How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
An effective fire and rescue service will identify and assess the full range of foreseeable fire and rescue risks its community faces. It will target its fire prevention and protection activities to those who are at greatest risk from fire. It will make sure businesses comply with fire safety legislation. When the public calls for help, the fire and rescue service should respond promptly with the right skills and equipment to deal with the incident effectively. Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service has an integrated risk management plan (IRMP). The service has consulted extensively on the initial plan. However, when the service updated its IRMP, it did not consult on it as it did not consider it to be a new plan. The service should have consulted on the updated IRMP.
The service considers foreseeable risks and assesses its capability to manage incidents. It also carries out site visits and assigns risk gradings. But the service needs to assure itself that staff have up-to-date training for carrying out these visits and know what to look out for.
Fire and road safety are priorities in terms of this service’s prevention initiatives. The service is the national lead for virtual reality for the National Fire Chiefs Council. However, the service doesn’t sufficiently evaluate its prevention activities.
The service isn’t on schedule to meet its target for completing a cycle of inspections at highest-risk premises. It has no timescales or targets to meet reactive work. And it lacks a quality assurance process to make sure that fire safety officers’ audits are consistent. But we were pleased to see that the service uses its full range of enforcement powers.
The service regularly moves staff to meet demand, to make sure there is adequate cover to respond to incidents. However, the service had one of the highest average call-handling times for primary fires in England.
The service has trained its incident commanders. However, we identified that some commanders hadn’t received refresher training or reassessment after initial training.
The service has arrangements to respond to a regional or national incident, and staff carry out ‘over border’ exercises. However, the service should make sure all staff know what to do in the event of a marauding terrorist attack and receive appropriate training.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
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
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service has an integrated risk management plan for the years 2016 to 2020. This is called ‘Towards 2020’.
The service carried out extensive consultations on this plan. The consultations included staff and communities who would’ve been affected by proposed changes. In addition, members of the public and employee representative groups completed online surveys and took part in face-to-face reference groups. In October/November 2015 the service received 1,395 formal questionnaire responses. The service published the consultation outcomes.
Following the consultation process, as well as the revised 2015 budget settlement and decisions of the Fire Authority, there was no longer a need to close some fire stations, as had been proposed.
The service recognised that there had been changes since it published ‘Towards 2020’. In April 2018 it published ‘Our Plan: Corporate and Integrated Risk Management Plan 2018–2021’. This plan wasn’t consulted on as the service stated that it was simply updating the public on the original ‘Towards 2020’ plan and combining that with publishing a corporate plan. However, by using the title ‘IRMP’ for both documents, it is not clear which document the public should consider to be the service’s current IRMP.
The service intends to develop and consult on a new IRMP in 2019 for publication in 2020.
The service has a comprehensive community risk model. To create a risk profile, the service uses a range of data. This includes NHS, Experian, Mosaic and Exeter data; the Index of Multiple Deprivation; local authority plans and incident data. The service uses risk modelling to identify areas at greater risk of fire or road traffic incidents. This information is then set against lower super output areas (geographical areas with approximately 1,500 people living in them, according to Office for National Statistics information) to measure risk in communities.
The service used risk modelling to make sure resources were available in its high risk areas. As a result, the service increased provision of resources. One example of this is the building of Castle Donington fire station.
Having an effective risk management plan
In its document ‘Our Plan: Corporate and Integrated Risk Management Plan 2018–2021’, the service is clear and open in setting out information about the risks and difficulties that it faces. In the document, the service sets out its priorities and strategies under the following headings: safer communities; response; finance and resources; people; and governance.
The plan refers to risk data, as described above, and the locations of fire stations to meet those risks. The plan also references the organisational risk register (which is available on the service’s website) and the community risk register maintained by the local resilience forum (LRF). The IRMP gives a clear link to the service’s prevention, protection and response activities, in an easy-to-read format.
