Hereford and Worcester 2018/19
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
The service is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies. Its plan to manage risk is based on a range of information. However, mobile computer systems are not updated fast enough with this risk information. The service recognises this and has plans in place to address this. Community engagement could also be better, to help understand local risk.
The service needs to improve how it prevents fires and other risk. Its prevention plan does not explain how or when things will be done. The service has extended its home fire safety checks to include questions about vulnerable people. Further training is needed to give staff more confidence in this process. The service should also ensure it evaluates all its prevention activity.
The service is good in how it protects the public through fire regulation. It needs to get the right balance between inspections based on risk and those based on intelligence. However, the work of the multi-agency targeted enforcement team has the potential to be notable practice. The service supports local businesses in understanding fire regulations. It should also work more closely with them to reduce the number of false alarms.
The service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. It has good equipment and training. It is flexible in how it responds to incidents and follows national guidance. However, it should use hot debriefs more often. Also, when it evaluates incident commanders, it should share the learning more widely.
The service is good at responding to national risks. It has good plans in place and staff understand what they need to do. Staff have done local and national multi-agency training exercises. The service works closely with other nearby services.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
Hereford & Worcester 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
The public can give general feedback about Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service through links on its website. The procedure to submit comments and complaints is explained and includes expected response times. The website provides users with clear information and considers people with impairments and disabilities. The information can also be obtained in other languages, although these alternatives are not instantly accessible.
The website includes a section where consultations are published, like the Wyre Forest Emergency Services hub. Apart from statutory consultations, however, like the one for the Wyre Forest hub, local station engagement with the community is limited. The service could not show how it engages with the community concerning the services it provides. The only exception is the service’s ‘after fire’ surveys, which it is aiming to improve.
We found that each station has its own top five risks, known as ‘7(2)d’ risks. Section 7(2)d of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 places a responsibility on fire and rescue services to gather risk information within their area. Fire crews visit at least three of the risk sites in each station area each year, undertaking training exercises. In addition, all watches and on-call staff make familiarisation visits on a rolling programme, depending on the level of risk. Certain high-risk sites are visited every year, with others visited every two or three years. All relevant information for the sites is checked to see whether there have been any changes. Updates are recorded.
We were told that the service uses Mosaic data to map community risk in relation to poverty levels, which informs station risk profiles. The service can also access Exeter data (a database of all patients registered with an NHS GP in England and Wales). It is reviewing how it can use this more widely, for example in building station risk profiles. The service is developing data on the top five economic risks in an area. For example, this could be the loss of a school or a major employer. It assesses the wider economic effect that this would have on the community, and how the service would manage that risk.
The service has an established referral process with local health and social care teams to identify vulnerable residents. It also exchanges certain data with partner organisations, such as Age Concern, to highlight the people most at risk from fire and other emergencies. But this depends on local arrangements. It is not done countywide. The Worcestershire Office of Data and Analytics – which is supported by senior leaders across the public sector – plans to make better use of the service’s data. The service also says it wants to use data held by partner organisations better.
The service’s strategic plan is called the community risk management plan (CRMP); in other services, it is known as the integrated risk management plan. The service uses various data (dwelling house fires, other building fires, casualties, and indices of multiple deprivation) to create a risk map. It has mapped risk, and the reduction of risk, since 2009. The data was reviewed and updated as part of the CRMP mid-point review in 2017/2018. Within the CRMP, there are links to the national risk register and the local resilience forum community risk register, called West Mercia Prepared. This deals with the requirements of the fire and rescue national framework for England in planning for, and meeting, national risks.
Having an effective risk management plan
The CRMP 2014–2020 document sets out clearly how the service uses information to assess risk within the two counties, and how it manages the risk under the following headings:
- identify the hazard;
- assess the risk;
- review and rank the risk;
- agreed actions to reduce risk; and
- action planning.
The service has produced five strategies that support the CRMP and its overall objectives. These are:
- medium-term financial strategy;
- ICT and data strategy;
- asset management plan;
- people strategy; and
- community risk strategy.
