How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
The service is good at understanding the risks of fire and other emergencies. It has an up-to-date and accurate database of the risks in its area. It has invested in a new style of water tower fire engine which can put out fires more rapidly, using a smaller team of firefighters, in a way which is safer for both the firefighters and the public.
It is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. Firefighters who attend emergencies can find information about any known risks at the scene of the emergency by using the rugged computer terminals which are installed on each fire engine.
It debriefs firefighters after incidents, records any new information on its database, and informs its staff what the service has learned from the debrief.
The service is good at preventing fires, and it undertakes a broad range of prevention work on fire, road, and water safety. It targets its prevention work towards members of the public who are at the highest risk. It works closely with the police, ambulance service and local authorities to exchange information about vulnerable people, so that it can help to protect them.
It works closely with local authorities and businesses to prevent arson. It provides education information about arson to police recruits and serving detectives.
Since the Grenfell Tower fire, the service has inspected high-rise buildings in Lancashire and also in neighbouring fire and rescue service areas.
It is well prepared to respond to national risks, and has taken part in a range of exercises with the police and ambulance services to prepare for terrorist attacks. It works well with its neighbouring fire and rescue services (FRSs), and shares a control centre with three other FRSs.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
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
We found that the service uses a range of historical, current and predictive data sources to build a clear understanding of community risk. Every year, the service updates a strategic assessment of risk register. It makes this available to the public on its website. This data directly influences the level of response, prevention and protection services which Lancashire FRS provides to the public.
Lancashire FRS consults the public on these services through its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). The plan covers a rolling five-year period (currently 2017–22). In its annual service plan, Lancashire FRS informs the public about any significant changes which it intends to make during this period, and consults the public about the changes.
The number, location and target response times for fire engines are directly linked to risk. The service reviews the distribution of fire engines and stations every three years. It informs the public about the outcome of these reviews.
The service combines historical data on fires, casualties and population information to produce a ‘heat map’ of the county. This categorises each area from low to very high risk. The service assigns a target response time for the first two fire engines to attend a fire, depending on the risk category of the area, and for the first fire engine to attend an incident where there is no fire, but where life is in danger, such as a road traffic accident. The service staffs each fire station according to the target response time.
We saw evidence that the service works with a broad range of other organisations to understand community risk, and is using a range of data to inform its prevention and protection work. For example, the service is using:
- Mosaic consumer classification data;
- projected older population data;
- projecting adult needs and services data; and
- NHS data relating to older people.
The service also has arrangements to share information with local authorities to target its services towards people who are the most vulnerable, and at risk. The service accesses shared road safety risk information through its involvement in the Lancashire road safety partnership.
Having an effective risk management plan
The service’s IRMP gives an overview of the risks set out in its strategic assessment of risk report. This includes information from the community risk register. Lancashire FRS publishes an annual service plan, which informs the public what the service has said it will provide in its IRMP.
The IRMP provides the direction for the service’s prevention, protection and response work.
The service focuses its prevention work on those members of the public who are the most vulnerable, and at the highest risk. The work aims to help people ‘start life safe, live life safe, age safe and be safe on Lancashire’s roads’.
Protection work focuses on inspecting only the very highest-risk properties, while working closely with local authority and primary authority scheme partners. The service also helps businesses to comply with fire safety legislation, and to reduce arson.
The IRMP sets out both the financial risks the service has managed in the past, and the problems that it faces in the future.
The service measures the progress of the IRMP through a range of performance indicators, which cover:
- prevention and protection work;
- response standards;
- value for money; and
- communication with its staff.
The fire authority reports and monitors these indicators, and makes the information publicly available.
Maintaining risk information
We found that firefighters who are responding to emergencies at high-risk premises can access relevant information about risks quickly. The information is available on the rugged computers which are permanently installed on each fire engine. This helps firefighters to resolve emergency incidents effectively.
More detailed plans are also available for the very highest-risk premises; for example, sites in the county which are covered by major accident hazard regulations. The service communicates these plans to local resilience forum partners to make sure that they understand the risks thoroughly.
