How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
The service understands risk well. It assesses risk based on a range of data. Its plan to manage risk guides its activities and how it intends to operate in the future. But information about risk is not always up to date. The service must tackle this so that firefighters are fully informed.
The service is focusing on the quality of its prevention work rather than quantity. We found examples of good partnership working. But it should assess the benefits of this approach. It needs to understand why, in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the number of home safety checks per 1,000 population was low when compared to many other services.
According to data provided by the service, there has been a reduction in staffing for protection activity. The number of protection inspections have been consistently fallingsince the year ending 31 March 2011, workloads have increased and there are backlogs. We are concerned that, despite this, some staff are being made available for commercial activities. The service needs to have a clear plan for how to protect the public and make sure it can achieve this.
The service is good at managing its resources. It aims to provide better value for money by having smaller, more flexible teams to crew fire appliances. It trains its staff well and this includes the use of new technology. However, despite a small decrease in the 12 months to 31 March 2017, response times to primary fires have been increasing since 2008 and the service should address this.
The service communicates well with the public. It is good at working with its partner organisations and is well-prepared to respond to national risks. To help them to respond to calls and manage incidents more effectively, the service is in a partnership with two other fire and rescue services. It also works closely with the ambulance service.
The service is good at commanding incidents. It trains its staff well and provides specialist support at incidents when needed. It has good procedures to debrief incidents and identify learning – including from other services and partner organisations – but it needs to make sure that these procedures are used at all incidents.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
Hampshire Fire and Rescue 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 it gathers and records 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
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service communicates well with its communities and the organisations it works with to develop a risk profile for the county. For example, by working well with the NHS, Hampshire Constabulary and local councils, Hampshire FRS is aware of residents who might be vulnerable. This includes residents who might trip and fall, potential victims of crime, and those at risk from fire and other emergencies in their homes. The profile also helps the service develop road safety campaigns and rescue plans in the event of severe flooding.
Hampshire FRS has a good communication and media team. This team uses various methods to inform the public and seek their views on important issues. This includes social media, TV, radio and other methods. For example, the service told us about the success of a public consultation programme to help it to assess fire and other risks in communities. During this consultation, according to data supplied by the service, 450 people attended public meetings, 2,000 questionnaires were completed, and 30,000 people visited Hampshire FRS’s website.
We found that the service analyses data carefully, to support the development of its risk profile. It gathers information through three work streams: emerging risks, such as the learning from the Grenfell Tower disaster; global risks; other publicly available consumer data; and information gathered during routine activities, such as premises which it has visited to offer fire safety advice. Hampshire FRS uses information to make sure its activities focus on those who are most at risk from fire and other emergencies. For example, the service has developed a programme of enhanced home fire checks called ‘safe and well’. The check is done in the home of a vulnerable person and focuses on their wellbeing in their own home.
Hampshire FRS also has an important role in the local resilience forum (LRF). The LRF is a statutory body which brings together emergency services and other organisations which are responsible for crisis management and disaster recovery, such as local councils. The forum helps Hampshire FRS to make sure that these organisations (which include local businesses and the voluntary sector) have a common understanding of fire and other risks.
Having an effective risk management plan
Fire and rescue services must produce an integrated risk management plan (IRMP). The plan should include an assessment of all risks to life, and other harm in the community. It is designed to make fire and rescue services more responsive to local needs. We found a clear link between Hampshire FRS’s IRMP and its operational activity. For example, the plan helps the service to design safety campaigns such as water safety in the summer, and road safety.
It was also clear to us that Hampshire FRS’s IRMP sets out the service’s overall direction and future challenges. These include maintaining levels of emergency response and community safety services while faced with financial constraints. Hampshire FRS is using its IRMP as the basis of its change programme: the service delivery redesign programme (SDRP). A main theme of the SDRP is to develop a more flexible response to emergencies using smaller, more versatile vehicles, and smaller teams of firefighters. The IRMP is also being used to develop Hampshire FRS’s prevention services to vulnerable people. This includes the service’s decision to broaden the purpose of visits to people’s homes to include checks on the occupants’ wellbeing as well as fire safety advice. This development is in response to the increasing number of older people living in the county.
Maintaining risk information
The service has a policy for identifying and recording risk information and making it available to staff. Risk information is designed to make firefighters aware of hazards they may face when attending incidents. However, we found examples of risk information being out of date because scheduled visits to update the information had not been completed. This means that incident commanders and firefighters might not have all relevant information when responding to emergencies, which might limit their effectiveness.