In carrying out the above processes, the service has considered the requirements of the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England. The service is planning for foreseeable risks and assessing its capability to manage incidents. An example is the control function which is shared across Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire fire and rescue services. All three services mobilise each other’s resources and manage peaks in service demand.
Maintaining risk information
The service’s risk information policy is based on the Provision of Risk Information System (PORIS). The policy makes sure that the service can gather information about risks to firefighters and meet its duties under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.
The service uses a database to manage all risk sites. The database tells crews when a revisit is due and gives a countywide view of all risks. Following a site visit, firefighters assign a site with a risk grading of one to five, with one being low level risk information (for example, an access code) that is passed to responding fire engines; a grading of four relates to major site risk plans (such as chemical factories), while five is for countywide issues such as flooding. Staff told us they rely on experience to gather information, as they haven’t had recent training in fire safety and what to look out for when they get to premises to record risks. Each station has an identified person who is responsible for managing the risk reference. Headquarters staff are also available for advice. The PORIS policy includes procedures for managing temporary risks. We saw that the service has procedures in place to manage differing levels of risk. These involve event risk scores.
All operational crews across the service can access this risk information using mobile data terminals (MDTs) mounted inside fire engines. Fire control operators add short-term risk information to the mobilising systems as soon as prevention, protection or operational staff notify them. Such information might include sprinklers not working in a building, or the presence of a vulnerable person. Some staff told us the MDTs aren’t consistently reliable; there have been reports of them freezing. The service is currently monitoring this situation.
The service has systems in place for the handover of risk-critical information, namely handover sheets, use of its database and verbal updates.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Areas for improvement
- The service should make sure it appropriately trains staff to undertake prevention activity.
- The service should better evaluate its prevention work, so it has a clearer understanding of the benefits.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
The service outlines its prevention strategy within its corporate and integrated risk management plan. But the strategy doesn’t set out a clear rationale for the level of activity to prevent fires and other risks; this is detailed in local district plans.
The service creates a risk profile through analysis of NHS, Exeter and Experian data, as well as the Index of Multiple Deprivation and incident data. We saw that the service carries out a broad range of prevention work, with fire prevention and road safety work a priority for keeping communities safe.
The service’s business analysts create a home fire safety check visit report for each station. These reports allow firefighters to approach homes to carry out home fire safety checks. District managers determine targets for the number of checks per station, depending on the capacity they determine each station has.
The service accepts referrals for home fire safety checks. Referrals come through other organisations and members of the public onto dedicated pages of its website. Organisations include East Midlands Ambulance Service and the local authority ‘first contact’ team. The service’s administration team uses a risk matrix to prioritise visits. The team then determines whether firefighters or community safety educators should visit. Community safety educators offer a more enhanced visit.
As at 31 March 2018, prevention visits by the service included identifying potential fire risks; acting to reduce fire risks; making sure working smoke alarms were fitted; advising on social welfare, health screenings and health prevention; advice on slips, trips and falls; and other activities such as advising on home security. However, we found station-based staff carried out basic home fire safety checks which did not include social welfare, health and security aspects.
In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the rate of home fire safety checks carried out by the service per 1,000 of the population was 7.3; this compares with the England rate of 10.4 over the same time period. There has been a slight increase in the number of home fire safety checks carried out for the elderly (65+) and the disabled. Elderly visits have increased from 4,104 to 4,743 and disabled visits have increased from 2,071 to 2,299 when comparing the 12 months to 31 March 2017 with the same time period in 2018.
The service told us that it has 12 dedicated community safety educators who focus solely on fire prevention. These educators give fire safety talks to every primary school in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, year 1 and year 5. The educators also work with local organisations, run community activities and carry out high-risk home fire safety visits. The educators carry out more specialised visits where there is a higher vulnerability and need.
We saw evidence of a variety of approaches to preventing fire and promoting community safety. However, the service hasn’t evaluated the impact or benefits of this work.
Promoting community safety
The service delivers community safety activities based on priorities determined in the station plans. Station priorities can change following local analysis of operational incidents. For example, some fire stations re-prioritised home fire safety checks to target thatched properties following a fire incident, because of the risks in these types of buildings.