Response, prevention and protection staff can quickly add risk-critical information to the computers which are on board the fire engines. However, we noted that some of this information is out of date.
The service has a robust system for debriefing firefighters after significant incidents, and for informing all members of the service what has been learned. However, there was less evidence that the service is learning from hot debriefs, which it usually carries out after smaller incidents.
The service tells all its staff about the outcomes of operational learning. It does this through a comprehensive safety, health and environment report. It tells staff about time-critical learning through an e-learning portal which all firefighters look at regularly.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
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 undertakes a broad range of prevention work and its strategy is linked to risk in line with statutory guidelines. The service has dedicated community safety advisors who focus solely on fire prevention.
Protection staff and firefighters also carry out prevention work. The service has recently introduced a post-incident activity log on its intranet. Staff update this log after every incident, to ensure that the appropriate prevention work and partner referrals are taking place.
We found that the service has moved from carrying out a large number of traditional home fire safety checks to working more closely with partners to concentrate on the most vulnerable people. However, the service should check that this way of working continues to fulfil its commitment to concentrate its prevention work on those areas it has identified in its emergency cover review as being of very high risk.
The service carries out a large number of campaigns and initiatives. However, we were unable to consider the effectiveness of these campaigns as the service had only carried out limited evaluations. Nationally, the service is an influential member of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) road safety working group, and leads the regional fire and rescue service collaborative work in this area.
Promoting community safety
We found that staff at all levels of the service talk to partners such as the police and local authorities.
The multi-agency safeguarding hubs at Preston and Chorley are good examples. These allow the service to meet local authority, police, health services and other partners regularly, face to face. They share real-time information about emerging cases of vulnerability, and co-ordinate intervention work, safeguarding those people who are most at risk.
The service provides extended home fire prevention visits, and makes effective use of technology to make referrals to partners. The service has a prevention campaign calendar which ensures that it co-ordinates local work with national events to maximise impact. We saw good evidence of the service tailoring campaigns to local needs, such the ‘take a dip’ water safety project.
We saw evidence of the service being involved, and playing an influential role, with local authority partners. For example, the service is a member of the Blackburn with Darwen strategic tension monitoring group. This has resulted in it tailoring prevention campaigns towards people who are at greatest risk from fires.
The service takes a leading role with partners to reduce arson. It works closely with Lancashire Constabulary, and shares fire trends data, incidents of suspected arson, as well as early statements from fire investigation officers to support enquiries and prosecutions. It provides arson education information to support training courses for police recruits and serving detectives. It assesses derelict buildings and schools to see if they are vulnerable to arson attacks, and provides counselling for those who have an unhealthy interest in fire.
The service prioritises road safety work. This is one of the four strategic priorities in its prevention strategy, alongside the life stages of start safe, live safe and age safe.
The service is a member of the Lancashire road safety partnership where it works with partners including the Highways Agency, police, ambulance and the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
The service provides bespoke road safety education packages to primary schools, secondary schools, sixth form colleges and further education colleges using firefighters and also dedicated prevention staff.
The service has piloted tyre safety checks for the NFCC and undertakes targeted campaigns linked to local risks. For example, we saw evidence of campaigns linked to young drivers in Blackburn and older drivers in Blackpool where different trends had been identified.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. But we found the following area 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.
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.
We found that the service has a risk-based inspection programme in place which targets planned inspections only at the highest-risk premises. The service uses a risk scoring matrix to identify these premises, and plans to audit each one over the next three years.
Across a sample of audits we reviewed at the Blackpool and Lancaster protection hubs, we were satisfied that the service’s inspecting officers are carrying out audits consistently, and are acting in line with their policies.
However, we found that the service is not on schedule to meet the targets it has set itself to complete a cycle of inspections at these highest-risk premises. It is prioritising other areas of protection work ahead of its risk-based inspection programme.
We also noted that the protection department of the service is not as well supported with IT as the prevention and response departments. Inspecting officers rely on paper-based systems which work, but which are cumbersome. This means they have less time to undertake public inspections.
