the community safety plan is linked to the local community risk register. The service uses the community safety plan to detail the activities it will undertake to reduce the risks and maximise the opportunities that the strategic assessment of risk has identified. The plan, which is easy for the public to understand, is split into five priorities: making safer and healthier choices; protecting you and the environment from harm; being there when you need us; making every penny count; and supporting and developing our people.
The five priorities demonstrate what the service will do under the headings of prevention, protection, response and resilience, and explains clearly to the public what the outcome will look like. Strategic management of the plan is overseen through the service delivery plan. This ensures that the service delivers on its key priorities. It does this by assessing where the service is now – and what it needs to do – using an approach based on key lines of enquiry.
Maintaining risk information
Firefighters require up-to-date information about complex buildings and those that contain hazards, such as chemicals. This information allows incident commanders to determine priorities. Those might be directing water jets to protect certain parts of a building, or committing firefighters to search specific areas to rescue people more quickly in smoke. They can access site-specific risk information on mobile data terminals (MDTs) mounted in the fire engines.
Operational staff at full-time stations are responsible for visiting sites and gathering or reviewing site-specific risk information. On-call staff do not carry out the same range of site visits because their time is limited. But on-call stations are allocated a full-time on-call support officer. In these situations, the on-call support officer makes the visit and reviews site-specific risk information. We were given examples of where on-call staff had visited sites to familiarise themselves and ensure that crews were made aware of any risks at these sites.
The service does not systematically review site-specific risk information. A community fire-risk management information system holds this information. But, when we examined this system, we came across a number of premises whose risk visits were overdue and had not been reviewed. We also found examples where the site-specific risk information on the MDTs was out of date. As at 31 December 2018, the service had 889 7(2)(d) sites; it aims to review all site-specific risk information sites by the review date. In the year ending 31 March 2018, the service carried out 39 visits, but completed only 17 percent of them within the target. Out-of-date risk information could slow down rescue operations and put firefighters and the public at unnecessary risk.
We found that the service communicates risk information inconsistently to operational staff about temporary events, such as large festivals. We were given examples of when information would be emailed to local station managers. But the service could not be certain that operational crews always get this information, or have access to it through the MDTs.
The service has systems to ensure it shares general risk information with all staff. We saw this information being passed on through a variety of methods. They included: face-to-face handovers between watches; briefings at the starts of shifts and drill sessions; and the use of notice boards. While information on safety matters is communicated well, we found no mechanism for staff to record that they had actually read the published information – or which showed the service had checked that the information had been read.
If prevention or protection staff identify any risks when they visit premises, that the occupier is a hoarder for example, they inform fire control. They then add the risk information to the address in the mobilising system immediately. Crews can then see this information if they attend an incident at this address, and understand the risk.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires and other risks. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should evaluate its prevention work, so it understands the benefits better.
The service has developed and put into operation an effective prevention strategy. It is clear about where the greatest risk is, and how it will target its prevention activity. The strategy explains the way the service will focus its resources on prevention activities which is linked to its community safety plan.
Safe and well advisers and wholetime operational crews carry out prevention activity in homes. The advisers make more comprehensive visits, called safe and well visits. The service told us that these visits include identifying potential fire risks, taking action to reduce fire risks, ensuring working smoke alarms are fitted, advice on social welfare, health prevention and advice on slips, trips and falls. Operational crews carry out safe and well ‘light’ visits. Both are designed to keep people safe and help them live healthier lives. If a resident has more complex needs, crews can refer them back to a safe and well adviser for more assessment, or for signposting to another agency. A central team allocates these visits. But operational crews can also target activity in their area using a software tool.
Using locally defined risk factors, the service identifies and concentrates activity on members of the community who may be most vulnerable to fire. The service defines the local risk factors as those people who:
- are over 65;
- have a mobility issue; or
- have some form of dependencies (alcohol, drugs, etc).
This approach is improved by sharing data with other organisations and by cross-referencing with local health and wellbeing boards.
