Isle of Wight 2018/19
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Isle of Wight 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 focuses on the unique challenges of an island-based fire and rescue service. But information about risk is not always up to date. The service doesn’t complete all scheduled visits to update risk information. It should address this so that firefighters are fully informed.
Most of the service’s prevention work to prevent fires and other risks is done as a result of the public or other organisations reporting fire safety concerns. Preventative work is not necessarily prioritised towards those who are most at risk of fire. The service should review whether this is successful. The service works well with partner organisations on the island.
The service has a limited programme to inspect the highest risk premises on the island. There are not enough trained firefighters or staff to do inspections. The service helps business owners to comply with standards. It does not often take enforcement action. The service needs to make sure it is fulfilling its legal duties.
The service is good at managing its resources. It trains its staff well, and gives specialist support at incidents when needed. However, there are not always enough retained firefighters available. Response times are above the England average. It also needs to make sure that information on risk is up to date, and available to firefighters. The service has procedures to debrief incidents and identify areas where it could do better, but it needs to improve how it debriefs major incidents.
It is good at working with its partner organisations, and is well prepared to respond to incidents that require the service to work closely with neighbouring fire and rescue services. This helps it to respond to calls and manage incidents more effectively. It also works closely with the ambulance service.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
Isle of Wight 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 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.
Understanding local and community risk
Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) refers to a wide range of information to understand the risks of fire and other dangers within the community. The service is a highly-regarded member of the Isle of Wight’s ‘integrated localities’ (IL) model. This model brings together community-based services in three areas on the Isle of Wight to provide a better service to local people. These services must share information about people who are vulnerable or need safeguarding. The model means that Isle of Wight FRS understands more about people at risk, and works with others to help them. The service is developing a risk-management process that will improve assessments and help it to lead joint prevention activity as part of the IL structure.
The service works well with children’s services to provide fire safety advice at homes that are being considered for adoption and fostering. It also works with volunteers at ‘dementia cafes’, where elderly people can come for advice about their personal safety.
The service also has an important role in the local resilience forums (LRF). LRFs are statutory bodies that bring together emergency services and other organisations that are responsible for crisis management and disaster recovery, such as local councils. The forums help Isle of Wight 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 services must produce an integrated risk management plan (IRMP). The plan should include an assessment of all foreseeable fire and rescue related risks to life and other harm in the community. It aims to make fire and rescue services more responsive to local needs. The service’s plan is up to date. It focuses on the unique challenges faced by an island-based fire and rescue service.
It was clear to us that the IRMP sets out the service’s overall direction and future challenges. These include maintaining levels of emergency response and community-based preventative services at the same time as having to reduce costs. The IRMP should, though, include more detail about the programme provided through the strategic partnership with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service called “Delivering Differently in Partnership”, and other change programmes that reduce the service’s costs.
The IRMP includes priority activities such as: visits to households where the occupants are more likely to fall; youth engagement; seasonal water-safety campaigns; and road safety projects. It also sets out the service’s aim to extend the scope of fire safety checks in people’s homes to include health and wellbeing advice.
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 the hazards they might face when they attend incidents. However, we found examples of risk information being out of date because the service had not completed scheduled visits to update the information. This means that firefighters might not have all relevant information when responding to emergencies, which could limit their effectiveness. Some of the premises where the risk information is out of date are considered high-risk by the service. We also found the process for gathering risk information to be inconsistent. This is particularly the case in areas served by retained firefighters (on-call personnel who are not employed wholetime by the service).
Isle of Wight FRS 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 photographs of high-risk premises and hazardous materials contained within them.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires and other risks. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should evaluate its prevention work, so it understands the benefits better.
The fire and rescue national framework for England states that fire prevention and protection activities should be fire service priorities. It is encouraging that in recent years the service has increased the number of visits to people’s homes to give fire safety advice. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, it made 4.6 visits for every 1,000 residents. This is an increase of 89 percent when compared with the same period in 2012. However, this figure is still below the England rate and has decreased slightly from 5.5 vists per 1,000 population in the 12 months to 31 March 2017.
The service acknowledges that its prevention work is mainly reactive. It focuses on occasions when the public or other organisations report fire safety concerns, rather than on providing a structured programme based on risk. There is no clear plan that prioritises the work of the prevention team, although we recognise the service’s commitment to the over 65-year-old population group. The service visits elderly people more regularly than it visits other residents.
The service records its prevention work in a community safety calendar. The prevention programme includes seasonal campaigns (such as bonfire night fireworks, and safety weeks for electrical appliances) as well as visits to areas identified as being of risk. Isle of Wight FRS makes extensive use of social media for public safety campaigns. It does not rely as much on face-to-face interaction with the public.
We recognise, however, that the service has expanded its home fire safety checks to include assessing the general wellbeing of residents. These visits are now known as safe and well checks. They include advice on home security, and how to avoid falls in the home. The service works with other organisations such as Age UK to provide these checks.
