Greater Manchester 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. Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
Governance of Greater Manchester FRS was moved to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) in 2017. In April 2018, Greater Manchester FRS launched a comprehensive review of all its services, called the ‘Programme for Change’. At the time of inspection, final decisions on this review were expected in spring 2019.
The service has an integrated risk management plan (IRMP) in place for 2016–20, which provides clear summaries of the key risks. The IRMP specified that the number of frontline fire engines and associated staff should be reduced, and consequently stopped recruiting new staff to replace those who left.
However, the reduction in the number of fire engines did not occur, meaning that the service didn’t have enough firefighters. Consequently, the service frequently has to move staff around Greater Manchester to make sure all areas are covered. The service is now in the process of significant recruitment.
The service fulfils its legal responsibilities for fire protection. But, because it doesn’t have enough fire protection staff, it hasn’t been able to maintain its inspection programme. However, following the Grenfell Tower fire, the service inspected all its 495 residential high-rise buildings.
The service has a good understanding of the risks to its local community. But it needs to improve this by bringing together data about different types of risk to help it understand where they combine to make people more vulnerable.
The service has a process for collecting information about buildings and sites that pose an increased risk. Firefighters know how to access this through the computers in fire engines. However, inspections are behind schedule so this information may not be up to date. Unless a command vehicle is deployed, the service doesn’t keep a full written record of the risks that firefighters encountered at an incident, and what steps they took to deal with them. The service has carried out some effective prosecutions of people who break fire safety law, but not all staff know when to do this.
The service makes prevention visits in the community. As well as fire risks, these also cover issues such as accidents, mental health and crime prevention. The service also runs seasonal campaigns to promote fire safety, for example in schools. But it doesn’t do enough to make sure these activities are aimed at people and areas at the most risk.
The service is implementing an action plan for terror-related incidents, following the Lord Kerslake report into the terrorist attack at Manchester Arena. However, not all firefighters understand how they should respond to terrorist incidents, especially if they find themselves at that kind of incident unexpectedly. The service’s marauding terrorist firearms capability is now largely provided by a neighbouring fire and rescue service. This arrangement is of considerable concern in respect of the safety of the public. The delay of any emergency service responding to such a crisis could very well cost lives. This matter deserves the most urgent attention and resolution.
The service has a clear policy in place for learning from incidents. Different types of debrief are used depending on how serious the incident is, and these are effective. The service works well with other agencies to help reduce the risk of fire.
Greater Manchester FRS benefits from its control room collaboration with Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria fire services. Cross-border mobilisations are used to achieve the fastest speed of response.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information.
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
Greater Manchester FRS has a good understanding of the risks to its local community. It used this understanding to create its current integrated risk management plan (IRMP), which covers the years 2016–20. The IRMP includes proposals to change the fire cover arrangements and meet financial targets.
However, the IRMP was temporarily suspended after the service was moved under the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) in 2017. The service now reports to the elected Mayor of Greater Manchester (the ‘metro mayor’).
In April 2018 (following the change in governance), the service started a review of all its activities including areas covered by its IRMP. It called this review the ‘Programme for Change’ (PFC). The PFC will reorganise the service and fully integrate it into the GMCA. It explains the investment that is needed to make these changes and proposes a range of options to save money. At the time of our inspection, final decisions about the PFC were expected in spring 2019.
The service has a good process for understanding the risks the community faces. The service uses a wide range of health and population data from local authorities. This gives information on age, ethnicity, poverty, health and welfare. It also includes how the population is likely to change in future. The service uses this to understand which geographical areas and groups of people are at particularly high risk.
The service also uses information it has on buildings, and from previous incidents, to better understand risk. It uses reports on fires where someone has died to help understand fires, both the direct cause (for example, an electrical fault) and things that contributed to it (for example, living alone and having poor mobility). The service uses all this information to identify people who are at greater risk from fires. However, the service acknowledges this could be improved by bringing together the combination of risks that make people more vulnerable.
The service engages with the public on its proposals, most recently on its annual corporate plan and its IRMP for 2016–20. The service received 158 responses to this IRMP consultation. During this consultation, the service held ‘citizen forums’ to engage local people face to face and discuss their needs. This kind of event allows the service to hear views from a diverse mix of people.
