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Nottinghamshire 2018/19

Effectiveness

How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?

Last updated 19/06/2019
Requires improvement

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. Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.

Nottinghamshire FRS should improve its understanding of the risk of fire and other emergencies. The service maintains a good understanding of local risks by analysing data and information. But the service doesn’t use its integrated risk management plan (IRMP) to direct its activities enough, and the actions in this plan aren’t easy for the public to understand.

The service should improve its prevention of fires and other risks. It has no clear fire prevention strategy but does carry out prevention work such as advising households how to prevent fires. The service doesn’t monitor its performance at preventing fires, so doesn’t know what impact it has on community safety. Nor does it promote road safety effectively. More positively, we were impressed by its work with people who show fire-setting behaviour.

Nottinghamshire FRS is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. The service directs its fire safety enforcement work using a nationally recognised strategy. It prioritises this work based on its understanding of risk. The service works with businesses to make sure they comply with fire safety regulations and takes further action if needed. It also works with other organisations to enforce these rules.

The service should improve its response to fires and other emergencies. It knows it doesn’t have enough on-call fire engines available and is addressing this. It shares information with the public in various ways. Control room operators confidently give lifesaving information to callers. Staff can identify vulnerable people and refer them for safeguarding.

The service responds well to national risks. It holds several national resilience assets and can maintain Nottinghamshire’s fire cover if other services are using these assets. The service’s arrangements for working with other services are effective, as its response to a recent railway station fire showed. However, the service knows it needs to carry out more cross-border exercises.

Questions for Effectiveness

1

How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should use its integrated risk management plan to ensure it keeps the public safe and secure from the risks identified.
  • The service should ensure its firefighters have access to relevant and up-to-date risk information.

All fire and rescue services should identify and assess all foreseeable fire and rescue-related risks. They should also prevent and mitigate these risks.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Understanding local and community risk

Nottinghamshire FRS has a good understanding of the risks in the Nottinghamshire area. It achieves this through the use of a wide range of information. This includes social, health, demographic and previous incident data.

The service uses computer software to create a visual map of the low, medium and high-risk areas of the county. Nottinghamshire FRS uses this map to make sure it places fire stations correctly to respond proportionately to incidents. It repeats the analysis process every six months, so the information is current.

A fire cover review in 2010 highlighted that risks in Nottinghamshire FRS’s service area had changed. The service came up with proposals to meet the new risk pattern. These included changing working arrangements at some fire stations – for example, upgrading Edwinstowe from on-call to wholetime. Nottingham Trent University’s Emergency Services Research Unit confirmed that the service had based its changes on correct planning assumptions.

Nottinghamshire FRS drew up its proposed 2014–2019 IRMP following the fire cover review and presented it to the public for consultation. The consultation exercise included face-to-face meetings, focus groups and questionnaires. The service used an external company to make sure the process was open and honest. Following the results of the consultation, the fire authority approved the proposals.

The service is highly regarded within the Nottinghamshire local resilience forum (LRF). This is the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire management group for the co-ordination of emergency planning and response organisations. Nottinghamshire FRS is responsible for the forum’s training plan and is a member of the risk advisory group.

The service takes account of future challenges such as financial pressures, wide-scale flooding, cyber-attack and trade disputes.

Having an effective risk management plan

Nottinghamshire FRS has informed members of the public of the main risks they face through its 2014–2019 IRMP. This document contains six strategic priorities:

  • service delivery;
  • employees and workforce;
  • improvement and governance;
  • engagement and partnerships;
  • environment; and
  • inclusion and equality.

Each strategic priority has its own action plan, but Nottinghamshire FRS hasn’t been acting on these plans. Staff, from strategic managers to firefighters, told us the service hasn’t been using the IRMP to direct its activities. Also, as the action plans aren’t easy to read, it is difficult for the public to understand how the service will reduce risk. However, in line with the national framework document, the service publishes an Annual Statement of Assurance.

At the time of our inspection, the fire authority approved Nottinghamshire FRS’s new IRMP, Strategic Plan 2019–2022, which comes into force from April 2019.