Four of these strategies are part of the ‘saving more lives’ programme, recently introduced by the service. They are easy to understand and link to the overall CRMP. The community risk strategy also supports the CRMP. But while the priorities within this strategy are clear, it is less clear how they will be achieved, or how they link to the CRMP.
We saw examples of risk strategies for districts, as well as for the areas covered by each station. The station risk plans are publicly available and linked to each fire station website page. These describe the risk profile for each station, including high-risk locations and heritage risk, and the activities to reduce this risk. The service has a single point of contact for heritage risk and its role includes managing the heritage risks that come under the Regulatory Reform Order (Fire Safety) 2005.
Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service is in the process of a potential change of governance from the combined fire authority to the West Mercia police and crime commissioner. This was subject to a judicial review at the time of our inspection and the process had been suspended. The service is also evaluating proposals for a joint work stream with Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service (whose governance may also change, to come under the West Mercia police and crime commissioner) to adopt a common approach to their risk management plans.
Maintaining risk information
Staff clearly explained to us the process for gathering risk information. When a new risk is identified, staff complete basic details (premises information and apparent risk) and send this to the district watch commander. The watch commander then reviews other available information and completes a more detailed risk assessment. This is added to the information held on fire crews’ mobile data terminals. In urgent cases, a temporary action note is sent to control, and information is put on the mobilising system. This ensures that fire crews receive the information via the station turnout message and on their mobile data terminals as well.
Operational crews visit risk premises to familiarise themselves with the location and complete risk reviews. The schedule for these visits depends on the number of risk premises within each station area, and on the level of risk. Staff also gave us examples of floor plans being placed in dry risers within high-rise buildings, so that crews can use them, should an incident occur. Risk information is only gathered by wholetime crews and managers.
Staff informed us that delays often occur in uploading new or updated risk records to the mobile data terminals. This is due to limited capacity to produce the plans and to the need to update each fire engine mobile data terminal manually. This means that it can take several months to upload the full risk information. This is an area for improvement.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Areas for improvement
- The service should evaluate its prevention work, so it understands the benefits better.
- The service should ensure staff understand how to identify vulnerability and safeguard vulnerable people.
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 prevention strategy is part of the community risk strategy 2017–2020. It lays out the broad priorities, which are:
- To reduce the number of accidental fires in the home.
- To work with our businesses to ensure they are properly protected.
- To reduce the number of deliberate fires.
- To improve the health and wellbeing of people in our area.
- To reduce the number of road fatalities and the injury severity of those involved in road traffic collisions.
The document gives members of the public a good overview, but lacks any detail. It does not explain how and when these priorities will be implemented, or who is responsible for ensuring they are completed. We witnessed a more targeted approach to prevention when we visited stations to do reality testing. Staff members agree on which areas to focus, based on local risk profiles.
The service undertakes home fire safety checks and has recently completed a pilot scheme for safe and well checks. Safe and well checks involve staff thinking about wider risks for vulnerable people, such as the potential for slips, trips and falls, hoarding, and other health concerns. Worcester University is currently evaluating the pilot scheme. We look forward to reviewing the results of this academic assessment.
In the meantime, the community fire risk management information system (CFRMIS) forms for home fire safety checks have been adapted. They now include more detail about vulnerable people who may be at greater risk from fire in the home. The extra information means the service is able to tell vulnerable people where they can get additional assistance. The CFRMIS system provides a daily report of vulnerable people for the safeguarding lead to make referrals to the most appropriate organisation, such as Age Concern. This addresses some of the immediate concerns about vulnerable people, such as a lack of mobility, or whether the person uses oxygen. The information is also sent to fire control to update command and control systems with the immediate risk. Once the process for safe and well checks is fully implemented, it should ensure a consistent and appropriate approach is taken to supporting those people who are the most vulnerable.
We found that staff had varying levels of understanding about safeguarding and vulnerable people. Staff informed us that most of the training has been done via e-learning, and that some people are not confident about what questions to ask, to complete the new home fire safety checks. The service acknowledges this and says it is planning further training as part of the rollout of safe and well checks.