We found the process for gathering risk information to be inconsistent. In some areas, notably Rushmoor, firefighters routinely visit high-risk premises as part of a co-ordinated programme to familiarise themselves and gather information about risks. In other areas, particularly those served by retained firefighters (on-call personnel who are not employed full time by the service), knowledge of, and access to, information about known risks was far less assured. Some of the premises where the risk information is out of date are considered high-risk by the service; this includes some heritage sites, such as churches and listed buildings.
Hampshire FRS’s vehicles are equipped with mobile data terminals (MDTs). These are a good way of providing frontline fire crews with risk information. The data available to firefighters includes risk relating to high-risk buildings and hazardous materials transported in vehicles. MDTs also provide access to policies and procedures. This information is also available to staff at Hampshire FRS’s fire control in case the MDT system fails.
Frontline staff told us they are not certain who is responsible for programming inspections so that the risk information can be updated. They don’t know whether it’s the responsibility of a central headquarters team, or locally based group managers (senior supervisors responsible for geographical areas). They feel that the confusion is contributing to delays in the risk information being updated.
Hampshire FRS is not in a position to provide up-to-date risk information to frontline firefighters. This is an area where we expect the service to improve quickly. This will be examined in future inspections.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Hampshire Fire and Rescue is good at preventing fires and other risks. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should understand why it completes proportionately fewer home fire safety checks than other services.
- The service should ensure it targets its prevention work at people most at risk.
- The service should evaluate its prevention work, so it understands the benefits better.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
The fire and rescue national framework for England requires fire and rescue authorities to make suitable provision for fire prevention and protection activities. The number of home safety checks has decreased in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, when compared to the previous year. The number of checks per 1,000 population in the 12 months to March 2018 is also well below the England rate.
The service’s IRMP identifies people over the age of 65 as being the main risk group in the county. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, 66 percent of all home visits were to the over-65 age group. This is an increase from 58 percent in the previous 12 months. However, this is due to a decrease in the overall number of visits carried out. The actual number of home safety checks to the over-65 age group has decreased from 3,643 visits in the 12 months to 31 March 2017, to 3,305 visits in the 12 months to 31 March 2018.
Hampshire FRS has changed its approach to prevention work. It has removed its performance targets from community safety prevention work, choosing to focus on quality over quantity. At the time of our inspection we found the service had done little to evaluate if this new approach was effective.
The service has several specialist prevention officers. These officers allocate standard visits to staff and volunteers, and take responsibility for the more complex visits themselves. However, the approach to allocating these visits across Hampshire is not consistent, and there is a wide variation in the time taken to complete the visits. Although formal training exists for staff there is no clear quality assurance process. We found some good practice in areas where prevention officers work closely with social care workers. Social workers make frequent requests for Hampshire FRS staff to visit residents who they think are vulnerable. There are also occasions when Hampshire FRS and council staff make joint visits.
Hampshire FRS provides the opportunity for members of the public to make a referral for a safe and well check online. If they do not meet the criteria for a visit, there is the option to receive safety advice online via the ‘Safe and Sound’ home safety tool.
Promoting community safety
The service promotes community safety well. Hampshire FRS seeks to promote the fire service as a health asset. It has extended its visits to vulnerable people to include general health and wellbeing as well as advice to prevent falls in the home.
Local clinical commissioning groups contracted the service to design a programme called ‘safety through education and exercise for resilience’ (STEER). It promotes wellbeing in communities on behalf of the NHS, focusing on mobility, social intervention and safety in the home among the elderly. We found another good example of joint working with the NHS in Rushmoor, where FRS staff share premises with a community care team. The co-location of staff and resources has led to a greater shared understanding of community risk. It has also provided opportunities for better information sharing and joint work to support vulnerable people.
The service prioritises campaigns that support specific community safety initiatives based on risk. It has done this since 2015. This includes, for example, road safety programmes in collision hotspots, and seasonal water-safety campaigns. The service has yet to assess whether this new approach benefits the people who take part.
The service has identified that there has been an increase in the number of deliberate fires. It has introduced a programme to reduce the risk of arson. This involves joint networking with other organisations to support people who start fires deliberately. The work includes the rehabilitation of young offenders in prison. Hampshire FRS has also established a joint arson task force with Hampshire Constabulary to do fire investigations. The service informed us that the numbers of detections and prosecutions for arson offences in Hampshire is greater than elsewhere in England.