The service’s website gives clear and concise information about preventing fires. The website promotes current campaigns and has a section with advice translated into several languages. The service also uses social media to promote fire and other safety-related matters.
Firefighters work with schools in their station area, carrying out fire and road safety work depending on local needs. Firefighters also attend community events and work with other organisations to give community safety messages.
The central team co-ordinates prevention activities, targeting events such as Leicester Caribbean Carnival and Leicester Pride. The team also attends targeted events during Diwali and freshers’ week at local universities.
‘Fire Beat’ is an initiative run by the service. Trained to work with children and young adults, firefighters take bicycles to areas within the community where there has been anti-social behaviour or the starting of deliberate fires. The aim of this initiative is to reduce anti-social behaviour and deliberate fires by engaging with younger people and influencing their behaviours.
The service works well with a range of other organisations. A police officer works with both Leicestershire Police and Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service as the main point of contact for arson. Whenever there is a major incident, the officer will co ordinate the response and resources for both organisations. The service supports the police in arson prosecutions. District managers work with local partners to jointly tackle issues related to anti-social behaviour. The service also works with schools, parents and community safety partnerships for ‘fire care’ referrals. The scheme serves as an intervention tool when children display tendencies to fire setting and other anti-social, fire-related behaviour. The service is yet to evaluate this activity. The service has a good understanding of its safeguarding responsibilities. Specialist lead officers are responsible for safeguarding. They keep policies and procedures up to date, and make sure that staff receive training. They also represent the service at safeguarding board meetings.
Staff can recognise vulnerable people and make safeguarding referrals where appropriate. However, several staff told us they would benefit from refresher safeguarding training to increase their confidence.
The service promotes water safety. In June 2018, during National Drowning Prevention Week, it hosted The Big Splash at Bosworth water park. The event was in partnership with The Royal Life Saving Society, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Sea Cadets and Community First Responders.
Although station-based staff carry out a wide range of prevention activity, we found a lack of refresher training in this area.
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service carries out a wide variety of road safety activities, often in partnership with other agencies including the police. Audiences include the English Cricket Board, Leicester Tigers rugby team and the British swimming team. The service has created virtual reality packages and films to promote road safety. These have won international awards. It has showcased these at the Emergency Services Show, Road Safety GB and BRAKE, the national road safety charity. The service is the national lead for virtual reality for the National Fire Chiefs Council. A dedicated section of the service’s website promotes the ‘Virtual Fatal 4’, ‘Fatal 4’ and Biker Down courses, as well as ‘FireBike’. The website also features videos and information on road safety.
The service is a member of the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Road Safety Partnership, and works with the partnership’s other organisations including Leicestershire Police and the local authorities. A priority is to promote the ‘Fatal 4’ campaign. The service leads on young drivers’ education, offering interactive activities at schools, colleges and universities. Local operational teams also work with Leicestershire Police to promote anti-drink-driving campaigns.
As with other aspects of prevention, the service couldn’t give evidence about how it was evaluating the effectiveness of its road safety activities. The service should consider evaluation. That way, it will understand which activities are most effective in promoting road safety messages.
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 ensure its staff work with local businesses to share information and expectations on compliance with fire safety regulations.
- The service should ensure it has an effective system in place to address repeat false alarms.
All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in buildings and, when necessary, require building owners to comply with fire safety legislation. Each service decides how many assessments it does each year. But it must have a locally determined, risk-based inspection programme for enforcing the legislation.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
Every year, the service produces a risk-based inspection programme to determine the highest-risk premises to inspect. The service prioritises high-risk premises such as sleeping risk premises; premises where there has been previous enforcement activity; and premises that have had fire incidents. Examples are care homes, hotels and hostels, and flats above commercial premises. Specialist staff who carry out inspections are qualified in Fire Safety Diploma Level 4. The service has a fire engineer. There is an agreement with regional fire and rescue services if additional support is needed.