Maintaining risk information

Nottinghamshire FRS routinely gathers information on the risk to its firefighters. Not only is this essential for their safety, but it is a legal requirement under section 7(2)d of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. However, this risk information wasn’t integrated into the 2014–2019 IRMP.

The service’s firefighters access the risk information using the mobile data terminal (MDT) in the front of every fire engine. This information includes specific risks relating to, for example, hospitals and shopping centres. Staff can also access effective plans for and information about temporary events in their station area, such as Winter Wonderland and the Goose Fair. However, it is of concern that some of Nottinghamshire FRS’s information isn’t accurate and some is out of date. There are long delays – in some cases of several months – between a risk inspection and the updating of the file about it, and information isn’t routinely checked for accuracy. At 31 December 2018, the service held risk information on 433 sites. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service had inspected 164 of these sites. The service completed a range of between 40 and 60 percent of follow-up visits within the target time. The service knows about these problems and has trained a member of staff at every fire station to improve the co-ordination of this work.

Nottinghamshire FRS has numerous systems in place to share other safety-critical information. Teams share information using briefings and handover sheets. A central team also issues important and critical information, such as the correct use of defibrillators, using short documents known as safety critical information. Staff value these for the accessible way in which they are written.

2

How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should review and update its prevention strategy to take account of risks.
  • The service should ensure it targets its prevention work at people most at risk.
  • The service should evaluate its prevention work, so it understands the benefits better.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Prevention strategy

Although Nottinghamshire FRS’s prevention activities, carried out by a central prevention team and staff at fire stations, meet legal requirements, its prevention strategy isn’t clear. Although it contains action plans, it doesn’t show how these will be carried out. It also doesn’t show how they are aligned with local community risks and will be evaluated. Staff told us the service doesn’t use the strategy.

Nottinghamshire FRS works well with partner organisations, including local authorities and the health service. This has had a positive effect – for example, through close working with health professionals, the service has increased the scope of home fire safety visits. These now follow a safe and well checks model, which includes:

  • identifying potential fire risks;
  • taking action to reduce fire risks;
  • ensuring working smoke alarms are fitted;
  • advising on social welfare;
  • advising on avoiding slips, trips and falls; and
  • advising on other measures such as fire-retardant bedding.

However, Nottinghamshire FRS has no performance management in place to ensure staff are making these checks effectively. The service uses the mnemonic CHARLIE (care and support; hoarding; alcohol; reduced mobility; lives alone; inappropriate smoking; and elderly, namely over 65) as an easy-to-remember reminder for partner organisations of the characteristics of those people it considers at greater risk of fire. However, some referrals from those organisations don’t meet the service’s own targeting profile.

Nottinghamshire FRS has no targets for the completion of safe and well checks, and the number carried out by each station varies considerably. In the year ending 31 March 2018, the service carried out 3 checks per 1,000 of the population. This is lower than the England rate of 10 per 1,000 of the population.

As Nottinghamshire FRS doesn’t monitor, manage or evaluate its prevention activities, it can’t determine the effect of its work on reducing risks in the community.

There is an effective process in place to aid the police 24 hours a day in cases where domestic violence raises fire risk. We saw examples where Nottinghamshire FRS firefighters had visited the victim’s property, conducted a home safety check and supplied free safety equipment.

Promoting community safety

Nottinghamshire FRS partners with a range of organisations to promote community safety. Examples of the good work it does as part of the Nottinghamshire Safety Education Partnership include the Safety Zone days it has developed to provide information to large numbers of schoolchildren.

The service also works with occupational therapists and other health professionals to improve the mutual understanding of vulnerability. Its CHARLIE mnemonic (see above) helps occupational therapists to know who to refer for safe and well checks.

Nottinghamshire FRS’s approach to working with young people who display fire-setting behaviour is encouraging. The service uses a team of 11 trained volunteers to deliver its Fire Safe scheme. The scheme educates youngsters – 107 in 2018 – about the dangers of fire and the damage it can cause.

Staff across the service have a good understanding of safeguarding and are appropriately trained. There is an effective process in place so staff can take immediate action to safeguard both adults and children.