Partner organisations are very positive about how the service takes the lead with initiatives, and about its work to support vulnerable people. The ‘connecting families’ programme is a good example of joint working to turn around the lives of disadvantaged families through early intervention. Partner organisations share data about vulnerable families to enable targeted interventions, depending on need. The programme has not been formally evaluated yet, but there are plans to do so.
The majority of referrals for home fire safety checks come from partner organisations. These referrals are for high priority, vulnerable individuals who require support from the service. The referrals are allocated to crews or specialist staff for completion in the order they are received unless the required checks are identified as urgent.
The service does have access to Exeter and Mosaic data, but does not use this information to create risk profiles that guide prevention activity. It believes the current system of referrals from partner organisations enables it to target ‘at risk’ groups. The service will review this at a later date.
The service recognises it has not evaluated all of its preventative work, other than the assessment of safe and well checks conducted by Worcester University and the Dying2Drive road safety scheme.
Promoting community safety
Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service has made ‘reducing deliberate fires’ one of the five priorities of the community risk strategy. Staff are aware that the service has a juvenile fire-setters programme, and that referrals go through to technicians within the community safety teams.
The service website has links to useful information for prevention and to government fire safety advice. It displays the latest campaign information at the top of the page. Links to various campaigns can be found in the events calendar. Each station risk profile also has a copy of the National Fire Chiefs Council campaigns calendar. The corporate communications team links national campaigns to local issues.
Partner organisations acknowledge that they could do more to assist the service with campaigns and campaign promotions. At the moment, joint planning is limited.
The service is involved in several road safety campaigns. It runs ‘dying to drive’ sessions, which is a road safety initiative aimed at reducing death and serious injury among young road users. This initiative is primarily aimed at Year 11 students (aged 15 to 16) who will soon become young drivers. The scheme is run with the other emergency services. The service considers this scheme a success and plans to have it formally evaluated soon. Some staff informed us that the Safer Roads Partnership does not support this scheme, as it does not focus on their target group.
The service works with the Safer Roads Partnership to run ‘green light’. This programme educates sixth-form and college students about why so many young drivers and passengers are involved in road traffic collisions, and how they can avoid them. The ‘dying to drive’ and ‘green light’ programmes both target a similar age group. We would therefore encourage the service to discuss this with the Safer Roads Partnership, to agree on an effective joint approach.
The service leads the Biker Down programme within the two counties. This is a national programme, run by bikers for bikers. It gives motorcyclists information
on what to do if they are the first to arrive at the scene of an accident involving a motorcyclist.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it allocates enough resources to a prioritised and risk-based inspection programme.
- The service should assure itself that its enforcement plan prioritises the highest risks and includes proportionate activity to reduce risk.
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.
Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service has a risk-based inspection programme, which is managed via the community fire risk management information system (CFRMIS). This is consistent with the fire and rescue national framework for England. We reviewed the fire safety policy and found that it did not contain much detail about how the service classifies risk and manages its risk-based inspection programme.
The service has a protection team for each of its three districts. These are supervised by a station manager, who has responsibility for community protection and community safety. Within each team, all members have a Level 4 Diploma in Fire Safety and some inspectors have a Level 5 Diploma in Fire Engineering Design. All staff can carry out each other’s roles.
The service uses operational crews to carry out business fire-safety checks. We found that most crews had a good understanding of the process and of the importance of gathering wider operational intelligence. Assigning these checks to operational crews means fire safety officers can concentrate on more high-risk inspections. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the had service audited 92 percent of the 107 identified high-risk premises. This confirms that allocating checks in this way has enabled fire safety officers to focus on high-risk premises inspections.
The service has made a considerable effort to move to more intelligence-led safety inspections. Two projects exemplify this in particular: the team targeting houses in multiple occupation; and the multi-agency targeted enforcement (MATE) team in Herefordshire. These projects are resulting in an increase in enforcements; however, the service feels this is targeting those most at risk.
The dilemma for the service is that this intelligence-led approach has reduced its capacity for risk-based inspection work. Staff told us that inspectors are unlikely to be able to complete all their risk-based inspections due to the additional intelligence-led work. The service needs to consider what balance it wants to take. Its fire safety enforcement strategy should be clear about how much of its inspection work will be pre-planned and risk-based, and how much will be intelligence-led, and why.