In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 1.0 fire safety audits per 100 known premises, compared with the England rate of 3.0. Over the same period, of the audits the service carried out, 64 percent were satisfactory. We acknowledge that the service had to re-prioritise its workload following the Grenfell Tower fire.
In the 12 months to 31 December 2018, the service audited 366 of the 4,911 high-risk premises it had identified. The service isn’t on schedule to meet its target of 520 inspections.
As well as its proactive risk-based programme, the service also carries out reactive work. It responds to reports of fire safety complaints and concerns from other organisations and the public. It also completes statutory building regulation consultations.
The service has no timescales or targets to meet reactive work. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, it received 651 building regulation consultations. Of these, it responded to 580 (89 percent) within the required timeframe.
The service has no quality assurance process to make sure that fire safety officers’ audits are consistent. The service needs to consider how it monitors activities carried out by fire safety officers to manage performance.
Station-based operational staff have limited fire safety training and don’t conduct fire safety audits. They receive advice from, or refer concerns to, the fire safety department.
We are satisfied the service uses its full range of enforcement powers. The service has issued both formal and informal notices as the enforcing authority under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. In the year to 31 March 2018 it issued 37 enforcement notices, 13 prohibition notices, three alteration notices and one successful prosecution. Fire safety officers take enforcement action against those who fail to comply with fire safety regulations.
The service has qualified fire safety officers who are available 24 hours a day to deal with complaints, concerns and enforcement if necessary.
The service works closely with enforcement organisations, including local authority planners, housing and environmental health officers. Formal arrangements are in place to carry out joint visits and agree which organisation will lead enforcement action. For example, the service is working closely with a local authority housing team. During a successful joint visit, the service took responsibility for commercial matters, while the housing team took responsibility for residential matters.
Working with others
The service manages six primary authority schemes. These schemes allow businesses and organisations with premises in more than one fire authority area to receive fire safety advice from a single fire service. These organisations include several large commercial companies. The service should consider how this discretionary work affects its capacity to run its risk-based inspection programme.
The service’s website offers good information to businesses. The information is easy to read. It also has links to appropriate legislation and guidance on risk assessments. The service conducts very few activities to help businesses improve compliance with fire safety legislation through education. Apart from a seminar following the Grenfell Tower fire, the service couldn’t give any evidence of taking a proactive approach to educating businesses.
There is a clear procedure for challenging calls to fire alarms, to prevent unnecessary emergency responses. However, the service doesn’t have a procedure for follow up activity with premises where repeat activations occur. District managers receive monthly reports and decide what action to take with premises, but this seems to be locally managed without central co-ordination. This is an area where the service could do further work to make sure it is consistent with its approach to engage with premises and achieve reductions.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Areas for improvement
- The service should have a clear policy around the deployment of its tactical response vehicles.
- The service should ensure staff know how to command fire service assets assertively, effectively and safely at incidents.
- The service should ensure its mobile data terminals are reliable so that firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information.
Managing assets and resources
In 2016, for its ‘Towards 2020’ plan, the service considered the location of fire stations based on risk using IRMP modelling tools, which include:
- ten-minute isochrones (maps showing travel times within a certain radius on a map);
- geographical information systems; and
- automatic vehicle location data to assess response times and locations.
Following analysis using incident data and risk modelling, the service identified that resources were required in the Castle Donington and Lutterworth areas. This resulted in a new fire station at Castle Donington with a day-crewing-plus working pattern, and an increase to day-crewing and on-call at Lutterworth.
The service supports its response activity with a good standard of equipment, including personal protective equipment. Wholetime and on-call staff work well with each other, and on-call staff work extra hours at wholetime fire stations.
The service regularly moves firefighters and equipment if there are gaps (for example, where a fire engine is unavailable). The service’s procedure on planned levels of fire engines and crewing availability is out of date. We found fire control operators use their professional judgment to move resources to cover depleted areas within the county.