Nottinghamshire FRS plans community safety campaigns in line with the National Fire Chiefs Council calendar. This includes road, water and fire safety. However, we found an inconsistent approach. While some fire station activity is co-ordinated by local prevention officers, at others fire station staff decide which campaigns they carry out, meaning there is no process in place to make sure it targets its campaigns effectively. The service carries out some themed prevention work after incidents – for example, several stations promoted water safety following a fatality. 

There are some areas of good work and a variety of approaches to promoting community safety, but Nottinghamshire FRS isn’t evaluating the effect of its prevention activities. If it did, this would help it understand how those activities could be more focused.

Road safety

Nottinghamshire FRS isn’t promoting road safety effectively enough to reduce the numbers killed and seriously injured on the region’s roads. It contributes financially to the Nottinghamshire Road Safety Partnership but isn’t an active member and has very few examples of campaigns and initiatives. The service should consider a more co-ordinated approach. It acknowledges this is an area in which it needs to improve.

3

How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?

Good

Nottinghamshire 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 makes better use of its specialist resources in implementing its risk-based inspection programme. It should also ensure it allocates and quality-assures these inspections appropriately.

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.

Risk-based approach

Nottinghamshire FRS has a fire safety enforcement strategy that is in line with national guidance. It uses its risk-based inspection programme to plan audits and inspections. In the year ending 31 March 2018, 3.3 fire safety audits were carried out per 100 known premises. This is slightly above the England rate of 3.0 fire safety audits per 100 known premises over the same timeframe. Of the 853 audits carried out in the year ending 31 March 2018, 68 percent resulted in a satisfactory rating.

Staff record the outcomes of audits on a template and store them in a computer database. However, there is no quality assurance process. Such a process would make sure the service completes audits in a consistent way.

Nottinghamshire FRS defines high-risk premises as those that have sleeping accommodation, such as hospitals, care homes and hotels. It uses previous incident and property risk information to identify such premises. The service recently changed how it defines high-risk premises. However, it doesn’t have data on the resulting new number of such premises or how many it audited after this change. Nottinghamshire FRS should make sure it has clear systems in place to performance-manage such audits. Staff told us the service prioritises other reactive work over high-risk premises. The service is aware of this problem and aims to address it by training its firefighters to assist with fire safety work.

The service carries out building regulation consultation work and deals with complaints when these have not been followed. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, it received 503 consultation requests. It responded to 460 (91 percent) of those within the required timeframe.

Nottinghamshire FRS staff are available 24 hours a day to deal with complaints, concerns and enforcement, if necessary. Specialist staff are well trained and have either completed or are working towards a level 4 diploma or higher in fire safety. There is no clear plan in place for managing the workload of protection officers, however.

Enforcement

The service works with businesses to help them comply with fire regulation. If this approach isn’t effective, it takes further steps, including enforcement, prohibition and prosecution action. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service issued 19 enforcement notices and 9 prohibition notices. It didn’t issue any alterations or prosecutions. Businesses requiring further action included hotels, housing and restaurants.

Nottinghamshire FRS’s approach to taking legal action, where necessary, is good. All protection officers are trained in legal procedures, and the service has its own enforcement team to gather and record evidence. In November 2018, the successful prosecution of a hotel owner resulted in a six-month prison sentence.

The service’s work with Nottinghamshire County Council’s environmental health and housing departments to organise community impact days is good. These days encourage a joint approach to enforcement and give the organisations the opportunity to share information.

Working with others

Nottinghamshire FRS took immediate action following the Grenfell Tower fire. The service worked closely with the council to identify all high-rise buildings in the county. Its protection officers then conducted a programme of risk-based audits to identify buildings with cladding. The prevention team supported this by offering every resident in the buildings identified a home safety check.

The service manages two primary authority schemes (PAS) for retail companies. The PAS allow businesses and organisations with premises in more than one fire authority area to receive fire safety advice from a single service. Nottinghamshire FRS’s protection team has developed a series of workshops with the companies to promote fire safety compliance – for example, through risk assessment training.

The service uses social media to promote fire safety to local businesses. It is a member of Nottinghamshire’s business development hub, where it gives information to those setting up a new company. It also runs workshops at community events.