In general terms, we found that Isle of Wight FRS does little to evaluate its prevention strategy, safe and well visits and other community safety activity. The service confirmed that there are currently no procedures in place to assure the quality of this work or assess outcomes and benefits. We would expect the service to evaluate its activities. This would provide assurance that the service is making good use of its resources.
Promoting community safety
We found that staff know how to identify residents who might be vulnerable. They also understand the service’s safeguarding policy and how to report a safeguarding concern. All staff are trained in these responsibilities and training records are up to date.
Isle of Wight FRS has joined up with Hampshire FRS in a programme known as ‘better me’. This involves firefighters working with disadvantaged children to improve their fitness, cooking, diet and hydration. The health service has funded this programme. It has been evaluated and has led to improvements in the lifestyles of these children.
Isle of Wight FRS plays an important role in Isle of Wight Council’s vision of ‘One public service’. This aims to bring public sector organisations together to ensure they make a collective effort to support residents who are at the most risk of harm. Regular meetings take place with Isle of Wight FRS, Hampshire Constabulary, the council and the health service to share information about vulnerable people, and to provide support to them. ‘One public service’ is an efficient way of sharing first-hand knowledge of people who need help and providing effective support to them.
The service takes overall responsibility for road safety on the Isle of Wight. It works well with Hampshire Constabulary, the ambulance service and the council’s road network contractor, to improve road safety and reduce the number of people killed or injured on the roads. The forum’s programme includes BikeSafe (aimed at reducing motorcyclist casualties), a driver scheme for the elderly, and cycle-safety training for young people.
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.
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.
Fire and rescue services regulate fire safety through inspections of premises based on risk. Isle of Wight FRS should be more effective at protecting the public from fire and other risks. From what we saw, in our opinion the service does not have an effective risk-based inspection programme.
The service aims to work with businesses to support the island economy. However, only two officers are qualified to carry out inspections. This means the inspection programme cannot work effectively. Isle of Wight FRS responds to reports of concern from the public about fire safety. It also records when firefighters identify risks after attending emergencies. However, there is no programme to prioritise the inspection of high-risk premises.
Some firefighters have been trained to complete basic fire safety audits. If these checks identify a high-scoring risk, specialists on the fire safety team follow them up. There are plans to improve this audit function by training additional staff to take responsibility for this area of work. However, at present, the service does not have enough trained staff to support a risk-based inspection programme.
Isle of Wight FRS makes limited use of enforcement notices. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, only two of the 42 notices or informal notifications which the service issued to premises were Article 30 (enforcement) notices.
The service prefers to provide guidance and support to property owners to help them comply with standards. It considers that this is better than taking enforcement action and stopping business premises being used for certain activities. It does send compliance deadlines to some property owners. However, in more complex cases, the service agrees an action plan with owners, with an agreed timeframe for completion. The service should assess this policy to ensure it does not undermine its enforcement duties.
Working with others
Isle of Wight FRS is good at sharing information with other organisations to reduce the risk of fires and other hazards. For example, the service routinely notifies the Care Quality Commission (CQC) of the results of its inspection and enforcement activities in premises that the CQC regulates.
The service also shares information with other regulatory bodies, for example the council’s building control and alcohol licensing departments. Alongside other organisations, it also plays an important role at major events such as the Isle of Wight festival and Cowes Week. In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the service, in partnership with the county council, completed fire risk-assessments of all council-owned or managed properties.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure immediately it has an effective system for staff to use learning and debriefs to improve operational response and incident command.
- The service should ensure it has the capacity to vary the level of its response to incidents based on risk.
- The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information.
Managing assets and resources
In general, the service manages its resources well. However, it acknowledges that it does not always have enough retained firefighters available at certain times of the day.
The service has plans in place to manage two simultaneous four-pump incidents. There are also agreements in place to receive additional support from Hampshire FRS. We saw this demonstrated during our inspection when a large fire broke out, and additional firefighting capacity was ferried from the mainland to help resolve the incident.
The service has a good record of accomplishment of attending emergencies promptly, even though data indicates that the rate of 999 calls received per 1,000 population has increased in the 12 months to 31 March 2018 when compared to the same period in the previous year. However, the service believes that this increase could in part be explained by changes in the way that 999 calls are being recorded.
The service’s IRMP sets out its emergency response standards. It is committed to responding as quickly as possible. The service aims to have one fire engine at the scene of a critical incident within ten minutes and a second one within 15 minutes. It intends to achieve these response times on 80 percent of occasions. For all other incidents, the service aims to have one fire engine in attendance within 20 minutes on 95 percent of occasions. Since 2009, there has been an overall increase in average response times. The most recent data (covering the 12 months to 31 March 2017) indicates that the average response time to a primary fire is ten minutes 44 seconds.