We found that the service has invested in the skills required to take prosecutions where necessary, following the enforcement logic model which the service has in place. Over three years, to the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service issued 416 enforcement notices and made 31 prosecutions as a result of fire safety audits.
The protection inspecting officers are well trained. The service has an appropriate mix of suitably skilled senior managers continuously on call to ensure that a manager can approve enforcement work and put it in place with a minimum delay. This ensures that if the service identifies any significant risk to the public, it can act on it quickly.
Working with others
We found evidence of effective joint working with partners. For example, the service is working with the local authority housing standards department in Preston to tackle problems in a substantial number of houses in multiple occupation. It is working as part of a multi-agency licensing team in Blackpool to undertake joint inspections.
Additionally, after the Grenfell Tower fire, the service has inspected high-rise premises not only in Lancashire, but also in support of neighbouring services.
The service has a policy in place for dealing with automatic fire alarms which mistakenly report a fire when no fire has broken out. It follows best practice principles. Business safety advisors attached to each protection hub work proactively with the owners of premises where the automatic alarms report a large number of non-existent fires. We noted an example of successes at Lancaster University where data supplied by the service shows a reduction in false alarms by over 60 percent as a result of joint working.
However, we also noted that the service has not taken advantage of the call-challenging protocols which the other fire and rescue services that share the North-West Fire Control centre use. This means that Lancashire FRS may attend more false alarm calls than it needs to.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Managing assets and resources
We found that the service’s response strategy is based on a robust assessment of community risk.
The service has time-based emergency response standards for the first two fire engines to attend life-critical fires, and for the first fire engine to attend incidents where fire has not broken out, but where life is at risk. The service reviews these standards every three years as part of its review of emergency cover. If the service fails to meet any of these standards, it automatically reports this to the fire authority.
The emergency response standards separate the county into 941 geographical areas. The service then calculates the risk of fire in each as being: very high, high, medium or low risk. Target attendance times are shortest for very high-risk and longest for low-risk incidents.
The service has implemented a broad range of duty systems, matched to the predominant risk rating of the surrounding areas. This has ensured that it consistently meets attendance times, but does not have more crews and fire engines on call than needed.
At the time of this inspection the service was consistently meeting all its response standards except for the time taken for the first fire engine to attend incidents where life was in danger, but where fire had not broken out. The service has reported this to the fire authority with a comprehensive analysis and an action plan to resolve the problem. We also noted that although the service was meeting all its other response standards, it was not meeting the call-handling element of the response standard (target of 90 seconds).
We found that most of the service’s operational policy is aligned with national operational guidance. The service leads the North-West region operational guidance group and has a project team in place to ensure that the remainder of policies are aligned within the next year.
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 which is close to the borders of these four services, it sends the nearest fire engine to the incident, irrespective of which FRS area the incident is in.
We visited 11 operational fire stations during our inspection. We found firefighters who are well trained, well equipped and knowledgeable about the high-risk sites in their station areas. Firefighters across these sites demonstrated how they can access detailed risk information by using the rugged computer terminals on fire engines in a timely manner. This included risk sites which are in neighbouring FRS areas, and which they could reasonably be expected to respond to.
Firefighters were able to provide us with good examples of occasions when they had identified safeguarding problems and provided support by following the arrangements the service has put in place.
Incident commanders across these sites assured us that they understand that they have the support of the service’s senior leaders to override operational guidance and use their discretion if this is appropriate. Incident commanders not only gave us examples of when they had done this, but also gave us evidence that staff had been commended for acting in this way. We saw signs of a ‘no blame’ culture that shares the outcomes of any learning.
The service has appropriately trained incident commanders who undertake realistic refresher training to maintain this important skill.
Incident commanders also maintain their skills by attending operational incidents and taking command roles at service exercises. Many of these have a multi-agency response and involve neighbouring fire and rescue services.
Incident commanders at all levels have a good understanding of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP) which assure effective joint working between blue light services. Senior managers have exercised their command skills by taking part in local resilience forum exercises as part of strategic and tactical response groups.
