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. The London Fire Brigade’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
The London Fire Brigade is a well-resourced brigade that exceeds its own standards on response times to fires and other emergencies.
The brigade’s operational policies and procedures are comprehensive, but they don’t fully reflect national operational guidance (NOG), even for risk-critical areas such as incident command. This is worrying, especially since it is coupled with the need to improve the maintenance of competence of all its incident commanders and emergency drivers through training and assessment. This needs immediate attention.
The brigade also needs to know precisely how many high-risk premises it audits each year. Without this knowledge, it can’t meet the requirements of its risk-based inspection programme and assure itself that it effectively protects the public from fires. It needs to respond on time to building regulation consultations and could do much more to reduce the burden of false alarms. It should also make sure that staff accurately record risk assessments and control measures put in place at an incident, and pass them on to oncoming crews. This will alert commanders to workplace risks and help put safety control measures in place at the incident.
More positively, the brigade consults widely and engages effectively with the public in developing its integrated risk management plan (known as the London Safety Plan).
The brigade needs to make sure its firefighters have access to relevant risk information through mobile data terminals (MDTs), which aren’t available on older fire engines.
The London Fire Brigade has shown that it has learned many lessons since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. But it could improve how it records what it has learned from incidents in its operational debrief system.
Finally, the brigade is good at responding to national risks, which it has shown in its responses to several high-profile incidents. But it should make sure all frontline staff, and not just specialist response teams, are well protected and well prepared for being part of a multi-agency response. This includes responding to a marauding terrorist attack, given the relatively high likelihood of such incidents in London. It could also do more to make sure that crews are aware of cross-border risks and are trained to deal with them.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
The London Fire Brigade 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 brigade should make sure all 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 brigade’s performance in this area.
Understanding local and community risk
The London Fire Brigade is good at gathering and understanding risk information about its communities and using it to inform its planning. It faces some unique risks associated with the capital city. London is the country’s financial and political centre, and has seen an increase in terrorist-related incidents. The brigade gives support to many different communities and has the largest population of any fire and rescue service in England. It uses computer-based modelling to assess risk, which informs the London Safety Plan. This approach has been in place for many years and is well established.
Risk modelling is mainly based on giving the best possible emergency response times to the public, with many scenarios regularly tested. Risk information is also used to offer home fire safety visits to the people who most need them. The brigade is working to have community safety plans for all London boroughs, and most are in place. These community safety plans reflect the different risks in local communities.
The brigade works with communities and other agencies, such as local authorities, the police, ambulance services and Transport for London (TfL) to understand and exchange information about local risk. This is available to the public on the brigade’s website. The public have opportunities to tell the brigade their concerns about risks in their area. When the brigade was developing its last London Safety Plan in 2016/17, it held a comprehensive consultation programme that generated 1,968 returns. After a review, it refocused consultation on specific groups of people who were under-represented in the returns.
The brigade is good at regularly gathering a wide range of data to maintain a current risk profile – for example, from emergency incidents, census data about population density, age and deprivation levels, and crime and lifestyle data. It also gets information from partners. Data is updated every year and communicated internally when there are significant changes that affect the risk of fires and other emergencies.
The brigade has a guiding principle of equal entitlement supported by borough rules. This means that, regardless of area risk, all Londoners get a broadly similar type, speed and weight of response. In areas where the brigade has more incidents, they have allocated more resources.
Having an effective risk management plan
The brigade’s London Safety Plan for 2017–21 is effective. The plan outlines current and future changes in risk, and it clearly sets out how the brigade will manage risks to the public through prevention, protection and response activities.
The plan states the brigade’s intent to work with blue light partners and other agencies to support their goals and help meet the broader safety agenda. It outlines how the brigade will work with the building industry, looking at innovative design for buildings and the development of major transport infrastructure. It describes the brigade’s arrangements to support national, cross border, multi-agency incidents and to respond to terrorist attacks. It is a comprehensive document that aligns with the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England. Its planning assumptions incorporate recommendations from two independent reviews: the 2016 Harris review into London’s preparedness to respond to a major terrorist incident and the 2016 Mayer review (which addressed the levels of resourcing required by the brigade to make sure it is fully equipped to fight and prevent fires, and to respond effectively to a terrorist attack or a major incident, such as flooding).