However, since the last IRMP consultation in 2015, the service hasn’t engaged meaningfully with the public in a structured way. Local borough safety teams engage with communities, but the methods used – and the results – vary considerably.
The service continually assesses factors that could affect risk and community safety, including political, economic, societal, technological, environmental, legal and organisational issues. This enables it to consider how to adapt to the future work of the fire and rescue services. For example, the service expects that there will be 16,500 more homes in the area in 2027 than there were in 2009.
Each fire and rescue service must produce an IRMP, based on its assessment of risk. The service takes account of the risks identified in the community risk register by the local resilience forum. An example of this is the multi-agency assessment of the risk of large-scale flooding. The service also shares its information with the forum.
The service’s IRMP for 2016–20 provides clear summaries of the key risks. These include demographic changes, growth in housing and employment, and increases in transport. The IRMP guides the direction of the service and is in line with the requirements of the national framework.
The IRMP reduced the number of fire engines that are generally available. It recognises that this affects the service’s ability to support neighbouring fire services. It also recognises that the service will rely on support from those neighbouring services.
The IRMP accurately describes the link between the service’s work in prevention, protection and response. However, we found that there are currently not enough resources to do all these things to the correct standard. This will be covered in more detail later in this report.
Maintaining risk information
Firefighters need up-to-date information about buildings. This applies particularly to buildings with complex layouts or that contain hazards like dangerous chemicals. This helps firefighters respond with the right people and equipment.
We found that firefighters visit high-risk sites to gather information about hazards. Information on temporary risks such as concerts is also available to them. However, in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, only 64 percent of revisits were completed on time. This means that the information the fire crews have isn’t always up to date.
We found that firefighters have access to information about risk through the computers that are in each fire engine. They were able to show us that they can find and use this information confidently. This helps them to deal with incidents safely.
We found that the service has effective arrangements to update staff with new and changed risk information. Managers provide information during the briefings that take place when a new shift starts. Relevant staff receive health and safety alerts by email, and record that they have read and understood it. One example we saw was a reminder to crews not to drive in closed lanes on motorways.
The fire control team can give firefighters information about particular risks to individuals. We saw examples of how hoarders and threats of arson were identified by staff, and how this information was made available for use by the crews.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it targets its prevention work at people most at risk, including those from hard-to-reach groups.
- The service should ensure staff understand and apply the correct process for safeguarding referrals.
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 community resilience strategy covering the years 2017–20, which explains how it will keep people safe from fire and other emergencies, and provide wider prevention and community safety activities. These include:
- keeping safe in the home (through safe and well visits);
- youth engagement (FireSmart, Firefly, Fire Team, Fire Cadets, The Prince’s Trust);
- integrated prevention hubs; and
The service told us that, as at 31 March 2018, prevention visits include ensuring working smoke alarms are fitted, and identifying and taking action to reduce potential fire risks. The service also discusses social issues, including health prevention, slips, trips and falls, mental health, substance use and crime prevention. However, even though the service started doing safe and well checks three years ago, we found some staff aren’t dealing with the health and social aspects of these checks.
Community safety activity isn’t targeted as effectively as it could be. The service relies on other agencies to inform them of people at high risk and requiring a safe and well visit. The service’s contact centre organises safe and well visits, but it doesn’t have an effective way of deciding which requests are most important. The service doesn’t check whether referrals from other agencies are a priority according to its own criteria. The service doesn’t evaluate the effectiveness of its partnerships with these agencies.
The service should ensure that its home fire safety checks, known in the service as safe and well visits, target those who are most at risk. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 11.9 visits per 1,000 population. Of these, 35 percent of visits were for those aged over 65, and 8 percent were for the disabled. This compares with 54 percent and 25 percent respectively in England over the same time frame.
We saw an effective process to act on high-risk referrals from the police. The service has agreed to respond to referrals about domestic violence within 24 hours. Crews provide advice to residents, and fit smoke alarms and fireproof letterboxes.
Promoting community safety
The service has developed a range of seasonal campaigns to promote fire safety – for example, the risk of fires caused by faulty Christmas decorations. Crews are provided with material to conduct these campaigns. For example, they give presentations in schools to pupils at key stages 2 and 3. We found that these campaigns aren’t being targeted at areas where incidents are most likely to happen, and the use of the material is inconsistent.