Hampshire FRS has a good understanding of its safeguarding responsibilities. Staff are trained to identify people in the community who are vulnerable. They know how to act to safeguard vulnerable people at incidents. A specialist lead officer responsible for safeguarding makes sure that policies and procedures are kept up to date and that staff receive the appropriate training. Staff in the fire control centre play an important role in identifying vulnerable people when contact is first made with the service. We also found that staff know how to report their concerns to social care and other organisations if they think that people need help.
Hampshire County Council takes primary responsibility for road safety and casualty reduction in the county. Hampshire FRS plays a significant role in the ‘safe drive stay alive’ programme, alongside partner organisations. Firefighters bring their experiences of road deaths and serious collisions to a hard-hitting education programme aimed at changing the behaviour of young drivers and their passengers.
Hampshire FRS’s communications team has developed several images that promote road safety. These are displayed on fire and rescue vehicles and have been made widely available for use by other organisations involved in road safety.
The service is also working with other emergency services and the Ordnance Survey. This includes looking at different ways to record and predict where accidents might happen, and to put measures in place to reduce casualties.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it allocates enough resources to a prioritised and risk-based inspection programme.
- The service should assure itself that its commitment to the trading arm does not conflict with its main protection responsibilities or its public service duties.
All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in buildings and, where necessary, require building owners to comply with fire safety legislation. Each service decides how many assessments it does each year. But it must have a locally-determined, risk-based inspection programme for enforcing the legislation.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
According to data supplied by the service, Hampshire FRS allocates fewer staff to fire protection duties than in previous years. The number of inspections has been in steady decline since 2010. More positively, the number of high-risk premises that have been visited has increased markedly. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, Hampshire FRS identified 853 premises as high risk. Of these, 39 percent were audited as part of the risk-based inspection programme within the same time period. The service told us that following the Grenfell Tower fire, it identified and completed over 270 inspections of high-rise premises, working with local authority colleagues to provide advice and support to residents.
According to data provided by the service, it currently has 12 protection officers distributed across the county. These officers are trained and qualified to national standards. However, at times they struggle to balance the demands on their time. Other than inspecting high-risk premises, and their statutory obligations to respond to councils about planning applications, their work is mainly reactive. This means that they will respond to concerns which members of the public raise about fire safety, but more routine visits are limited. We reviewed several case files relating to inspection visits to premises. This showed that several premises scheduled to be audited were overdue for a visit. Hampshire FRS aims to visit high-risk venues every 12 months and medium-risk venues every two years. We found one file that was four years out of date.
In the context of the workload pressures faced by frontline staff and the backlogs in the risk-based inspection programme, we are concerned that at the same time some staff are being made available for commercial activities. Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority has set up a business that operates from its service’s headquarters. This is overseen by members of the fire authority who constitute the board of directors. The business provides services to the commercial sector, including: event security business safety training; consultancy; and fire safety risk assessment advice. The business contracts Hampshire FRS staff to provide commercial services for a set period. The service recovers the full cost of these staff. However, we are concerned that the current supply of staff to the business is affecting the inspection programme, which is a primary responsibility of the service.
We are also concerned this arrangement has the potential to create a conflict of interest. Hampshire FRS staff, working on behalf of the business, provide fire safety advice in premises which may later be subject to inspection audits. If the fire safety advice was found to be defective or inadequate, this would create a position where Hampshire FRS was criticising work completed by its own members of staff. Staff completing these audits might find it difficult to remain objective in such circumstances or reluctant to make criticisms.
Hampshire FRS has an action plan to improve performance and is reviewing its risk-based inspection programme, but at time of inspection it was not clear to us how far this has progressed. The service should ensure that its inspection programme is properly resourced in line with its stated aims.
In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, 68 percent of premises inspected for protection purposes were found to be unsatisfactory. Overall, the number of enforcement actions has notably reduced from 25 in the 12 months to 31 March 2016 to one in the 12 months to 31 March 2018. However, there has been an increase in the number of prohibition notices issued during the same period (increasing from 13 to 24). The service believes that this is a sign that it is focusing on the premises that cause the highest risk to the public.
The service works well with other organisations to share information on risk. It works with local authority building control, trading standards and housing teams to support enforcement activity.