The London Safety Plan is supported by an action plan. But, since its publication in 2017, the brigade’s strategic direction no longer has clear links with it. We explain this in the report, in terms of ‘How efficient is the service at keeping people safe and secure?’.
Maintaining risk information
Firefighters regularly gather risk information, including from underground sites, to help in pre-planning and decision making at incidents. The brigade has updated its risk data over the past year. For high-rise residential buildings, firefighters complete an electronic premises information plate (EPIP). This EPIP risk record includes important information such as building layout drawings, locations of hydrants, lifts and sprinklers, and equipment likely to be needed. Not all high-rise residential premises in London have an EPIP yet, but the brigade is implementing its plan to make sure they do.
The brigade varies how often it reassesses a site’s risk depending on the rating given at their last visit.
Firefighters can see risk information on maps on fire engine-mounted MDTs. Fire control operators and station management can also view them on their computer screens. But on older fire engines this information isn’t always available for firefighters. The brigade has made alternative arrangements to try to manage this risk until the engines are replaced.
On newer fire engines, systems immediately upload new risk records when they are completed. This gives firefighters fast access to new information.
Since the Grenfell Tower fire, the brigade has been making more risk visits across London. If a high-rise residential building is at higher risk because it is clad with aluminium composite material, firefighters must visit weekly. These visits are to check that temporary special fire safety measures agreed with the building owner remain in place.
These temporary measures may include a simultaneous evacuation procedure, in which all parts of a building are evacuated in the event of fire at one time. Extra options may include a 24/7 ‘waking fire watch’. This is a system provided by the building owner whereby their staff should continually patrol all floors and the exterior perimeter of the building. This means they could respond to a fire, call the fire service and help evacuate the building. Firefighters report fire safety changes to the enforcement department and visits occur less often as the risk reduces. This is an effective mechanism for managing this type of risk. It is also efficient because, as the risk reduces, visits are made less frequently.
Other risk information is passed to crews in different ways depending on local station management arrangements and whether the information is temporary or permanent. The brigade uses written handover notes, emails, operational or health and safety bulletins, printouts of temporary events or changes, and pop-up messages on the screens of control room operators.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
The London Fire Brigade is good at preventing fires and other risks. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The brigade should better evaluate its prevention work so it fully understands how effective it is at reducing the risk of fires and other emergencies.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the brigade’s performance in this area.
The brigade’s community safety and prevention strategy was implemented in 2018. It is comprehensive and informed by risk, mayoral priorities, the law, national requirements and the London Safety Plan. The strategy shows where risks are greatest and presents a clear rationale for the level of work planned.
The brigade works nationally with other fire and rescue services, and with many partners and communities in London. The brigade is seen as proactive and is well respected by partners, having representatives on several national committees.
Firefighters visit people in their homes to do home fire safety checks, give fire safety advice and fit free smoke alarms where appropriate. Other staff do safe and well visits, giving extra advice and offering referrals to services provided by health and voluntary sector partners. Safe and well visits are part of a two-year pilot in five London boroughs.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the brigade made 83,331 home fire safety checks. This is 9.4 checks per 1,000 population, just below the England rate of 10.4. The brigade has an eligibility scoring system, so residents believed to be at greater risk of fire are prioritised to be offered these checks. Priority visits are offered to people who have been referred and meet more than three of the brigade’s criteria – that is, they are over 60, live alone, are in social housing, have mobility difficulties, have a mental health problem, or are dependent on alcohol or drugs.