Difficulties in recruiting new retained firefighters and the number of staff leaving the service have underlined the value of retained duty firefighters. The service has not recruited retained firefighters for some time, and some of them have jobs that are at a distance from their fire station on the island. This means that there are either insufficient retained firefighters, or they are too far away from the fire station to mobilise effectively. The service is currently working with the county council to boost the recruitment of retained firefighters with a number of different ideas being considered.
We examined how well Isle of Wight FRS trains its workforce. The service has a training facility in Ryde that is equipped with a ‘hot fire’ training simulator to provide a realistic training environment for frontline staff. It keeps accurate and up-to-date training records.
The uniqueness of the Isle of Wight means it is less likely that the service will provide support to other fire services dealing with crises. However, its high-volume pump is available to other fire services if required.
The service is currently amending its policies to reflect national operational guidance. It knows which areas need updating and has a plan in place to achieve this.
Although its response to emergencies is prompt, the service does not currently have the ability to vary its response based on risk. This means that the same number of firefighters are sent to every incident irrespective of how urgent the incident is. Isle of Wight FRS should examine if there is a way of responding to some incidents more flexibly.
The service can answer emergency calls and mobilise fire crews rapidly. It has outsourced its call handling arrangements, known as fire control, to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, which in addition forms part of the Networked Fire Services Partnership. This partnership provides call handling and control room facilities for fire services in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon and Somerset.
When responding to emergencies, the service provides firefighters with information about residents who are vulnerable in their own homes. Firefighters receive details on their MDTs of residents who may find it difficult to evacuate their homes because of disability, or who create fire risks by hoarding possessions. This is encouraging. But some information held on MDTs is out of date and some firefighters are not sure how to find this information.
The service helps the ambulance service with medical emergencies. They operate a system known as ‘co-responding’, when firefighters respond to certain categories of medical emergencies and provide care to patients before paramedics attend the scene. Procedures are in place to makes sure that Isle of Wight FRS prioritises its response to fires before medical emergencies. Supporting the ambulance service is a large part of the service’s overall workload, and forms an important part of the medical care provided to islanders.
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.
The service assesses the command skills of its staff at frequent intervals. The service shares a state-of-the-art computerised training simulator with Hampshire FRS. This gives incident commanders access to realistic training scenarios to test their skills. Experienced advisors are mobilised if required to support those in command at incidents. These advisors help with decision-making and provide technical knowledge.
Keeping the public informed
The service works closely with Isle of Wight Council’s communication team to inform the public about major incidents. This includes public messaging about large fires, road traffic collisions that cause travel disruption, and other incidents of interest. This does not currently include using social media. Because of this, some firefighters are using unofficial social media platforms to broadcast ‘good news’ stories.
Evaluating operational performance
Isle of Wight FRS has procedures to debrief incidents. This means it can examine results, identify areas of good practice and find out if things could have been done better. However, we found that staff do not fully understand these procedures.
The service intends to adopt the procedures used by Hampshire FRS. At the time of our inspection, instructions to staff were only at a draft phase. Despite this, we did find that firefighters record information at the scenes of incidents to support debriefing procedures. In addition, there are procedures to communicate best practice and improvements to the workforce through electronic learning packages.
There is less evidence that the service is good at debriefing larger or more complex incidents; nor does it share this information with the wider workforce. We recognise that the service is looking to improve this.
The service aims to learn from other fire and rescue services in England. However, in general terms, the service must implement systematic procedures to ensure that all incidents are debriefed. This should help Isle of Wight FRS to develop best practice and improve performance.
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).
When inspecting the Isle of Wight in relation to this section, we took into account the particular geographic location of the island and the context of its local risk.
The service’s participation in its local resilience forum (LRF) means that it shares several tried and tested plans with other organisations. These include its response to a multi-agency incident. This helps builds resilience to national and local risks.
Isle of Wight FRS has the capability to manage mass decontamination and has a high-volume pump to contain the most serious fires on the Isle of Wight. The service can draw on additional support from Hampshire FRS.
Working with other services
Because of the location of the Isle of Wight and the size of its fire and rescue service, there is a strong relationship with Hampshire FRS. The two organisations share several services, such as training. Hampshire can send resources to the Isle of Wight in the event of a large or protracted incident. In addition, Hampshire FRS also supports Isle of Wight FRS with urban search and rescue, and with firefighters who have been trained to work with the police in the event of terrorist attacks.
Isle of Wight FRS also contributes to the national mobilisation of specialist fire resources. Its high-volume pump is available to other fire services.
Working with other agencies
The service works closely with other emergency services, the local authority and voluntary groups to provide a co-ordinated response to large or major incidents on the island. Established exercise programmes address major risks. Many of these are co-ordinated by the island’s resilience forum.
Preparations are in place for a major training exercise. This aims to test the ability of the service and other organisations to respond to major incidents.