The work of the MATE team is innovative. It involves partners from a range of organisations that all work together from one location. These partners are:
- West Mercia Police;
- Herefordshire Council Trading Standards;
- Herefordshire Council Housing Enforcement;
- Herefordshire Council Environmental Health;
- Home Office Immigration Enforcement;
- HMRC; and
- Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
The service informed us that inspectors took fire safety enforcement action at approximately 75 percent of the premises targeted by the MATE team. We reviewed a case that started with the service issuing an enforcement notice but led to much wider public safety and organised crime issues. The work of the MATE team has the potential to be notable practice. The service should consider formalising this in a partnership agreement and evaluate the outcomes.
Although the service has taken other enforcement action, it has not carried outa prosecution for a number of years. However, its level of enforcement action has increased. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018 there were 132 Article 30 enforcement notices, compared with 45 in the year before. The service recognises that it needs to develop skills and capacity in this area, as it is not currently using the full range of its powers as a regulator.
Working with others
Information available to businesses through the service’s website is generally good. It is easy to read and has links to appropriate legislation and guidance on risk assessments. The service hosts business forums at its headquarters, together with other enforcing authorities. These forums aim to help businesses to understand and work through all the rules and regulations.
Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service provides primary authority services to two large local companies. A watch manager runs the scheme. The service admits it could offer these services to more companies.
The service is updating its policy for unwanted fire signals (false alarms from fire alarms and detection systems). It last partially updated this in 2014. We found evidence that the service is working with premises where repeat activations occur. This depends on individual operational managers, however, and protection officers are only used when they request it. As the number of false alarms makes up a large proportion of the incidents attended to by the service, the service should continue its work to engage with business and reduce false alarms.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Hereford & Worcester 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.
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 interoperability) and emergency services (known as interoperability). We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
Managing assets and resources
Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service supports its response activity with a good standard of equipment and training. It has national assets, including an urban search and rescue team, a high-volume pump and boat and water rescue capability. The policy of the service is to provide a balance of cover across the service area, and move firefighters and equipment around if gaps occur (e.g. where a fire engine is unavailable for some reason).
The service measures areas of risk that are as consistent as possible in population size. It uses its own defined response times to risk-critical incidents, where there is a risk to life, to buildings or to the environment. For building fires, the response standard is ten minutes on 75 percent of occasions. Data supplied by the service showed that it met this standard 59.7 percent of the time for the 12 months to 31 March 2018.
The service has pre-determined response levels for incident types. We saw these being used when we visited fire control. Control operators can select a pre-determined attendance type (number of fire engines, specialist equipment etc.), but can increase or decrease this, depending on the information they receive and their professional judgement. Control operators also monitor call-handling performance times. We saw evidence of this with an individual operator who followed up a call that had fallen outside set call handling times to find out the reasons for the delay. Control operators could confidently describe procedures, such as fire survival guidance and breathing apparatus emergencies. The service also offers access to a language service for non-English speakers.
Operational crews that we spoke to could confidently demonstrate the use of breathing apparatus and carry out the appropriate testing and recording. They could also describe what to do during a breathing apparatus emergency and/or a potential building collapse.
The service has carried out a gap analysis against national operational guidance. Where it varies, it highlights the difference and carries out work to improve matters. The service has already updated its breathing apparatus and incident command procedures.
We found that the use of mobile data terminals in vehicles is well understood and is an effective way of managing information on mobilisation. If necessary, control operators will confirm important information with crews while they are on their way to an incident. The mobile data terminal also contains information on vehicle data for crews to access when attending road traffic accidents. This allows them to find battery isolation points and areas to avoid cutting during extraction.
The service recognises that the availability of on-call firefighters is a current and future challenge. At several locations, staff (both wholetime and on-call), expressed their concerns about the availability of the on-call fire engine, as this often led to delays in additional crews attending an incident. The service is working on addressing this concern and is implementing an on-call charter. We look forward to reviewing this charter.