The brigade also uses postcode risk data to plan cold call visits (80 percent of visits are referrals or in higher risk postcodes). Station computer systems clearly show where the people at greatest risk of fire are likely to live. This allows the brigade to direct work where it is needed. Postcode risk is determined by data on history of fires, deprivation levels, demographic household classification data (Experian’s Mosaic data), and so on.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the brigade made 35.7 percent of these visits to households of an elderly person. This is below the England rate of 54.1 percent. Visits to households of someone with a disability increased to 36.8 percent, which is above the England rate of 24.7 percent.
The brigade recognises that targeting could be improved further and it is piloting alternative approaches. The quality of the process is periodically checked during and after visits, for example by managers attending visits and making follow-up contacts. But we saw little evidence of changes being made as a result.
How involved station staff are in other community safety work varies across boroughs. Campaigns and safe and well visits are managed by a dedicated team, so don’t affect the brigade’s response function.
Community safety work has been taking place for several years, but there is limited evaluation of it. The brigade can’t, therefore, fully assess which parts of its prevention work are most effective in reducing the risk of fires and other emergencies, to inform decisions about future priorities. The safe and well visit project will end this year, and evaluation won’t take place until after the project has finished. It isn’t clear whether the project will continue.
Promoting community safety
The central community safety team works with borough commanders and many partners to develop, promote and run several safety programmes, including national campaigns. Attendees for the programmes are referred by partners, for example youth offending teams, the police, local authorities, depending on the nature of the programme. The brigade prioritises the schools that should get educational talks by risk assessment. The brigade also has 120 community volunteers running youth cadet schemes across London. The Mayor of London has given extra funds to extend this programme in 2019/20.
We welcome the innovative approach the brigade has taken in redirecting resources to emerging risks. For example, acid attacks at tourist sites have become increasingly prevalent, and the brigade has given training to hotels and restaurants in these locations to enable them to help victims of such attacks.
We found that staff are good at identifying vulnerable people and making safeguarding referrals. They evaluate referrals to identify safeguarding themes and what might be learned from them. For example, a high percentage of referrals come from youth teams. Crews are also referring more socially isolated people and people with mental health problems.
The brigade works well in partnership to tackle fire-setting behaviour. Station managers work with multi-agency panels to safely manage the release of arsonists. Crews check local arson hotspots and refer risks to local councils, waste companies and the police. They also fit fire safety equipment to properties at risk from arson. Central teams offer juvenile fire-setters intervention schemes and do arson reduction work. Fire investigation officers work with the police to prosecute arsonists.
The brigade has had many successes with fire investigation and is approached for advice by other fire and rescue services. It has successfully lobbied Government and manufacturers. An example is the recent ‘Total Recalls’ campaign involving white goods.
The responsibility for road safety in London lies with TfL devolved through the London boroughs. The brigade, City of London Police, Metropolitan Police Service, British Transport Police and London Ambulance Service NHS Trust are partners. Partners told us they value the brigade’s contribution, despite the limited resources.
The brigade promotes road safety, working closely with TfL to make sure its road safety objectives match those of the Safer Roads Partnership. A small central team leads several programmes. It examines data on injuries and deaths on roads and their causes to decide the best interventions for each borough. Road safety is also addressed on school visits.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Areas for improvement
- The brigade needs to be able to measure that it is meeting the targets set out in its risk based inspection programme to be assured it is effectively protecting the public from fires.
- The brigade should make sure it responds in time to building regulation consultations.
- The brigade should make sure it addresses effectively the burden of 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 brigade’s performance in this area.
The brigade has a comprehensive fire safety enforcement policy and risk-based inspection programme. However, the policy is over two years past its review date.
Most staff understand the risk-targeting methodology. The brigade defines high-risk premises as any with risks associated with sleeping accommodation that also have a risk score of 5 or above. The risk score is calculated based on a range of factors, such as building use, previous fire safety interventions, property type, and so on. Hospitals, care homes, purpose-built flats over four storeys high, hostels and houses converted to flats are the types of building with sleeping risks.