The service works effectively with other local agencies to address the risks associated with fire. The prevention team works with a wide range of partners including multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASHs), mental health teams and clinical commissioning groups. Community safety officers also give advice to faith groups.
An officer from Public Health England (PHE) works as part of the prevention team to help the service and PHE work together. Similarly, a police officer works in the fire investigation team. This provides help with training and making sure evidence is recorded properly. There has been an increase in the number of successful prosecutions since this arrangement has been in place.
There is a comprehensive safeguarding policy in place. Inspectors found staff knew how to recognise complex situations that create vulnerability, from hoarding to signs of financial abuse. There is evidence that staff across the organisation are making referrals of people who are at particular risk. However, we found that inconsistent training and monitoring had led to staff not always following the proper process.
The service runs a ‘FireSmart’ programme for young people who have engaged in fire-setting behaviour. Once someone is referred onto the programme, a trained adviser visits the home of the young person. They discuss the dangers of fire and provide education about the importance of fire safety.
The service is an active and valued member of the Greater Manchester road safety partnership. The service jointly contributes to the partnership’s road safety plan, running campaigns including ‘Safe Drive Stay Alive’. This initiative seeks to reduce road casualties by providing information to young people approaching driving age. The scheme is organised by emergency services and the local health service.The partnership evaluates how effective these events are.
The service also uses a virtual reality simulator to teach young drivers the importance of safe driving.
The road safety partnership has identified that it needs to target older drivers, and is considering the best ways to do this.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure that it has allocated sufficient resources to a prioritised and risk-based inspection programme.
- The service should ensure it addresses effectively the burden of false alarms (termed ‘unwanted signals’).
- The service should ensure its staff work with local businesses and large organisations to share information and expectations on compliance with fire safety regulations.
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.
We found that the service is meeting its legal obligations in relation to fire protection. It responds to consultations, building regulation requests and complaints.
However, the service isn’t able to meet the demands of its risk-based inspection programme. Because of the way it records its inspections, it couldn’t confirm to us that consultations are completed within the relevant time frame.
When considering all known premises, the service carried out 1.1 fire safety audits per 100 known premises (which equates to 1,248 audits) in the year to 31 March 2018. This compares with the England rate of 3.0 over the same period.
In 2016, the service said that it would inspect 17,000 of the highest-risk premises over three years. Data supplied by the service shows that between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2018 it carried out 5,843 high-risk audits. An additional 859 high-risk audits were conducted between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018. This is short of its projected target. The service’s plans to address the deficit were halted because of a change in focus following the Grenfell Tower fire. Greater Manchester has 495 residential high-rise buildings. After the Grenfell Tower fire, all residential high-rise buildings across Greater Manchester were inspected.
The service recognises it doesn’t have enough staff in its fire protection department. Firefighters collect and record information about fire safety in buildings they visit. The PFC lays out a plan for firefighters to increase protection activity.
Fire inspection officers are trained at the appropriate level for the work they are doing. The protection team follows the Competency Framework for Business Fire Safety Regulators and all its inspectors are accredited. The service has inspecting officers available at all times to deal with serious issues.
We found that the service makes effective use of short audits of business premises. If necessary, these can be escalated to a full audit, which may involve an inspector with a higher level of training. We saw some good examples of fire safety inspecting officers having their work regularly audited by their line manager. The officer gets feedback straightaway, and the manager puts the information into the active monitoring system (AMS). This helps the service to identify trends.
The service’s enforcement policy is based on principles agreed at the national level. It works with the Greater Manchester Growth Hub, which brings together different organisations to help businesses that are expanding.
Where possible, the service helps businesses deal with any fire safety concerns they have. However, when it finds major problems, the service may take stronger action. It regularly takes enforcement action against businesses that don’t comply with the Fire Safety Order. Of the 1,248 fire safety audits the service carried out in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, 44.4 percent of the premises were at a satisfactory standard. The service uses the full range of enforcement options, including action plans.
Before the service initiates a prosecution, it has a case conference with its lawyers. At two recent prosecutions, the defendants pleaded guilty at trial, and the service publicised the results to increase awareness and act as a deterrent.