Working with others
The service is good at working with others to promote regulatory fire safety requirements. The service handles 30 primary authority schemes (PAS). These allow businesses and organisations with premises in more than one fire authority area to receive fire safety advice from a single fire service. We spoke to several business representatives who benefit from Hampshire FRS’s PAS. They were complimentary about the service provided.
The service jointly funds a protection officer to work with Hampshire County Council. This results in more effective sharing of information between Hampshire FRS and the county council. It has led to safety improvements in the council’s building stock including the retro-fitting of water sprinkler systems in residential and educational buildings.
Hampshire FRS is less effective at reducing the number of unwanted fire signals (false alarms from fire alarms and detection systems). The number of incidents which the service attended that were false alarms because of apparatus has increased in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, when compared to the same period in 2015. These can place unjustified demands on fire services. Hampshire FRS’s protection officers work closely with businesses to identify causes and offer solutions, one notable example being the reduction in calls from Southampton General Hospital.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. But we found the following area 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.
Managing assets and resources
The service is good at managing its assets and resources. Since 2016, Hampshire FRS has changed how it responds to emergencies. This means that the number of firefighters sent to incidents, and the type of vehicle they travel in, are better suited to the situation. Hampshire FRS’s fleet includes first response vehicles, and intermediate and enhanced fire appliances. All of these can be crewed by differing numbers of personnel.
The smaller first response vehicles can be crewed by two firefighters. This means they can respond quickly to an emergency and start to bring it under control. They can gather information and request additional resources should they be needed. The service has given clear guidelines and training for staff to help them to respond to incidents effectively. However, some firefighters we spoke to raised concerns about the limitations of only having two firefighters on a first response vehicle.
Retained firefighters are more positive about the proposal to crew a fire appliance with a minimum of two personnel. At stations where retained firefighters work, there are occasions when it can be difficult to assemble larger crews because of staff availability. The new arrangements mean that firefighters can be deployed in pairs, supported by staff from other fire stations if the circumstances require it.
Firefighter training includes the use of new technology. For example, firefighters have been trained in the use of modern thermal imaging cameras and ultra-high pressure lances. This has helped Hampshire FRS develop a concept of operations known as ‘scan, attack, ventilate and enter’ (SAVE).
Hampshire FRS has good procedures to understand how changes in staffing levels affect how well it can respond to incidents. This includes the day-to-day fluctuations as well as the more predictable variations in staffing levels. All of these can affect the availability of resources and its response capability. The procedures are known as a degradation plan. This, along with the application of professional knowledge, makes sure that there are sufficient resources available to respond to incidents.
Hampshire FRS carefully monitors the time it takes to attend incidents. Since 2008, data shows that there had been a gradual increase in average attendance times to primary fires, peaking in the 12 months to 31 March 2016 at nine minutes 20 seconds. In the 12 months to 31 March 2017, the average attendance time to a primary fire was nine minutes four seconds.
The service has set itself an ambitious target to attend critical incidents within eight minutes on 80 percent of occasions. The service classes critical incidents as incidents that endanger people or property, such as building fires or road traffic collisions. Data from the service shows that the current performance is 65 percent and the service expects this to increase to 77 percent by 2020. The service should continue its work to improve its attendance time to incidents.
The service is currently amending its policies to reflect national operational guidance. It has already completed a significant amount of this work. This includes new procedures for the use of breathing apparatus and the command of incidents. It knows which areas need updating, and has a plan in place to achieve this.
The service’s flexible crewing arrangements mean that it can send the appropriate response based on the type of incident. The initial response also depends on the level of risk the incident presents. All incidents are attended by a pre-determined number of appliances including:
- incidents involving high-rise property;
- when people are reported missing or trapped;
- if hazardous materials are present; and
- rescue from water or at height.
Staff in fire control can use their discretion and alter the level of attendance if the information received justifies it.
Hampshire FRS also works closely with Dorset and Wiltshire FRS, and Devon and Somerset FRS. The services have formed a partnership known as the Network Fire Services Partnership (NFSP). This aims to provide effective joint working across the services. As part of NFSP arrangements, the three fire and rescue 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 possible. And the partnership allows the nearest appliance from any service to be mobilised to incidents. All three services can provide immediate support in the event of a major incident or a large volume of calls arising from an exceptional weather event (such as flooding).
During our inspection, we saw how well these arrangements worked. A large incident on the Isle of Wight was managed by Hampshire fire control, together with operators located in Dorset and Wiltshire fire control. Hampshire FRS control room also co-ordinated the arrangements for resources to be sent to the Isle of Wight. These arrangements and processes were well-practiced and multi-layered. This resulted in no loss of service to the public of Hampshire or the Isle of Wight.