Nottinghamshire FRS has a joint agreement with Derbyshire and Leicestershire FRSs to reduce the number of false emergency calls. All three services have adopted a process to challenge such calls: if a call operator identifies it as a false alarm, a fire engine may not make an attendance. It is service policy that protection officers visit properties that generate six or more false alarms to investigate the cause.

4

How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure staff know how to command fire service assets assertively, effectively and safely at incidents.
  • The service should ensure it implements the process to monitor incident commanders and provide feedback following operational incidents.
  • The service should ensure that, when responding to a 999 call, mobile data terminals are reliable to allow staff to access risk information.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Managing assets and resources

Nottinghamshire FRS carried out a thorough risk assessment to decide on its current response strategy. As of 31 March 2018, the service had 8 wholetime fire stations, 12 on-call stations and 4 mixed stations, with 30 operational fire engines. It decides where to place its stations by mapping low, medium and high-risk areas. All fire engines are fitted with an automatic vehicle location device. This allows an emergency control room operator to send the nearest available fire engine to an incident.

The service uses a mixture of staffing arrangements, including wholetime and on-call staff. They are supported by specialist teams for incidents in confined spaces and for water rescues and rescues from height.

Nottinghamshire FRS has too few on-call fire engines available, particularly during the day. Between April 2018 and December 2018, the overall average monthly fire engine availability ranged from 77 percent to 86 percent. However, some on-call stations have far lower availability. For example, in December 2018, one on-call fire engine was available only 51 percent of the time. The service is aware of this problem. It has recently introduced an on-call sustainability group that can be sent anywhere in the service to increase the availability of fire engines. As well as providing extra crewing capacity, the group is working on other solutions to improve on-call availability, which is a positive step.

The service is also trialling, for six months, an alternative crewing system at its on-call stations. It allows a reduced crew of three firefighters to keep a fire engine available and respond to low-risk incidents. These don’t include building fires where people are reported to be trapped.

Nottinghamshire FRS has a policy that allows its wholetime firefighters to work at on-call stations to increase the availability of fire engines. However, it isn’t managing this effectively – for example, some staff are working excessive hours without enough rest periods.

The service has the right range of people with the right skills to meet its operational demands. Its on-call and wholetime staff are trained to the same standard, using a mixture of face-to-face and e-learning packages. A specific team teaches critical competencies such as breathing apparatus and incident command.

Response

Nottinghamshire FRS is working with five fire and rescue services in the East Midlands to make sure its operational policies meet national guidelines and has made good progress. Staff have a good understanding of how they can sometimes step outside of policy when responding to emergencies, and incident commanders know how to implement operational discretion. This allows them to exercise flexibility in rare or exceptional circumstances where strictly following procedure would be a barrier to resolving an incident.

Nottinghamshire FRS has a mobilising agreement with Derbyshire and Leicestershire FRSs. This allows staff in the control room to send the nearest fire engine to an incident in any service area. Each service can receive and manage emergency calls in any of their three areas. They support each other when there is a large volume of calls as well as during major incidents such as wide-scale flooding.

In the year ending 31 March 2018, its average response time to a primary fire was 10 minutes 22 seconds. Over the same period, it also had one of the highest average call-handling times for primary fires in England (1 minute 57 seconds).

As of 1 April 2018, the service’s response standard was to attend 90 percent of incidents within 10 minutes. Between 1 April and 31 December 2018, it achieved this for 61 percent of incidents. This means it isn’t currently meeting its response standard.

The service has agreed a new response standard of 8 minutes from the time of mobilisation to all incidents as part of its 2019–2022 IRMP.

Nottinghamshire FRS staff use their MDTs effectively. As well as displaying site-specific risk information, the MDTs show where the nearest water supply is and the locations of airbags in vehicles. However, some staff told us they aren’t reliable and don’t always work. The service needs to make sure staff have consistent access to risk information when responding to incidents.

Staff at all levels in the service are competent at providing information on incidents using standard messages.

Command

In general, staff at all command levels of Nottinghamshire FRS have the skills to manage fire engines, people and equipment safely. Those in the fire control room are skilled at adjusting up or down the number of fire engines they send depending on the information from the caller.