The information on the brigade’s database of high-risk buildings changes every day. It doesn’t hold a history of risk scores given to a building and when they changed. Nor does the data show the number of premises that have been visited more than once. So it can’t accurately measure how many high-risk premises have been audited each year, to meet the requirements of the brigade’s risk-based inspection programme. This problem needs to be resolved.
In the year to 31 March 2016, the service audited 8,314 high-risk premises. That figure steadily declined to 5,680 in the year to 31 March 2018. Actions that could improve this figure have a low uptake (a shortened audit process) or are still being trialled (firefighters doing low-risk audits).
The brigade expects that at least half an inspection officer’s time should focus on audit work on high-risk premises. But many inspectors reported spending most of their time on reactive work – for example, responding to reported fire risks or dealing with building regulation and other consultations.
Building regulation consultation targets aren’t being met because of internal administration delays and a lack of experienced staff. The brigade received requests to participate in 17,454 building regulation consultations in the year to 31 March 2019. Of these, only 25 percent were done on time. The brigade’s performance has declined every year for the past three years and is well below the average for England (71 percent).
Compared with 2011/12, the brigade has over one-third fewer competent fire safety staff who are dedicated to protection activity. At 31 March 2019, it had 106 competent staff, with 33 more being trained. However, staff are well trained and supported by a workplace development process. Inspectors progress from supervised work on simple premises to unsupervised work on complex premises. The brigade can respond at any time to dangerous conditions and issue prohibition notices because it has out-of-hours cover in place. There is also a dedicated team for out-of hours audits.
The brigade uses a standard and consistent methodology in most audits. It also does specialist, more complex audits, for example at petroleum sites and London Underground sites. An internal fire safety audit team assesses the quality, consistency and proportionality of auditing. The first yearly review of all audit teams includes areas for improvement and delivery plans.
The brigade has clear policies for enforcement, investigation and prosecution, and for exchanging risk information with other enforcement agencies. It has successfully used its policies to protect people and take joint enforcement action.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the brigade issued 2,129 informal notifications, 382 enforcement notices, 63 prohibition notices and eight prosecutions. Most prosecutions were successful and well reported, which serves to educate and warn other premises’ owners.
The brigade uses most of its enforcement powers. But it is surprising that no alteration notices have been issued since the year to 31 March 2011, given the amount of complex and innovatively engineered building work in London.
Senior officers attend the National Fire Investigation Forum to share information about risk and fire safety issues. We also heard of some good examples of work with local authorities, the Care Quality Commission, Border Force, immigration services, TfL and Heathrow Airport. This work involves, for example, referring cases of modern slavery and making sure fire safety is effectively regulated. But there is an inconsistent approach across London.
Working with others
The brigade has committed resources to national work including the Hackitt review and subsequent work with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC). This includes developing guidance (under the banner of NFCC) for owners of buildings with aluminium composite material cladding.
The brigade could do far more to reduce the burden of unwanted fire signals (false alarms). In the year to 31 March 2019, it received 40,804 automatic fire alarm requests for assistance. Only 3.7 percent (1,516) of these requests weren’t attended, which is surprisingly low when compared with the average of 30 percent for England. Some automatic fire alarm calls from commercial premises are filtered, and emergency response is reduced in some situations. But the brigade’s approach is mainly reactive and there is limited evidence of visits to problem premises. Charging for false alarms has been suspended and there is no desire to start it again, or to identify circumstances in which the brigade can stop attending alarms.
There is no comprehensive approach to supporting businesses to understand and comply with the law by educating them in how they are expected to meet fire safety regulations.
The brigade has national responsibility for fire safety auditing and advising 35 organisations with multiple UK sites. These are mainly either registered social landlords, sites in the leisure sector or food retail chains.
Fire safety inspectors are encouraged to be supportive and positive with businesses in their local boroughs. However, we found they aren’t working in partnership with the British Chambers of Commerce or similar groups, or within national programmes, such as Better Business for All, that bring together regulators and businesses to identify the issues facing local businesses and to provide support to them. The brigade is aware of this shortcoming. A new central post will dedicate 50 percent of one job to business engagement, but this work has been delayed by other priorities.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Areas for improvement
- The brigade should make sure it puts in place and delivers a plan to adopt national operational guidance.
