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. Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
The service doesn’t currently show enough ambition to improve through its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). It needs to base its plan on a full understanding of risk. This should show how the service plans to address risk through a balanced approach to prevention, protection and response activity.
The service needs to manage its prevention work better. It should focus this work on the people most at risk and carry out home fire safety checks more promptly. It also needs to reduce the backlog of high-risk safe and well referrals. More positively, the service’s SkillZONE initiative is a proactive approach to safety education for children and other target groups. The service collaborates with other organisations to provide safety advice and messages. It also works with its partner organisations to support vulnerable people and reduce demand.
We are concerned that the service has not given its protection responsibilities sufficient importance or enough staff to manage its duties. It needs to develop a clear protection strategy to direct how it will manage its risk-based inspection programme. It should make sure it can offer specialist protection advice 24/7. And it should work more closely with businesses to share information and make sure they comply with fire safety regulations.
The service’s response strategy should make sure it provides the quickest response for the public. It needs to adopt national operational guidance (NOG), including joint learning. Operational staff should develop a better understanding of the joint decision model and use of discretion. However, the service does make good use of its on-call staff, using them for a range of specialist response roles and as community safety advisers.
The service’s training for national incidents needs to improve. It should make sure its staff have access to the risk information they need, and carry out shared training exercises with neighbouring services and partner organisations.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure the data it collects to inform its integrated
risk management plan is understood and used to manage its risk within
- The service should ensure it gathers and records relevant and up-to-date risk information and ensure a programme of risk site visits.
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
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has an IRMP that covers the period 2018–2021. The service used the county council’s consultation services department to maximise public engagement and shape the plan. The service told us it received 147 responses to its consultation, although it had hoped to receive more. The IRMP made few changes to the previous plan for 2015–2018 and, in our view, the service showed limited ambition to improve how it operates.
Local resilience managers engage at district level with local partner organisations, such as social housing, to gather local intelligence. The service has maps highlighting at-risk groups within the area that allow managers to target their prevention work. However, we couldn’t see how it uses this local information to guide its wider risk profile as part of its IRMP.
The service uses a range of data to identify local risk. This includes information from partner organisations such as the Safer Gloucestershire Partnership, which holds a range of data on crime, health and anti-social behaviour. However, the partnership doesn’t receive fire and rescue service data to add to the picture of overall risk in the county.
The service’s computer modelling uses various data (dwelling house fires, other building fires, casualties, and indices of multiple deprivation) to create a risk map to inform its IRMP. This allows it to define risk, target resources and map problems such as arson. The service previously used an external consultancy to evaluate its response model and the location of its fire stations and fire engines. This resulted in it changing its crewing arrangements at Cirencester and closing an on-call station at Painswick. This was part of its 2015–2018 IRMP and the data was used for its 2018–2021 IRMP as well.
The service doesn’t engage with partner organisations on a regular basis to understand current and future risk and what it will need to plan for. We recognise this is now changing in preparation for the next IRMP in 2022.
Having an effective risk management plan
The service’s IRMP reflects the national risk assessment and the local community risk register, as well as highlighting risk sites within the county.
The IRMP has a strong emphasis towards prevention and collaboration with partner organisations, such as the county council and clinical commissioning group. But it doesn’t have enough detail about protection and response.
The IRMP has three objectives:
- Increased focus on prevention and protection.
- Explore, further develop and maximise opportunities to collaborate with partners and other stakeholders.
- Reconfigure and reform our service.
An annual business plan and a prevention strategy underpin the IRMP. These documents don’t clearly set out who is responsible for actions or identify any targets for completing them. As a result, the business plan doesn’t make it clear how the service will manage risk to the public or meet the requirements of the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England.
Maintaining risk information
The service’s handling of risk information is mixed. It doesn’t collect, or manage effectively, risk information for sites that present a risk to firefighters and members of the public. The service told us it rates risk using the provision of operational risk information system (PORIS) methodology. However, in most of the risk ratings we examined, we found discrepancies between how the service had rated risk and what the grading should have been using the PORIS methodology. This leads to inconsistencies across the service.
The firefighters we interviewed were confident accessing up-to-date risk information through mobile data terminals (MDTs) on fire engines. However, staff told us older MDTs weren’t reliable. The service was in the process of rolling out replacement MDTs at the time of our inspection and this had greatly improved reliability.
As at 31 December 2018, the service had 175 risk sites. In the nine months to 31 December 2018, it had inspected 147 of them. Most of the records we reviewed were in date for their planned inspection.