We found that the service targets its safe and well visits at those it has identified as at higher risk, such as people over 85. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 7.9 home fire safety checks per 1,000 population. This represents 11,783 checks. Of these, 66 percent of the home fire safety checks that the service carried out were on the elderly. However, the service has not provided data on how many checks it carried out on those registered as disabled. The service refers to home fire safety checks as safe and well checks. We found that all referrals made to the service are subject to an assessment against the criteria listed above. Interventions are targeted, using the most appropriate resources. They range from sending standard letters to sending trained safe and well advisers to carry out a full safe and well visit.
Station staff showed a good understanding of how they target prevention activity in their areas, using software to identify the highest levels of risk in their communities.
The service evaluates some of its prevention activities and programmes to try to understand how effective they are. It needs to evaluate this work further and undertake a cost–benefit analysis to obtain a more complete evaluation.
Promoting community safety
The service works well with partner agencies and organisations to prevent fires and keep people safe. It has partnership arrangements with local authorities in Dorset & Wiltshire, including adult social care. It also has local partnerships with clinical commissioning groups and GP surgeries. These arrangements mean that referrals for a safe and well check can be made both ways.
The service led part of a partnership called Safe and Independent Living (SAIL). This involves the fire service, local authorities, police, voluntary organisations, local groups and services, Age UK and local health services. Staff can make referrals through this partnership so that members of the community are directed towards the support they may need.
The SAIL programme provides:
- fitting free smoke detectors and having a home safety check;
- a home energy check and information about grants for insulation;
- benefit checks, to ensure that people are receiving everything they are entitled to;
- debt advice;
- signposting to local social opportunities, such as lunch clubs, exercise classes or learning centres;
- signposting to falls prevention services; and
- support in living a healthier lifestyle.
The scheme is now being extended into Wiltshire, led by Wiltshire Council, and involving a number of voluntary organisations.
Working with the charity SafeWise, the service helps to deliver safety messages to children on a range of subjects, including water safety. This is done at safety centres in Bournemouth and Weymouth. Data from the service shows that 3,204 primary school aged children have visited the two safety centres since April 2018. The service plans to build a new safety centre in the Swindon area. It is working with partner agencies to find the right site.
The service takes an active approach to dealing with fire-setting behaviour. An arson reduction co-ordinator leads a comprehensive arson reduction programme. One of its initiatives is a fire-setting intervention programme that works with children who have demonstrated fire-setting behaviour. The police, probation, education and youth offending teams make referrals to it. A team of trained volunteers works with these youngsters to tackle fire-setting behaviour. The service has supplied data that shows 117 referrals were made between April 2016 and December 2018.
Operational staff and safe and well advisers have all received safeguarding training. They also have access to an eLearning package that they complete each year. We found that staff had a good understanding of how to identify vulnerable people, and how to make a safeguarding referral, when they need to.
The service actively supports and is engaged in campaigns to promote road safety and reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on the roads. The Safe Drive, Stay Alive campaign seeks to teach young people about the dangers and consequences of poor and dangerous driving. Data provided by the service shows that 17,184 people received a road safety message between January and December 2017.
The counties of Dorset & Wiltshire are home to a large proportion of military staff. The service is working with the Ministry of Defence to deliver road safety messages to this group as well, using a video and a bespoke Safe Drive, Stay Alive session. Data provided by the service shows that 2,784 army personnel attended one of these sessions between January and December 2017.
The service website provides a number of links to agencies that promote road safety, like The Honest Truth and BikeSafe. The service allows its premises to be used as teaching locations for these programmes. It has also supported these events with volunteers. It has used its data on incidents to target the age groups most at risk who ride motorbikes in its area.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in buildings and, when 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.
Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service’s risk-based inspection programme is informed by local risk and it meets the statutory requirements.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 1.3 fire safety audits per 100 known premises (which equates to 1,230 audits). This compares to the England rate of 3.0 over the same period. Of all of these audits, 71 percent were satisfactory.
The service uses data to define high-risk premises. It categorises risk using: Experian data; whether the premises are a sleeping risk; whether the premises are outside the service response time; and historical incident data. The service uses this data to prioritise its activities. It aims to complete assessments of all high-risk premises by April 2020. As at 31 December 2018, the service has identified 1,817 premises as high risk. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service had audited 344 of them. Further to this, data from the service indicates they completed 800 high-risk audits prior to 1 April 2018, but they were unable to clarify the exact date that these audits were carried out.