- The brigade should make sure staff accurately record risk assessments and control measures implemented at an incident, to alert commanders to workplace risks and help put safety control measures in place at the incident ground.
- The brigade should make sure its system for learning from operational
debriefs is effective and that staff understand how to record learning from operational incidents.
Managing assets and resources
The brigade has a comprehensive set of response policies for the risks outlined in its London Safety Plan. All London residents have what is called an equity of entitlement to a broadly similar response, and resources are matched to incident type and complexity. The brigade is well resourced and has a wide range of specialist equipment and skills.
In the year to 31 December 2018, the brigade attended 105,864 incidents, which is 11.9 per 1,000 population and an increase of 2.3 percent from the previous year. The England rate for the same period is 10.4.
London has enough fire engines available thanks to the work of a dedicated team and detailed guiding policy. This system manages resources so firefighters can do some planned work without having to stop to attend emergency calls. Firefighters can be recalled later if needed. In the year to 31 March 2019, the overall average monthly fire engine availability ranged from 93.6 percent to 96.9 percent.
The brigade’s pre-planning gives firefighters time for operational training and exercises. However, the frequency of exercises varies across London.
Control room staff move resources (such as fire engines and firefighters) around depending on the risks identified and the availability of resources throughout each day.
The brigade’s average response time is quicker than most predominantly urban services. In the year to 31 March 2018, its average response time to primary fires was 6 minutes and 39 seconds. This was down from 7 minutes 14 seconds in the year ending 31 March 2011.
Home Office data on response times gives the time between the call being made and the first fire engine arriving at the scene. This gives consistent data for all 45 services. But services measure their own response times in different ways.
The brigade’s response standards include:
- first fire engine to arrive in 10 minutes or less for incidents 90 percent of the time; and
- first fire engine to arrive in 12 minutes or less for incidents 95 percent of the time.
In the year to 31 March 2019, the first standard was met in 96.5 percent of cases; the second in 98.4 percent of cases. Both targets are broadly similar to the previous year. The brigade consistently exceeds the response standards it has agreed with the public.
NOG is the foundation for all fire and rescue services in developing operational policies, procedures and training for firefighters to deal with incidents effectively and safely. It is based on current technical expertise. The brigade has assessed how its policies reflect NOG.
While the brigade has a comprehensive set of operational policies and procedures, we are concerned that they don’t fully reflect NOG. This means that brigade operational practice in risk-critical areas doesn’t reflect good practice and could therefore affect how well and how safely firefighters can respond to incidents. Progress is checked by an NOG implementation board, but this is slow to make changes.
For example, not all firefighters we interviewed understood the national format for giving messages at an incident ground. The brigade recognises this and is taking steps to resolve it.
The brigade is the only service not to use the national incident command decision control process. A review of the process, before a decision to adopt it was made, was suspended by the brigade. This situation is worrying, especially when it is seen alongside the brigade’s lack of assurance over the ongoing competence of its incident commanders (outlined in ‘How well does the service look after its people?’). This situation needs immediate attention.
Incident commanders should also be aware of the immediate hazards at an incident ground, which is the workplace for firefighters – that is, who is at risk and the safety control measures needed to protect them. This risk assessment, called a dynamic risk assessment, should determine the reasonably practicable measures that commanders should take to control the risk. A more detailed written risk assessment, the analytical risk assessment, should be completed as soon as practicably possible.
In London, commanders have a process for recording their decisions at incidents. However, there is no record of risk assessments and control measures implemented. Some staff complete them when working outside London but not for London incidents.
The brigade doesn’t have regular assessments of command skills, which limits its ability to assure itself that all incident commanders have maintained their competence. We see this as an organisational failing, not one of individual commanders. This is an area for improvement that we cover elsewhere in the report (see: ‘How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?’).