The service has a structured process to ensure staff at crew and watch manager levels take part in command training, they are assessed every two years. However, this wasn’t in place for staff at station manager level and above. The service is aware of this and is now implementing the same process for all levels.

Keeping the public informed

Nottinghamshire FRS shares information with the public in a variety of ways. It does this via its website and social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. It uses these tools to promote safety messages – for example, about the dangers of drink driving. The service also provides 24-hour information during major incidents and emergencies via an on-call team.

Staff in the fire control room are effective at giving lifesaving advice to the public during emergency calls. For example, operators are confident using scripts to give vital information to callers involved in incidents in high-rise buildings.

Staff show a good understanding of how to identify vulnerable people at incidents and make safeguarding referrals where necessary.

Evaluating operational performance

Nottinghamshire FRS has good systems to evaluate operational incidents and make improvements in its performance. Incidents that have provided useful information include fires involving vehicles, large buildings and a train. The service has developed a computer programme to capture and share what it learns across all departments and any member of staff can start the debrief process after an incident.

The service also has an operational assurance process, but it isn’t consistently applied. Staff at all levels are not undergoing regular assurance audits nor always receiving or being asked to give feedback following operational incidents.

As part of our inspection, we carried out a survey of Nottinghamshire FRS staff to get their views of their service (please see About the Data page for more details). Some 216 staff members responded to this survey, equating to 24 percent of the workforce. Of the 144 respondents who are firefighters or specialist support staff, 63.2 percent agreed the service listened to their feedback about operational incidents, 26.4 percent disagreed and 10.4 percent didn’t know.

The recent introduction of the new operational bulletins is good practice. Their aim is to make sure learning is shared in a more digestible, user-friendly way. The service also shares national and joint operational learning with all staff on an internal system.

5

How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?

Good

Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to national risks. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure operational staff have good access to cross-border risk information.
  • The service should arrange a programme of over-the-border exercises, sharing the learning from these exercises.

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).

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Preparedness

Nottinghamshire FRS has a range of dedicated national resilience assets, that is, equipment that can be used to provide back-up nationwide, when required. For example, the service sent crews and equipment to wildfires in Lancashire in June and July 2018. The assets include a high-volume pump, enhanced logistical support, water rescue and terrorist incident trained staff. The service makes sure these fire engines are available through its recall-to-duty policy. This means that when it supports national incidents, it can also maintain fire cover for Nottinghamshire.

Staff at all levels are clear about how they can mobilise and request national resilience assets when needed.

The service also has well-established response plans for incidents at high-risk premises, including sites requiring control of major accident hazards.

Working with other services

Nottinghamshire FRS has effective arrangements in place to provide mutual aid for large incidents and uses its resources to support cross-border working.

However, there is limited evidence of cross-border training and exercising. Of the 144 respondents to our survey who are firefighters or specialist support staff, 47 percent disagreed when asked if the service regularly trains or exercises with neighbouring fire and rescue services. Nottinghamshire FRS recognises this is an area in which it needs to improve.

Nottinghamshire FRS staff can access risk information via their MDTs when working in Derbyshire and Leicestershire. However, staff were unable to access it for South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

Working with other agencies

Overall staff had an understanding of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles. These principles help incident commanders from all the emergency services work together. Staff at crew and watch manager level haven’t received training in this area for some time. However, those at station manager level and above were better informed.

The service takes account of the Nottinghamshire LRF community risk register and is a named participant in its plans, including the East Coast Tidal Plan and the Nottingham Infrastructure Delivery Plan.

In April 2018, the service conducted a major multi-agency exercise, Exercise Silver Siren, to simulate a military aircraft crash on the A46 in Nottinghamshire. Afterwards, the organisations involved held a multi-agency debrief to share learning.

The service saw its multi-agency response plans tested for real during an incident in January 2018: a large fire at Nottingham railway station caused major disruption to the city. Senior officers told us how they worked with the police and other agencies to resolve what was a challenging incident.

Nottinghamshire FRS has a dedicated team that responds to incidents related to terrorism. It is made up of operational staff who are called on if an incident occurs. They have taken part in a range of exercises to assess their skills and capabilities.