Specialist fire safety trained staff carry out fire safety audits. We found they conduct fire safety audits consistently. In the first instance, they do a short audit. Staff do a full audit if compliance issues arise. The service has recently put into practice a quality assurance process that aims to ensure protection staff work consistently. It involves quality assurance of the visit, a review of associated paperwork and obtaining feedback from the responsible person at the site they have visited.
The service strikes a balance between reactive and proactive work. As well as the proactive risk-based inspection programme, reactive work includes taking action in response to fire safety complaints, for example. An inspector allocates these to staff. Reactive work is treated as a priority. Anything that may be considered critical to lives must be dealt with in 24 hours. Other matters can be handled within seven days. Protection officers are available day and night, and will respond to fire safety concerns brought to the service’s attention.
Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service has taken a robust approach to compliance with fire safety legislation. In the year to 31 March 2018, of the 351 unsatisfactory audits, the service issued:
- 96 informal notices;
- 19 prohibition notices (under Article 31);
- 7 enforcement notices (under Article 30 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005); and
- 1 prosecution for offences.
Where the service requires remedial action within premises, it works closely with building managers to make sure that the action deals with any breaches to fire safety rules. If remedial action is not taken, the service will consider enforcement. Before it takes enforcement action, a case conference is held to ensure consistency. It also takes legal advice. One officer in the protection team will oversee all enforcement action to ensure it is consistent and to manage capacity.
The service works with other enforcement agencies to share information on risk and take joint enforcement action where necessary. Members of the protection team collaborate with a number of services, including local authority housing, the council, building control, the Environment Agency and the Care Quality Commission. When we reviewed protection case files, we saw evidence that joint enforcement action had been undertaken with a local authority.
Working with others
The service has a call challenge and non-attendance policy on automatic fire alarms (AFAs). This keeps resources available for prevention and response activity. It guides control operators on the action they need to take to manage unwanted fire signals. When fire control receives AFA calls, it gathers other information to determine whether the alarm is the result of a fire or another cause. If it cannot confirm a fire, depending on the time of day and the type of premises, it may amend attendance. This can result in no attendance at all, a reduced attendance of one fire engine, or the full pre-determined attendance. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service received 5,827 unique calls for assistance from automatic fire alarms. It did not attend 1,719 of these. The service will, of course, attend if it receives confirmation of a fire.
A report is sent to station managers informing them about where an AFA has occurred. They then contact the responsible person at the premises and discuss the reasons for the activation and any measures that can be taken to reduce further calls. If help is needed, the technical fire safety team can be contacted who will then provide it.
The service works with local businesses and large organisations to share information and expectations on compliance with fire safety regulations, to improve safety. This is done at seminars. The local chamber of commerce supports the service by advertising these seminars to local businesses. The seminars are run in line with the monthly theme that the National Fire Chiefs Council has published.
The service has eight primary authority schemes. These are partnerships in which fire and rescue services advise businesses on complying with environmental health, trading standards or fire safety regulations through a single point of contact. A primary authority officer manages them centrally within the service and serves as the main point of contact. The service operates these schemes on the basis of a cost recovery model. This ensures the costs associated with the scheme are covered.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it has an effective system for staff to use learning and debriefs to improve operational response and incident command.
- The service should improve the availability of its on-call fire engines.
Managing assets and resources
The service takes a risk-based approach to responding to incidents and has set pre-determined attendances, aligned to the national incident types. Its networked control arrangements allow it to manage resources effectively and deploy them over the border when needed.
The service has sufficient equipment to respond to incidents that present a risk to personnel, property and the environment. As well as conventional fire appliances, a range of vehicles can deliver specialist responses, such as water rescue, wide area flooding and working at height.
All operational staff follow a maintenance-of-competence programme to maintain the skills they need. On-call and wholetime staff praised the training they have done.
The service uses a software solution to manage fire engine availability. It is directly linked to the control room mobilising system. For example, if on-call firefighters amend their availability, any changes will be automatically updated in the mobilising system. We found this system for managing resources effective.