While incident command training was up to date for some supervisory and middle managers we interviewed, this isn’t the case across the brigade. And internal reports confirmed this. Moreover, the command model used by the brigade differs from the decision control process outlined in NOG and used by all other fire and rescue services.
NOG states that most situations faced by incident commanders aren’t unique. But incident commanders may occasionally be presented with a situation that is extremely unusual and not reasonably foreseeable. In this circumstance, they may have to make decisions using their professional judgment, which is referred to as operational discretion. In such rare or exceptional situations, following an operational procedure strictly would be a barrier to resolving an incident, or there may not be a procedure that deals adequately with the incident.
The brigade policy does allow commanders to adapt or deviate from operational policy when necessary, in line with NOG. However, while staff understand this policy, only six cases were reported in two years, which is strikingly low. Because of these low returns, the brigade acknowledged in July 2018 that the declaration and recording of operational discretion needed to improve.
We were told that organisational culture inhibits commanders from using operational discretion. Incident commanders aren’t confident that the brigade would support them in using operational discretion. Moreover, not all staff feel that the tone of the brigade’s post-incident debrief meetings, which review such decisions, supports a learning environment.
By contrast, we found that control room staff are confident in using their discretion to manage incidents. They can add or remove resources from the selection recommended by the computer system.
Keeping the public informed
The brigade communicates effectively with the public about incidents. The public can also see information online about risk levels and emergency incidents in their area.
We saw good examples of Twitter being used by borough commanders to let the public know about incidents. There is a clear social media policy and training in media skills is available. Six press officers give out-of-hours telephone support on a rota.
The communications systems of the London resilience group (LRG) and brigade are inextricably linked. They work together on communications for major incidents, sharing social media platforms and agreeing messages to the public.
Guidance for the public about fire survival in an emergency can be accessed manually through several software and paper-based systems. The guidance was planned to be reviewed but this work has been delayed. Also, some staff would benefit from refresher training on this guidance and recent changes to the brigade’s policies.
Evaluating operational performance
Despite the brigade having a good technological system and processes, the quality of staff commentary from incident monitoring and operational debriefs is inconsistent. This limits internal analysis and reporting, which in turn hinders opportunities for the brigade to learn from incidents, and to improve its arrangements for responding to fires and other emergencies. The brigade recognises this and plans to train staff.
The brigade introduced a new operational improvement process and reporting structure in December 2018. Operational learning is considered by an operational professionalism board, with meetings held or scheduled throughout 2019. This board is supported by an improvement and oversight panel. The new structure considers national learning, coroners’ recommendations and NOG, as well as lessons from brigade incidents, including the Grenfell Tower fire.
Any new lessons and training deemed necessary by the board is published in a six-monthly newsletter, Operational News, which is widely read by staff. It reports positive experiences as well as areas for improvement. Online quizzes are used to test and record staff knowledge. This is good work.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry, an independent public inquiry, is scrutinising the brigade’s operational performance in its response on 14 June 2017 to the Grenfell Tower fire. This incident is also under criminal investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service. Phase one of the inquiry was reported after our inspection was completed – that is, on 30 October 2019 – and the second phase starts in 2020. The findings of the police investigation aren’t anticipated until after proceedings close, which will be 2021 at the earliest.
The London Fire Brigade has clearly learned lessons from the Grenfell Tower incident. However, it has been slow to implement the changes needed, which is typical of the brigade’s approach to organisational change.
The brigade has set up a Grenfell Tower investigation and review team. This standalone group gives updates to the brigade, operating outside the established organisational structures but within the parameters of the terms of reference agreed by the commissioner. Its work also helps the brigade to support the independent public inquiry, the Metropolitan Police Service investigation and any subsequent inquest proceedings.
The brigade has also learned lessons from multi-agency working, which it shares nationally with fire and rescue services and other agencies. It has a single point of contact for national and joint operational learning. All actions from joint operational learning are held on the LRG database and are checked by the LRG for progress.