Wholetime staff have a programme of inspections and visits to all the risk sites within their fire station area, with information recorded on an IT system. The allocation of inspections is rotated to make sure all staff visit every site within a four-year cycle, with high-risk sites taking priority. On-call staff don’t routinely visit risk sites.
The service’s local resilience managers attend safety advisory groups within their areas. For short-term risks, such as sprinklers temporarily not working, fire control shares information on the service’s mobilising system to alert crews where necessary. For example, the planning of the Cheltenham Gold Cup included training for staff and temporary risk plans on the MDTs. This information is given an owner and review date to make sure it is removed when no longer relevant.
We saw effective exchange of information carried out during shift changes and during on-call training evenings. The service uses ‘stop and go’ notices for health and safety problems that need something to be highlighted and then actioned. All staff need to read and sign the notices to confirm they understand them. However, this process is inconsistent and doesn’t currently give the organisation assurance that staff have read and understood the information.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it targets the most vulnerable referrals as a priority, and that staff understand the service’s high risk factor categories.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has a comprehensive strategy for prevention. It has established partnerships to target activity at people who are at the greatest risk of fire. The service provides safe and well visits and takes referrals from partner organisations such as housing associations and the Gloucester Deaf Association. The service leads a sub-group of the Gloucester adult safeguarding board to provide opportunities to reduce demand for fire, health and social services.
The service has identified seven fatal fire risk factors that it uses to target and prioritise prevention work. These are:
- the victim lives alone;
- housekeeping and housing concerns;
- limited mobility;
- mental health needs;
- drugs (both prescription and illegal); and
Since 2016, Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has provided telecare call handling and response to more than 500 subscribers who don’t have next of kin close by. Fire control sends an on-call firefighter to respond if there is an activation of the system. On-call staff carry out this role on a voluntary basis. The service has completed an internal evaluation of the benefits of this agreement. It recognises that the management arrangements should be more formal. With these improvements in place, we recognise the value this could have for the public in Gloucestershire.
The service has developed a pilot project with Gloucestershire Hospital Trust, with a part-funded staff member who takes on the role of care navigator. They identify those with potential vulnerabilities and co-ordinate partner organisations to provide additional support. This support is designed to prevent re-admission within 90 days and reduce the chance of fires. It reflects the fact that a higher proportion of dwelling fires involve older people who have just been discharged from hospital.
Promoting community safety
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service carries out significant prevention work for the size of the service.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 7,649 safe and well checks. This equates to 12.2 safe and well checks per 1,000 population, which is above the rate for England of 10.4. These visits include fire safety activities such as identifying and reducing fire risks and fitting fire alarms, as well as welfare-related activities such as health screening and advice on health prevention, social welfare and how to avoid trips and falls. In the same period, 37.4 percent of these checks were to households occupied by a person registered as disabled. This is above the England rate of 24.7 percent and an increase since 2014/15. The service targeted 54.3 percent of these checks at households occupied by an elderly person, a similar rate to the England average (54.1 percent).
However, at the time of inspection, the service had a backlog of over 800 safe and well visits. The service allocates visits to wholetime crews in their own station area and to community safety advisers (on-call staff who volunteer to carry out safe and well visits in on-call areas or where visits are more complex in nature). There is an electronic system to manage referrals and record visits. But the service doesn’t manage the allocation of staff to high-priority safe and well visits. In some cases, this means high-risk visits have been awaiting allocation for months. The service should address the backlog and make sure its monitoring of referrals is effective.
The service has a target to complete safe and well checks in 75 percent of all high-risk households. Although the service is meeting this target, the classification by staff of what constitutes high risk is inconsistent. In the files we examined, staff had incorrectly classified a large number as high risk and therefore the accuracy of records on which the service bases its reporting of high risk is not clear. If the service improves its staff’s understanding of what constitutes high risk, this could not only potentially place the service in a position of far exceeding the national rate of safe and well checks, but could also provide it with extra capacity to clear its backlog, in circumstances where it already carries out a high number of checks.
The service engages with the National Fire Chiefs Council’s prevention campaigns. It gives firefighters materials and communications plans to use in support of these campaigns. This included stations being involved in national Drowning Prevention Week.
Staff are trained and confident in recognising vulnerability and making safeguarding referrals where necessary. There are pathways established for staff to refer people to appropriate organisations.
The service runs an education centre called SkillZONE. This is a life skills village that teaches children, vulnerable adults and other target groups about how to keep themselves safe in a range of realistic scenarios. The service also provides education and training to schoolchildren across Gloucestershire, and partners with the county council and police. The service assesses its work with schools by asking pre and post visit questions and comparing the data, although we didn’t see the results of the evaluation during our inspection.