Some protection staff weren’t clear when they should begin a prosecution. The service is publishing a new enforcement strategy that will make responsibilities clear.
Working with others
We found that the lack of capacity in the protection teams limits their ability to carry out proactive work. The service provides advice for businesses on its website, but doesn’t engage enough with local businesses to make sure they comply with fire regulations.
We found evidence that the service is using partnerships with organisations to help enforce fire safety law. For example, we saw how public sector housing partnerships are used to share information to make sure the law is followed. However, there are no formal arrangements in place for this kind of work.
The number of false alarms attended by the service increased by 14 percent between the year ending 30 September 2014 (12,075 false alarms) and the year ending 30 September 2018 (13,728 false alarms).
The service recognises the need to do more to reduce the increasing burden of false alarms on its resources. It is planning to change its policies to reduce the number of false alarms it attends. The service will consult on this change to bring it in line with the rest of England and Wales.
The service clearly demonstrated its commitment to working with other organisations following the Grenfell Tower fire. The service led a multi-agency High Rise Task Force, which jointly inspected every relevant building to make sure the residents were safe.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Greater Manchester 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 assure itself that staff are competent in safety-critical areas such as incident command and breathing apparatus.
- The service should assure itself that changes to procedures are understood by all staff.
- The service should assure itself that risk assessments are accurately recorded and passed to oncoming crews.
Managing assets and resources
The service has standard responses for certain types of incident, based on the number of staff and types of equipment needed to deal with them.
The service makes assumptions to judge if it has sufficient resources available. To plan for the largest situation the service is likely to contend with, the IRMP uses hypothetical scenarios: two incidents needing ten fire engines at the same time (one involving hazardous materials), or one incident needing 25 fire engines.
The IRMP determined that the number of fire engines should be reduced. Consequently, the service stopped recruiting new staff to replace those leaving. However, this element of the IRMP was suspended, resulting in too few firefighters. The service is now accelerating recruitment and is using overtime to ensure appropriate cover is in place.
The service moves resources around Greater Manchester to make sure enough cover is available. The service’s own figures show that between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018 they moved staff 16,593 times to make sure there were enough to crew its fire engines. The service does this to minimise the impact on attendance times. Between April 2018 and December 2018, the overall average monthly appliance availability ranged from 92 percent to 97 percent.
The service normally has 54 fire engines available. In any 24-hour period, up to 10 of these could be dedicated to training. But, because there isn’t enough operational cover, this training often isn’t happening, because these resources are needed to cover the gaps. As a result, the service can’t be sure that its firefighters have the right skills in critical areas, such as using breathing apparatus and working at height.
The service has a process underway to ensure its working practices are in line with national guidance. The most recent area of focus was guidance for using breathing apparatus. We found that the training was inconsistent, and not all staff understood the new procedures.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service’s average response to all primary fires was 7 minutes 14 seconds.
Since 1 April 2018, the service has set a target of attending all emergency incidents within 5 minutes 45 seconds. In the period from 1 April to 31 December 2018, the service achieved an average attendance time of 5 minutes 47 seconds.
As part of the PFC, the service is looking at how it responds to emergencies, including its speed of response. The service is using information concerning previous fires and other emergencies to understand the impact of its proposed changes.
Commanders are required to review and record risk assessments and decisions made at incidents in line with national guidance. This information is used to brief other commanders and firefighters arriving at incidents. Some of the commanders we spoke to weren’t aware of these requirements and didn’t complete them.
The service has a process for giving firefighters safety-critical information about buildings and sites that pose an increased risk. This information is available via mobile data terminals on fire engines. Staff were competent in accessing this information.
We saw effective practice in North West Fire Control, which handles emergency calls for Lancashire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester and Cheshire fire and rescue services. When North West Fire Control receives a call about a life-critical emergency that is close to the borders of these four services, it sends the nearest fire engine to the incident, irrespective of which fire and rescue service area the incident is in.
We found that the service has an established programme for developing new staff in command roles. This includes courses run by the service’s incident command academy, and external courses for more senior commanders.
The service has a target to assess the skills of its commanders every two years. It is failing to meet this ambition because of a lack of capacity at its training centre. This is because of the influx of new recruits.