We found that the principles of incident command are well understood at all levels across the service. Managers know the requirements for dynamic as well as analytical risk assessments. Staff are aware of the incident command pack held in fire engines and understand how it should be used.
The use of operational discretion at an incident is broadly understood. Staff feel they would be supported if they had to use it. We were given an example of when it had been used and then debriefed, after which the learning was shared across the organisation. The service intends to do more to ensure all staff fully understand it, and any use of it properly recorded.
Keeping the public informed
The service uses social media via Twitter to update users on incidents or other matters of note. There is a section on the front page called ‘latest incidents’, and the service shows all incidents from Twitter on this page.
All press-related enquiries are forwarded to the service’s corporate communications team during working hours. Out-of-hours cover for media and press enquiries is the responsibility of the duty officer. Each duty officer has received media and social media training. Control can also send out priority messages.
Operational staff broadly know what to do when they encounter a person who is vulnerable. They all know that, if they have concerns, they may contact control to request support from a more senior officer. Nobody we spoke to had first-hand experience of this happening.
Evaluating operational performance
The senior management board receives quarterly reports on all operational assurance activities and acts on any deficiencies. Operational learning comes from debrief findings. We found that the use of incident debriefs varies between stations. At some locations, hot debriefs (that is debriefs shortly after the incident has occurred) follow all incidents, whereas at other stations they rarely happen. The service’s incident and exercise debrief policy contains a clear process for identifying wider fire and rescue service or multi-agency learning. Nominated members of staff are responsible for identifying and communicating responses to joint operational learning and national operational learning. This is gathered together by a single point of contact and shared across the service. Electronic debriefs contain a specific section for Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP) consideration.
The service uses active incident monitoring (AIM) to assess incident commanders. It believes this system is effective. It publishes the number of AIM assessments it carries out, as part of its performance snapshot to the public. However, with the number of incidents declining, AIM assessments are not always easy to achieve. Staff we spoke to were not clear about when these assessments should be carried out and who should complete them. The service acknowledges that this process is still evolving. We are keen to see how this work develops.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service has good arrangements in place to mobilise national resilience assets. Control staff are confident about the arrangements for national asset deployment. They told us how they inform the Fire and Rescue Service National Co-ordination Centre when national assets are mobilised and explained about information collection and planned holding areas. Recent examples of when the service has deployed national assets include Norfolk (tidal surge) and Devon and Somerset (flooding Somerset Levels).
Premises’ risk plans are documented, up to date and available for crews. Site plans for the top five risk premises in the area have been used to create simulations on a virtual reality system. This allows staff to test various scenarios and learn in an interactive way. It is an effective system; we found that staff have a good knowledge of these sites. The service has done training exercises in high-rise premises involving crews across the county. Operational staff have also completed larger-scale exercises, involving ambulance hazardous area response teams and other fire and rescue services.
Working with other services
Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service shares the same control system technology with Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service. Each service has its own system but allows the other service to log on and access its functions. This means that each service can mobilise the other’s resources in a fall-back situation. This happens when a fire control is forced to change procedures due to a loss of a piece of equipment or to the need to change location. This was used when Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service had staffing shortages and when Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service suffered a loss of its communications control system.
We found several examples of the service working with nearby fire and rescue services (English and Welsh), both operationally and in training. The service collects risk data for other fire and rescue service areas up to 10km away and we saw this demonstrated at several sites.
Managers were confident in describing JESIP. The service has chosen to incorporate the recommended message structure into its standard radio messages. Control operators assist staff when the standard of messages has not been met.
Working with other agencies
The West Mercia local resilience forum is positive about the involvement of Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service in supporting its work. This includes chairing some of the sub-groups. The county has two control of major accident hazard sites. As well as helping produce plans for the site, the service regularly completes exercises there to test the plans.
The service takes part in multi-agency exercises and invites partner organisations to attend training exercises it is running. Recently, the service was part of an exercise involving a crashed aircraft. It has also carried out training with Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service in marauding terrorist attack procedures, using their shared national incident liaison officer cadre. They used the example of the Manchester terrorist attack to carry out table-top scenarios.