The service’s strategy for improving road safety isn’t clear. There is no formal road safety partnership in Gloucestershire. However, the service does carry out some activities. For example, along with the police and crime commissioner, it jointly funds:
- a safe and social driving co-ordinator post; and
- everal road safety programmes such as the ‘What if?’ programme that targets new drivers.
The service has also been involved in drink driving prevention events and cycling safety events in Cheltenham.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Cause of concern
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service does not have a clear protection strategy that describes how it will manage its statutory responsibilities using its risk-based inspection programme (RBIP) to identify the highest-risk premises. The service has difficulty in maintaining and interpreting its data and can’t carry out the number of audits of high-risk premises that it commits to as part of its RBIP.
By 30 April 2020, the service should:
- agree a plan to ensure its risk-based inspection programme is sufficiently resourced and targets its highest-risk premises; and
- ensure it conducts the number and frequency of high-risk premise audits that it sets out in its inspection programme.
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.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
The service’s approach to protection is poor. It doesn’t have a protection strategy. And it doesn’t describe in any detail how it will manage its statutory responsibilities relating to fire protection within its IRMP. The service has a schedule of audits, but it doesn’t include detail, such as how the service would enforce compliance or engage with businesses. The schedule defines the number and types of known premises within its fire safety system: the last schedule dated 2018 included 22,317 premises. But this differs from the data provided to the Home Office of 16,674 known premises as at 31 March 2018.
The service recently changed its definition of high-risk premises. It now prioritises premises where there is a risk people might be sleeping there. It also prioritises premises with a low compliance rating or no inspection history. In its 2018 work schedule, the service identified that it has a significant number of premises (1,076) that have the potential to be high risk due to a previous poor risk rating or no inspection history. The service committed to target them in 2018/2019 and across the three-year work schedule and aims to inspect all 1,076 potentially high-risk premises in 2018/2019. The service calculated that it has a total capacity of 1,056 per year with its current staff, which is below the number of targeted inspections it plans to carry out.
We are concerned that the service hasn’t allocated enough resources to protection activity. At the time of inspection, the service had four specialist fire protection inspectors. However, two of these were still in training, leaving just two people to carry out the high-risk inspections.
Currently, operational firefighters don’t carry out any protection audits to ease the burden on specialist staff. The service told us that, as part of the work schedule, it has highlighted proposals to alter this. It hasn’t yet trained its staff to do this.
Gloucestershire County Council has recently agreed additional funding to increase
the resources assigned to protection activity. However, any improvements will be difficult due to the service having no defined policy and not enough staff at present. This means that the service needs to make sure its protection strategy is clear, with enough oversight to meet its statutory requirements.
The service had difficulties explaining its protection data to us. The data it supplied to us was different from the data it supplied to the Home Office. The service needs to make sure it has confidence in data submissions, and it needs to improve its own understanding of its protection data. However, it is meeting most of its deadlines for responding to its statutory consultations for building regulations. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service received 380 building consultations and responded to 96.3 percent within the required timeframe. Managers consistently evaluate audits on a quarterly basis.
The service isn’t able to provide 24/7 out-of-hours capability for responding to complaints, concerns and dangerous fire safety conditions. This means that the service can’t immediately address dangerous issues outside office hours.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service conducted 277 audits, down from 732 audits in the year to 31 March 2015. This equates to 1.7 audits per 100 known premises, which is lower than the England rate of 3.0. Of the 277 audits, 78.3 percent were satisfactory; this is higher than the England rate of 68.5 percent. In the same period, the service issued 43 informal notices, eight enforcement notices, four prohibition notices and carried out one successful prosecution.
In the audits reviewed by inspectors, we found that the action taken by fire safety inspectors was appropriate and proportionate to the findings of the audit. Given the small numbers of protection staff, it is encouraging to see that they are using the full range of powers.
Due to the team being very small, with only a few people having this specialist knowledge, any departures have the potential to significantly hinder the service’s ability to mount a prosecution. The service needs to take steps to mitigate this risk.
The protection team and the county council trading standards team are located in the same building. Although we heard examples of the teams working together during the run-up to bonfire night, it was disappointing to find there are no formal processes for exchanging information.
Working with others
In the year to 31 December 2018, Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service received 2,704 requests for assistance to automatic fire alarms (AFAs). Of these, it did not attend 1,764 (65.2 percent). The service has a robust policy for challenging unwanted fire signals and only responds to AFAs when there are other reports of a fire as well as the alarm. It completes follow-up engagement with the businesses to address underlying problems.