The service is trying to address this problem by assessing the performance of commanders at incidents and holding regular exercises. However, there isn’t enough oversight by senior managers of these control measures to be confident they are bridging the gaps in training. The service has also introduced development days for supervisory commanders. However, these aren’t standardised and are inconsistent.
We found that incident commanders at all levels of the organisation have a good understanding of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles. These are designed to help incident commanders from all blue light services to work effectively together.
Keeping the public informed
The service has access to media support 24 hours a day. A media liaison officer is available to support the incident commander if needed. The service uses social media and its website effectively to communicate directly about incidents.
Evaluating operational performance
The service has a clear policy for learning from incidents. Most staff were able to describe the operational debrief process that immediately follows attendance at an incident. These are referred to as a hot debrief and are normally led by the incident commander, with staff encouraged to contribute.
After more serious incidents, there is a strategic debrief. These give firefighters and other agencies the opportunity to discuss and learn from the incident. We saw good examples of these debriefs after the wildfire incidents in July 2018. The service has an AMS which combines information from incidents, training, debriefs and staff skills. The service uses it to identify emerging themes. However, we found that frontline staff don’t see the benefits of the system, so don’t consistently record outcomes that could help improve the service’s future response.
The service uses an operational assurance team to attend incidents and assess staff. They are only sent to certain types of incident. Feedback is given at the time and through the AMS.
The service has implemented a process to learn from significant national and international incidents. This process identifies learning and recommendations that may be relevant to the service. It was used to review a water rescue training accident in another fire service and new guidance was issued as a result.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure that all operational commanders have opportunities to engage in the programme of cross-border and multi-agency exercises.
- Greater Manchester FRS should have its own MTFA response that is both resilient and timely.li>
- The service should ensure it is properly prepared as part of a multi-agency response to terrorist incidents. This includes the provision of a timely response to ensure public safety. Response procedures must be understood by all staff and properly exercised and tested.
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).
Following Lord Kerslake’s report into the terrorist attack at Manchester Arena, the service created an action plan to improve its response to terror-related incidents. We found the service was implementing this action plan – for example, there is now a dedicated communications channel with the police and ambulance. We tested this during our visit and there was an immediate response. The senior leadership team are keeping track of the plan’s progress.
The Home Office provides funding and training for a number of FRSs to respond to terrorist attacks and work alongside police and ambulance responders in the immediate vicinity of such a threat. The service still has national incident liaison officers who perform command and control roles at such incidents. During the course of our inspection, Greater Manchester FRS lost most of its tactical capability to provide this response due to a national industrial relations dispute. Despite attempts by the service to resolve this locally, its firefighters trained and equipped to be deployed into the risk area are now provided by Merseyside FRS. This arrangement is of considerable concern in respect of the safety of the public. The delay of any emergency service responding to such a crisis could very well cost lives. This matter deserves the most urgent attention and resolution.
The service is part of the North West Fire Control and there are arrangements in place to make sure it can have ready access to national assets, such as high-volume pumps and swift water rescue teams. It also has in place a voluntary recall to duty process to support the staffing of its specialist capabilities whereby staff are available to respond even if they are not scheduled to work.
Working with other services
The service has effective mutual aid arrangements in place with its neighbours. It regularly sends and receives help from neighbouring services. Notably, it did this during the moorland wildfire incidents in July 2018.
It also has a programme of multi-agency cross-border exercising and training. Incident commanders at various levels of seniority can become involved in these exercises. But the service doesn’t monitor to ensure that all commanders take this valuable opportunity. Risk information from neighbouring services is available to crews attending cross-border incidents.
Working with other agencies
The service takes an active part in regular exercises at the county’s high-risk sites which are registered under the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations. Partners from neighbouring fire and rescue services and other agencies are invited to attend. We saw evidence of multi-agency and cross-border working at a national flooding exercise run by the local resilience forum.
We found that not all firefighters fully understood how they should respond to terrorist incidents. Many staff believed the national dispute between employers and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) – which has resulted in the loss of the service’s MTFA capability – meant they weren’t to attend terrorist-related incidents. Consequently, many staff don’t know what is expected of them at this type of incident. The service needs to ensure that its procedures for responding are understood by all staff, and are properly exercised and tested.