Despite this, the availability of on-call appliances is still an issue. The overall monthly pump availability in the service between April 2018 and December 2018 ranged from 75.3 percent to 81.7 percent. But the availability of individual pumps is sometimes far lower. For example, in December 2018, nine of the 74 pumps were available less than 50 percent of the time. In the nine months to 31 December 2018, the service failed to mobilise an appliance 130 times. Most of these failures occurred at on-call stations.
The service recognises this problem, and is monitoring appliance availability at its performance and scrutiny meetings. When there is a lack of short-term crewing, it will contact operational staff who have volunteered for this at short notice to attend a station with a shortage. This crewing pool is available to both wholetime and on-call staff. On-call support officers can also be used to support crewing and make more appliances available.
The service’s response standards focus on saving life. They are based on the outcomes of research, and on the likelihood of surviving a fire in a premises. The target is that a fire engine will attend all fires at premises with a sleeping risk within 10 minutes, 75 percent of the time; this response time includes call handling, mobilisation and travel. The service is not meeting this standard. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service achieved this target 71 percent of the time. However, data that the service supplied showed us that the service is meeting its performance standard in more densely populated areas.
When considering overall response times, in the year to 31 March 2018, the service’s average response time to primary fires was 10 minutes and 22 seconds. This was a reduction from 11 minutes 12 seconds in the year ending 31 March 2016 and is broadly similar to the average response time to primary fires for other significantly rural services. But in more rural areas of Dorset, performance has got worse, although in rural Wiltshire it is improving.
The service monitors its response performance through local performance groups. Where variations occur, local managers work to address issues like recruitment, retention and supporting on-call stations. One project now in progress, designed to improve on-call recruitment and retention, is an on-call salary scheme.
The service has been using a clear three-stage plan to put the national operational guidance programme into practice. It has formed an internal national operational governance board that oversees projects. This agrees any actions that have arisen from the analysis of gaps that the service is completing. The goal is to implement the national operational guidance over the next two years.
Dorset & Wiltshire FRS works closely with Hampshire and Devon & Somerset FRSs. They have formed a partnership known as the Networked Fire Control Services Partnership (NFCSP). This aims to provide effective joint work across the services. As part of the arrangements, the three services can receive and manage emergency calls in any of their areas. This ensures that fire control staff handle emergency calls in the shortest time, as the nearest appliance from any service can be mobilised to deal with incidents. Control staff have the discretion to alter the attendance criteria to incidents. This may mean sending more, fewer, or no appliances to a site, depending on what information the control operator receives.
During our inspection, we saw how these arrangements worked, with fire control operators mobilising neighbouring services’ appliances, and with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service control operators mobilising Dorset & Wiltshire appliances.
The service has recently replaced the MDTs in its frontline appliances. These allow crews to access site-specific risk information, operational procedures, hazardous material information and vehicle construction information on their way to, or at, an incident. It has also installed an additional, removable terminal in the rear of the appliance, so that all staff can access information. Staff see the extra MDTs installed in the rear of the crew cab as a benefit. But some expressed frustration at the levels of security needed to access the information held on them. This means it could take them longer to get the information they need.
Early on during our inspection, we discovered that staff were unable to show they could access site-specific risk information competently using the MDTs. We raised this matter with the service and are pleased that the service has acted swiftly. When we returned, we looked again at how staff accessed risk information. They showed they could now access site-specific risk information competently on the MDTs.
Risk-critical training, such as incident command, forms part of an individual’s operational licence. Members of staff who do not hold a valid operational licence are removed from operational duties. The service ensures that all commanders attend an incident command refresher every two years. In this way, they remain competent to command incidents. A sample of service training records we saw showed that commanders had been duly assessed within the two-year period.
We found managers to be assertive, confident and knowledgeable to command fire service assets effectively and safely at incidents. We saw evidence of a good understanding of incident command, specifically around the use of operational discretion and the more fundamental aspects of incident management.
Incident commanders make good use of support materials. These include checklists, command support packs, analytical risk assessments and decision logs.