However, the service doesn’t proactively engage with businesses to promote fire safety and doesn’t highlight how businesses should comply with fire safety regulations. Its website provides links for businesses, giving them information and guidance on risk assessment and responsibilities under the Regulatory For (Fire Safety) Order 2005. But it has no primary authority schemes or plans to create any.
In assessing this question, we identified a cause of concern. We then asked the service to provide an action plan detailing its response to this concern. We revisited the service three months later to assess its progress.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure its response strategy provides the quickest response for the public.
- The service should ensure it understands what it needs to do to adopt national operational guidance, including joint and national learning. It should then put in place a plan to do so.
- The service should ensure it has an effective system for staff to use learning and debriefs to improve operational response and incident command.
Managing assets and resources
The service carried out a review of the location of its fire stations and fire engines in 2015. It used external consultants to model response times and potential changes to stations and crewing. Since then, the service hasn’t updated its response model and doesn’t have a response strategy. It hasn’t carried out any scenario planning to understand the number of fire engines it needs to meet its foreseeable risk, or if it faces multiple incidents.
The service uses wholetime and on-call staff to supplement stations if they drop below minimum staffing levels. Control treats all wholetime stations and three on-call stations as essential stations and will always try to keep them staffed, moving resources as necessary.
Fire control uses a mobilising system that works out the quickest fire engine to send to each emergency by using automatic vehicle location. But although the service sends the quickest fire engine on most occasions, this isn’t the case in Gloucester and Cheltenham. In these places, control will send wholetime fire engines before on-call ones, even if the system is showing the on-call engine as quicker. We acknowledge that control staff have the discretion to amend this if there is a significant time difference. But this doesn’t necessarily give the quickest response for the public every time.
Staff are confident in using breathing apparatus and can explain emergency procedures. The service uses its on-call staff to support a wide variety of specialist roles such as crewing an aerial ladder platform, line rescue and swift water rescue. This is different from what we have seen in most services and is worthy of note as a different approach to the use of on-call. The integration across wholetime and on-call is generally good, with on-call firefighters riding on wholetime engines to cover staffing shortages.
In the nine months to 31 December 2018, the service had average monthly fire engine availability ranging from 77 percent to 85 percent. More recent data received after the inspection shows that average availability increased to 88 percent in the year to 31 March 2019. This includes a rate of 100 percent for wholetime fire engines and 86 percent for on-call fire engines.
The service hasn’t progressed work to adopt NOG quickly enough. Until recently, it was still working through its gap analysis. It recently established a team to progress this, but due to the delay, the service hasn’t implemented NOG and is behind other services. This could hinder how the service works alongside other fire and rescue services when responding to a cross-border incident.
In the year to 31 December 2018, the service attended 8.2 incidents per 1,000 population. This compares with the England rate of 10.4 over the same period. The Home Office collects and publishes data on response times by measuring the time between the call being made and the first fire engine arriving at the scene. This provides consistent data across all 45 services. However, services measure their own response times in a range of different ways.
The service publicly consulted as part of its IRMP 2015–2018 and agreed a set of response standards for the first fire engine to reach risk category areas. The higher the risk category, the quicker the response the incident will receive. The service’s response standards are:
- risk category 1 dwelling fires within 8 minutes, 80 percent of the time;
- risk category 2 dwelling fires within 14 minutes, 80 percent of the time; and
- risk category 3 dwelling fires within 14 minutes, 80 percent of the time.
The service exceeded those targets between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, achieving the response standards 81.5 percent, 95.4 percent and 91.6 percent of the time respectively. However, Home Office data shows that when comparing the service to other services classed as significantly rural, Gloucestershire has the longest response times to dwelling fires at 9 minutes 43 seconds and to primary fires at 11 minutes 3 seconds.
The service has a range of pre-determined attendance to different types of incidents and control has recently adopted the national incident type classifications. The service is also able to send an on-call engine with a crew of three to certain types of incident such as road traffic collisions and car fires. This means that control can send an engine when otherwise it would be unavailable due to not having enough staff.
Staff are confident retrieving data, such as risk information and location data,
from MDTs. However, staff told us that the service recently removed information that crews use to determine where the safest place is to cut crashed cars. It would be useful to include this information once more. The service installed this software as a trial in 2015 but it was discontinued in 2017 due to financial restraints. The service could reintroduce the software for all appliances if the funding were available.
Certain on-call stations provide a first response to medical emergencies on behalf of the ambulance service. The service has continued with emergency medical response following an initial trial with wholetime staff. However, some staff have stopped providing this response due to an ongoing national industrial dispute. This doesn’t affect how they respond to fires and other emergencies.