The service assists the ambulance service with medical emergencies in remote areas of the county. Retained firefighters also operate a system, known as co-responding, to assist the ambulance service. This means that firefighters respond to certain types of medical emergencies and provide care to patients before paramedics arrive at the scene. These arrangements have been working well since 2004. According to data provided by the service, in 2017, the service also attended 1,200 incidents to help paramedics gain access to premises when there were concerns about the wellbeing of the occupant.
The service is good at commanding incidents. Its training follows national guidance. This sets out the skills and experience expected of commanders at four levels, based on the seriousness and size of each incident. Incident commanders have access to relevant policies and procedures using the MDTs and aides-memoire.
The service provides up-to-date training material. It does regular incident command assessments of its staff at all levels. It has recently introduced a state-of-the-art computerised training simulator. This gives incident commanders access to realistic training scenarios to test their skills.
Experienced advisors are mobilised to support those in command at incidents. These advisors assist with decision-making and provide technical knowledge to the incident commander.
Keeping the public informed
The service communicates well with the public. It uses its website and social media to provide accurate and up-to-date information about incidents. The communications team is available at all times and has access to the incident system. The team informs the public about any significant events. This includes large fires, road traffic collisions which cause travel disruption, and other incidents of interest.
The service’s communications team works with press and media officers from Hampshire Constabulary. This helps them to provide joint messages about public safety. They use social media to tell local people about incidents as they happen.
Evaluating operational performance
Hampshire FRS has procedures to de-brief incidents. This means it can examine results, identify areas of good practice and find out if it could have done things better. Staff know that larger incidents trigger these procedures. The service shares findings with staff through a number of channels including an e-learning portal, the service’s intranet and internal circulars which are known as ‘routine notices’. However, we found that not all firefighters understand how to contribute to these procedures. We also found that debriefing for the lower-level or smaller incidents did not always identify formal learning outcomes to be shared across the service. This is an area where the service needs to improve.
The service exchanges learning with other emergency services and with its neighbouring fire and rescue services. This is particularly the case if an incident has involved more than one fire and rescue service. Hampshire FRS has hosted several events to share organisational learning with the fire service community. It proactively seeks to learn from the experiences of incidents elsewhere in the country.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
All fire and rescue services must be able to respond effectively to multi-agency and cross-border incidents. This means working with other fire and rescue services (known as intraoperability) and emergency services (known as interoperability).
The service has some significant responsibilities as part of its role in the LRF. It contributes to several tried-and-tested plans with other organisations to address national and local risks. These include: major incidents involving the transport network; pandemic flu; large-scale flooding; or other weather-related events. Hampshire FRS has procedures in place to request support from neighbouring fire and rescue services, local authorities and the military if incidents require specialist support.
Several premises in the county are high risk. These include 14 sites that are designated by the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH) 2015 according to data provided by the service. The service has agreed and tested out plans with all relevant organisations to manage incidents on these sites.
Working with other services
Hampshire FRS is bordered by Dorset and Wiltshire FRS, Royal Berkshire FRS, Surrey FRS and West Sussex FRS. It also supports the Isle of Wight FRS. The service works hard to ensure that it can properly support neighbouring services. The NFSP and a programme of cross-border exercises with these fires services, together with sharing risk information, means that firefighters feel confident in responding to emergencies in other counties and in providing valued support.
Working with other agencies
The service has plans in place to manage incidents that involve a response from other organisations. The LRF has developed a common understanding of incident command known as the ‘emergency response arrangements for incident response’. The forum refers to the national and community risk registers to test and exercise a joint response to the main risks in the area. Hampshire FRS takes part frequently in multi-agency exercises.
Hampshire FRS’s incident command training ensures that all officers are qualified to the standard set out in the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP). The service is well prepared to respond to incidents as part of a multi-agency response.
Hampshire FRS also contributes to the national mobilisation of firefighters in the event of major incidents. Wholetime and retained firefighters are made available to the fire and rescue service national co-ordination centre should the need arise.
Hampshire FRS can mobilise its specialist capabilities and resources to support any national emergency. These include:
- high volume pumps;
- urban search and rescue teams;
- mass decontamination experts;
- water rescue capabilities; and
- firefighters who are trained to work with the police and ambulance teams in the event of terrorist attacks.