After the Grenfell Tower fire, there was an independent multi-agency debrief. Findings were recorded on the LRG database and actions were allocated and managed by the LRG. We heard about examples of lessons learned being passed on by the brigade about water rescue and firefighting in high-rise premises.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
The London Fire Brigade is good at responding to national risks. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The brigade should make sure cross-border risks are made known to crews. It should run a programme of over-the-border exercises, passing on the lessons learned from these exercises.
- The brigade should make sure all frontline staff, and not just specialist response teams, are well protected and well prepared for being part of a multi-agency response to a community risk identified by the local resilience forum, including a marauding terrorist attack. It should make sure that all staff understand its procedures for responding to terrorist-related incidents.
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 service (known as intraoperability) and emergency services (known as interoperability).
The brigade’s local arrangements broadly comply with and support the requirements of the national co-ordination and advisory framework. Operational responsibility for London-wide resilience sits with the brigade, and the Greater London Authority retains strategic oversight for resilience in the capital. Partners recognise the benefits of the brigade hosting this function.
Specialist vehicles, equipment and staff are used by the brigade to co-ordinate its response to a range of serious, significant or catastrophic incidents that have an impact nationally.
The brigade has responded to several terrorist-related incidents in recent years. The coroner’s report after the 2017 Westminster Bridge terrorist attack identified no areas for improvement relating to the brigade’s preparedness and response.
We found control operators were knowledgeable and confident to mobilise national assets. Incident commanders trained to level 2 and above understood Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP) and when to apply them. Because of the speed and weight of resources in London, all JESIP-related incidents can be allocated to level 2 commanders, when they would normally have level 1 in other fire and rescue services.
The brigade develops and tests site-specific plans so that they are prepared for responding to high-risk premises and national incidents. The register of sites is being reviewed.
Working with other services
Mutual aid agreements are in place with all neighbouring fire and rescue services. The brigade regularly sends resources to incidents or to give standby cover over the border in surrounding counties. Joint exercising, however, is limited. Staff told us that over-border working isn’t intra-operable. It isn’t clear how the brigade’s return to a rank-based structure, away from the national role-based model this year, will affect over-border working (see ‘How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?’).
The brigade should do more to share risk information to improve intra-operability with other fire and rescue services. The brigade gives risk information to neighbouring fire and rescue services about premises in London through the control room only. This information isn’t made available to put on other fire and rescue services’ fire engine-mounted MDTs because it is thought it would take up too much capacity. While the brigade gets risk information from other fire and rescue services, it doesn’t share this with crews on its MDTs.
Working with other agencies
Multi-agency exercises are managed at both borough and all-London level. There is a clear policy outlining responsibilities. Borough commanders work with borough resilience forums and practise desk-based multi-agency scenarios. We heard about full exercises at national infrastructure sites, government buildings, heritage sites and so on, although across London these exercises are inconsistent and don’t happen often.
Of the 253 firefighters and specialist support staff who undertook our staff survey, 46 percent felt the brigade had undertaken enough joint training and exercises to be able to respond effectively to major incidents in the past 12 months (please see About the Data page for more details).
The brigade has a team of staff who volunteer to deal with the emergencies arising from the terrorist threats to London, but it isn’t fully staffed. This work is not supported by the Fire Brigades Union and is subject to national discussions. There is a mix of on-duty specialist staff and others available on recall to duty to maintain staffing levels. They are well trained, exercise regularly, have specific personal protective equipment and are led by a group of specialist officers. This group also leads a national team of inter-agency liaison officers who are senior managers trained to command and liaise between agencies at complex incidents.
Given the nature of the risks and the previous incidents experienced in London, the brigade should do more to train and protect frontline firefighters. These are the brigade’s employees who are highly likely to respond to a marauding terrorist attack before it is declared as such. Firefighters have received some initial training and there is some video-based learning. But there is no systematic training programme and many frontline firefighters confirm that they lack the confidence to respond, and don’t carry suitable personal protective equipment for these incidents.