Control operators have the discretion to vary how the service responds based on information received from callers. Incidents we reviewed had the appropriate messages and dynamic risk assessments sent to control at appropriate intervals. But some managers aren’t sure of the service’s response strategy. For example, some middle managers told us that they aren’t sure whether they have to respond to incidents when the control room tells them about those incidents. This was raised with the service at the time of inspection and resolved shortly afterwards.
The service has introduced the Safer Firefighter programme. This supports and strengthens core skills and has recently focused on incident command. However, while staff know the basic principles of incident command, some operational staff don’t fully understand operational discretion and the joint decision model.
Keeping the public informed
The service doesn’t keep the public routinely informed about incidents, despite being able to use the county council’s communications team. It has 24/7 support from the communications team for more notable incidents. Fire control staff use Twitter for prevention messages.
The service’s work on telecare has better equipped its control staff to know about and manage vulnerabilities and safeguarding issues. Operational staff have had training in vulnerability, so they know how to identify people who are vulnerable and can make safeguarding referrals where necessary.
The control room has correct procedures in place to manage incidents. Its command and control system provides prompt sheets for operators around specialist subjects. These include breathing apparatus emergencies and providing survival guidance to those trapped by fire.
Evaluating operational performance
While the service has a process for gathering operational learning, not all staff understand this. Most operational staff said they have taken part in a hot debrief and are confident in its approach.
After all incidents attended by two or more fire engines, staff must record on an assurance form where tangible lessons have been learned. But most staff we spoke to hadn’t participated in this process. The service doesn’t monitor the number of incidents to make sure staff submit the corresponding number of forms. Its operational performance improvement group considers returns and manages trends and emerging issues. However, the service couldn’t show us what results this group had had or how it was dealing with arising issues.
It was encouraging to see that the service submits information to national operational learning. For example, it submitted information following an incident with a liquid natural gas tanker where it reported problems in isolating the vehicle.
The service’s process for dealing with complaints isn’t effective. The complaints we reviewed were recorded inconsistently. During our review, the service only had records for one out of the four complaints we asked to view. The service has recognised this and has recently adopted the county council’s process to improve consistency.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information. This should include cross-border risk information.
- The service should make sure it runs a programme of service, cross-border and partner 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).
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has arrangements in place to access extra resources for incidents such as wide-scale floods or major accidents. Control room staff and officers know how to request national assets and how to update the national reporting tool. The service supported national requests for resources recently. It provided wildland firefighting teams in Manchester in 2018 and enhanced logistical support to the Cumbria floods in 2015. Control managers have recently taken part in training on marauding terrorist attacks with police control colleagues. This followed a local review within the county of the learning outcomes from the Manchester terrorist attack of 2017.
The service’s chief fire officer (CFO) is responsible for the county council’s civil protection team. This team works in the same building as the protection team at HQ. This is an effective and joined-up approach. With police and fire control rooms also located together, staff believe the ability to exchange information face to face is easier.
Working with other services
The service borders five other English fire and rescue services and South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. It exchanges premises risk information with these neighbouring services up to ten kilometres from each border. However, due to staff resources not being available, Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue staff can’t view neighbouring service risk information on their MDTs. The service is aware of this and is working on a solution.
The service has recently reviewed its mutual aid arrangements. These allow neighbouring fire and rescue services to support each other at incidents. Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has reaffirmed that it will support requests for mutual aid from neighbouring services. This follows a period where previous senior managers hadn’t always allowed this to take place.
The service doesn’t have a regular programme of exercises either within the county or with neighbouring fire and rescue services. Staff told us that they regularly respond with neighbouring fire and rescue services, but rarely carry out cross-border training. The staff survey we carried out as part of our inspection (please see Annex A for more details) also confirmed this. Of the 105 firefighters and specialist support staff who responded to the survey, 77 percent disagreed that their service regularly trains/exercises with neighbouring services.
Working with other agencies
The service has experienced severe flooding in the past and has used national resources. It therefore has experience of managing large-scale national deployments into the county.
While the service conducts exercises with local resilience partners, these are sporadic and there is no formal exercise programme. The service told us that the low number of exercises might be because the organisations don’t have enough staff or resources. There have been some large-scale exercises recently – including using a large car factory and a training centre with a high-rise training building – as well as control room training for responding to a marauding terrorist attack.
The police and fire service headquarters are both on the same blue light campus. The multi-agency tactical and strategic co-ordination centres are also on this site. The duty principal fire officer becomes the strategic lead for the county council if a strategic co-ordinating group (SCG) is called. If the officer needs further support, they can ask additional directors to attend depending on the necessary skills.
As part of national arrangements for terrorism-related incidents, the service has specialist capability alongside Avon Fire and Rescue Service.