Between April 2018 and December 2018, the overall monthly average fire engine availability ranged from 75 percent to 80 percent. The average wholetime appliance availability for this period was 99 percent. There are greater variances in on-call appliance availability where the average appliance availability for this period was 60 percent.
The service relies on staff working overtime to cover absences and to keep fire engines available. However, this system relies on the availability of staff who are prepared to work overtime. There is a project to look at the recruitment, retention and availability of on-call staff.
Operational crews who we spoke to could confidently show the use of breathing apparatus and describe what to do during a breathing apparatus emergency.
In the year to 30 September 2018, the service attended 7.9 incidents per 1,000 population. This compared to the England rate of 10.5 over the same period.
The service is working with five fire and rescue services in the East Midlands to implement national guidance. The service recognises that working regionally causes delays in implementation, but also that it benefits from shared knowledge and standardisation. The whole region plans to adopt national operational guidance within three years.
As at 1 April 2018, the service has two response standards. Where there is a life threatening incident, the service aims to get a fire engine to the incident within ten minutes of it being mobilised at least 95 percent of the time. When an incident isn’t life-threatening, the service wants to get a fire engine to the incident within 20 minutes of the fire engine being mobilised 99 percent of the time.
Targets are set to monitor response standards. The service publishes these annually. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service met these targets by attending 95 percent of life-threatening calls within 10 minutes of the fire engine being mobilised. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service’s average response time to primary fires was 10 minutes and 26 seconds.
The service has a tri-service arrangement with Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire fire and rescue services. The three services can receive and manage emergency calls in any of their areas. They give immediate support in the event of a major incident or a large volume of calls arising from an exceptional weather event, such as flooding. The mobilising system uses an automatic vehicle location system to locate and deploy the quickest available resource. The service has established predetermined attendances for all incident types. Control operators use discretion to alter this and record their decision. In the year ending 31 March 2018 the average call-handling times for primary fires was two minutes. The service had one of the highest average call-handling times for primary fires in England. The service doesn’t monitor call-handling times for control operators, unlike a number of other services.
As at 31 March 2018, the service had 30 operational fire engines. The service invested in five tactical response vehicles to enable it to adapt to the changes in the way it responds to incidents, ensuring a measured and proportionate response. These are smaller vehicles, deployed with two firefighters to most incidents. The vehicles are located at various stations across the county. In one case a tactical response vehicle has been moved to an on-call station to increase availability. We found staff across the service didn’t understand how the vehicles affect predetermined attendance or how they were mobilised. The service should clarify, within its procedure on appliance and crewing availability, how these vehicles are mobilised, and communicate this information to all staff.
Operational staff access risk information on MDTs. However, during inspection we saw that the MDTs didn’t always work. The service needs to assure itself that staff have access to risk information when responding to incidents.
The service has trained its incident commanders to the national levels of incident command. We found that commanders were aware of the aids that were available to support them. They could describe the risk assessment process and how they would record decisions. The service has an operational assurance monitoring process that assesses the performance of incident commanders at varying levels. However, some managers haven’t received refresher training or reassessment after their initial training.
Fire control can increase or decrease the number of fire engines sent to incidents, based on the information it receives and the use of its professional discretion. We found that staff were still quoting the ‘London model’ of decision making. The service is yet to introduce the newer joint decision model. While this meant that all staff were working to the same model, the service should consider introducing the newer model. It would aid cross-border and multi-agency working.
Operational staff have a good understanding of operational discretion and we were given examples of when it has been used. Control staff log operational discretion when it has been declared. However, during our inspection we found occasions when operational discretion had been used, but not recorded. The service should make sure all staff, including control operatives, understand the need to record this information.
Keeping the public informed
The service makes good use of social media, and its website, to communicate information about incidents to the public. Control staff update the website with live incident information 24 hours a day. The service gives social media training to station-based staff. Fire stations have their own social media accounts. Additional media training is given to middle managers, so they can update the media about incidents.