Keeping the public informed
The service uses its website to inform the public of incidents it has attended. Fire control operators use social media to provide real-time incident information. They also send messages to keep the public safe, for example, by keeping windows closed. Staff have received guidance and training from the communications team to ensure staff know how to use social media correctly. Most stations have a social media account and are encouraged to use it.
We also found that control staff are confident in their ability to access fire survival guidance. They give the right advice to callers who are trapped by fire during incidents. During our visit to the control room, we observed a control operator providing reassurance and support to a member of the public.
Firefighters who we spoke to described the action they would take when dealing with safeguarding concerns. We found them well trained and confident. They explained how they followed the service’s referral pathways.
Evaluating operational performance
The service has introduced an operational effectiveness database. This system enables all staff to access and input anything that they believe will improve the organisation or its services. Any learning from an operational debrief should be recorded on this database. Those staff who knew about the operational effectiveness database were positive about it. But we found that their awareness and use of the operational effectiveness database was inconsistent. This means that opportunities for wider learning may be being missed.
During our inspection, operational staff consistently described incidents where local hot debriefs (done shortly after an incident) had occurred. Staff gave examples of where a more formal debrief had taken place after a larger, protracted incident at a local brewery.
We were given an example of where the debrief process and the operational effectiveness database had resulted in the provision of specialist rescue equipment to support difficult rescue operations.
Operational assurance officers actively monitor incidents after being notified of an incident or when they are asked to carry out operational assurance. They must complete an assurance form, and either send it to a central team or enter it directly onto the operational effectiveness database.
We saw evidence that the service has made information available through the national joint operational learning platforms. We saw also that the service organises and takes part in debriefs of incidents and exercises involving the local resilience forums.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to national risks. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should arrange a programme of cross-border exercises, sharing the learning from these exercises.
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 service has arrangements to draw on extra resources should it need them. It has mutual aid arrangements with its neighbouring fire and rescue services and can use this aid when it needs. It can also seek more specialist assets and resources through the national co-ordination advisory framework, such as specialist urban search and rescue teams. Control staff and operational commanders showed they knew how to request these resources.
The service can support the response to a regional or national incident. It has a high-volume pump, national inter-agency liaison officers and a wildfire tactical adviser. Fire control staff could show how they recorded the availability of these assets using the national reporting tool.
The service has formed site-specific response plans for high-risk sites, which include a top-tier Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) site.
Working with other services
The service has a joint mobilising function with Hampshire and Devon & Somerset FRSs. The control rooms of the NFCSP have the same hardware and software, and can mobilise appliances and officers based on their distance from the incident. This means that the nearest resource is mobilised, ensuring an effective and efficient cross-border response. The control room operators in the partnership all follow the same training programme. As a result, they handle calls and deployments consistently. Because all operational procedures in the three services have been aligned, they can operate effectively and efficiently at incidents within each other’s service area.
The services that border Dorset & Wiltshire share risk information. The service uses Resilience Direct to share the information. The MDTs have risk information from neighbouring services within a 10 km range of the border on them.
Our inspection came across examples of where the service has done exercises with its neighbours within the NFCSP. But the service lacks an effective programme to support training and exercises with services that are not part of the NFCSP. This could make cross-border responses into those service areas less effective.
Working with other agencies
The service has been involved in a number of high-profile incidents, including the Salisbury and Amesbury incidents in 2018. This has seen the service work effectively with a range of partner agencies. These incidents have seen a number of local resilience plans tested in both the Dorset & Wiltshire areas.
The service is an active member of the local resilience forums. The chief fire officer is the vice-chair of the executive group. Other officers are involved in some of the sub-groups. The local resilience forums maintain a training schedule, and the service supports and attends training events where appropriate.
We saw evidence of the service’s involvement in joint training and exercising. From April 2018 to December 2018, the service took part in four joint exercises/training with other services. This included both a table-top and a practical exercise at a high-risk COMAH site.
The service is well prepared to be part of a multi-agency response to a community risk. The service has responded to a number of wildfire incidents over the past 12 months, using both its conventional fire engines and those with an off-road capability. Fire control staff could describe what actions to take if notified about a marauding terrorist attack. Action notes on the mobilising systems ensure that action is taken in line with national guidance.