The service is taking good advantage of technology. It has issued incident commanders at middle manager level with computer tablets. This allows them to access a variety of systems and databases which help them to manage and resolve emergency incidents. This includes the ability to look at real-time video footage from the service’s drone, even if the commanders are not at the incident itself.
Keeping the public informed
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service communicates well with the public during and after operational incidents.
The service puts easily accessible information about significant and ongoing incidents on its public website. The service updates this regularly. Additionally, it uses a range of social media platforms to reach separate groups. We found it noteworthy that the service had gained approximately 10,000 extra Twitter followers because of a major fire which was burning on Winter Hill moor while we were inspecting the service.
The service is a member of the local resilience warning and informing group. It has a dedicated media team which attends significant incidents and takes part in operational debriefs.
Evaluating operational performance
We found consistent evidence that the service has rigorous systems in place to evaluate and learn from operational incidents and exercises. This has allowed it to make operational improvements.
We reviewed six large incidents which had been flagged in the shared North-West Fire Control as having significant opportunities for learning. Lancashire FRS had fully debriefed firefighters after each incident, had disseminated operational learning across the service, and the service had made improvements as a result.
The service has no numerical trigger for carrying out operational debriefs but we noted that the service has undertaken 140 thorough operational debriefs in the 12 months before our inspection.
The service publishes significant outcomes from debriefs in a comprehensive safety health and environment report. This quarterly report covers common emerging themes, safety critical information and the significant operational learning that emerges from debriefs. Furthermore, we noted the good practice of placing safety critical debrief information on the e-learning platform which all operational staff use. This ensures that the service communicates time-critical learning to its staff immediately.
The staff across the sites we visited understand how the evaluation system works and could give examples of learning that had emerged.
We also saw evidence that the service has shared case studies of operational learning with neighbouring services and has made information available through the national joint operational learning platforms. Additionally, we saw that the service organises and takes part in the debriefs of incidents and exercises involving the local resilience forum.
We did not see the same strength of evidence for gathering and sharing feedback from the less formal debriefs that take place after routine incidents. However, we did note that the service has developed and is currently trialling an app so that it can gather feedback more easily from these more routine and informal debriefs.
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 well-prepared arrangements in place to supplement its resources if an extraordinary incident occurs within the county.
It has established and exercised arrangements to activate two strategic holding areas, one to the north and one to the south of the county. These allow the service to receive and park a large number of fire engines from other services and partners. It can then co-ordinate the mobilisation of the fire engines, and deploy them into the county should the service need them.
The service has site-specific plans in place for its highest-risk premises. These plans are shared with local resilience partners and are available on ResilienceDirect, a national web-based platform which emergency responders can use to share risk information.
Working with other services
The service has mutual aid agreements in place with its neighbouring fire and rescue services. Lancashire FRS regularly deploys its own fire engines into neighbouring areas, and also receives help from neighbouring FRSs. The service hosts an urban search and rescue unit at Chorley as part of the national co-ordination and advisory framework (NCAF). This unit is available for deployment nationwide. The service has also voluntarily declared its drone available for deployment as part of the same arrangements.
The service used NCAF arrangements to ask for an additional 18 fire engines to support the major incident at Winter Hill moor which was taking place while we were inspecting the service. NCAF said that it considered that how the service managed these fire engines could be used as best practice for other services to follow. We were encouraged to see that the service had implemented learning from similar requests to NCAF during previous incidents. The service had improved command, control and welfare arrangements for the other FRSs which were helping it.
Working with other agencies
The service is an active member of the Lancashire local resilience forum and chairs its hazardous material and training development subgroups.
The service takes an active part in a rolling exercise programme hosted by the county’s high-risk sites which are registered under the control of major accident hazard regulations. Each site hosts a rolling programme of exercises. Multi-agency partners and neighbouring fire and rescue services are invited to attend these exercises.
Through these arrangements we saw that the service has taken part in a range of multi-agency exercises. These have included preparation for different types of terrorist attacks at transport hubs and crowded public places. The service is also an active member of a regional national incident liaison group which it attends to share information and joint learning with police and ambulance partners.