The communications team monitors all activity. The service told us that Leicestershire Police led on the communications for the major explosion incident in Hinckley Road in 2018. This meant that all organisations in attendance gave the public a consistent message.
The service has measures in place to safeguard vulnerable people. We saw staff were clear about what circumstances would require a safeguarding referral.
We found a process in the fire control call centre to give lifesaving advice to members of the public during emergency calls. For example, control operators could use scripts to give vital information to callers involved in incidents in high-rise buildings.
Evaluating operational performance
The service has a good debriefing process to learn from operational incidents and exercises. All staff we spoke to said they have a hot debrief at incidents. A station debrief also happens on return to the station if needed. The debrief includes checking staff welfare. The manager carrying out the debrief records significant issues or any learning that needs sharing.
Following a more complex incident, the service carries out a more structured debrief. The process to gather information and arrange the structured debrief is robust. A manager more senior than the incident commander chairs the debrief. We saw examples of learning points for improvement and good practice shared within an email to all attendees, and a posting on the service’s intranet for all staff.
We found that some staff access learning through the website, but they aren’t clear about when to instigate a structured debrief. The service should make sure all staff access learning from debriefs and know when to instigate a structured debrief.
Of the debriefs we reviewed, two out of three had significant learning points. We identified positive examples of the service contributing to national operational learning (NOL). For example, one debrief determined that thatched buildings should have an extra fire engine in attendance, to help deal with the difficulties posed by these types of buildings. Another showed evidence of gas build-up between walls in a paper mill, which ignited. The service amended its policies and submitted learning to NOL.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it is well prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to an incident and staff know how to apply Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles.
- The service should ensure it is well prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to a terrorist-related incident and that its procedures for responding are understood by all staff and are well tested.
All fire and rescue services must be able to respond effectively to multi-agency and cross-border incidents. This means working with other fire and rescue services (known as intraoperability) and emergency services (known as interoperability).
The service has effective arrangements to support the response to a regional or national incident. It has national assets in its urban search and rescue team, and a hazardous detection, identification and monitoring team. It also has specialist national inter-agency liaison officers providing 24/7 cover, to support a response to a terrorist or similar attack.
Fire control operators can update the national resilience fire control centre with any changes to availability, and request support from national assets.
The service has site-specific emergency plans for its highest-risk premises. Planning for control of major accident hazards sites is done in conjunction with LRF organisations.
The service has effective arrangements to support the fire control room at times of high demand. It has arrangements with Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire fire and rescue services as part of the tri-service arrangement.
Working with other services
The service has effective agreements with neighbouring fire and rescue services to support each other at incidents. In certain areas, it has also agreed that where a neighbouring fire and rescue service has a quicker fire engine, it should respond. This makes sure the public receives the quickest response.
We found that staff could confidently access cross-border risk information on MDTs in all the areas we tested. Control operators also have access to risk information for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire fire and rescue services through the tri-service mobilising system.
The service has arrangements to carry out cross-border exercises with neighbouring services, although these arrangements were more effective in some areas than others. The service should make sure it conducts cross-border exercises with all its neighbours.
Working with other agencies
The service is an active member of the LRF. The chief fire officer is a member of the LRF board. The assistant chief fire officer chairs the governance and delivery group, and another officer chairs a subgroup. Those involved in the LRF told us that the service plays an active role.
The service has taken part in several exercises in the last 12 months. It has also responded to three major incidents in the last 12 months – a helicopter crash and two explosions. These incidents tested its multi-agency procedures, in terms of the setting up and running of strategic and tactical co-ordination groups, and LRF major incident communication plans.
We identified that not all level one commanders had a good understanding of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles. The service should make sure staff know and understand these principles.
The service has no policy to deal with a marauding terrorist attack. Control staff had action notes on the mobilising system and could follow the actions. However, some operational staff we spoke to would benefit from additional training to ensure all staff fully understand their roles and responsibilities. The service should review its policy to deal with a marauding terrorist attack.