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Shropshire 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
Good

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. Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has systems and plans to keep people safe and secure from fire and other risks. The five-year service plan (called the integrated risk management plan or IRMP) draws on data from many sources – both from within the service and from other agencies – to create a picture of risks in the community. The service could go further in talking to the community to improve this picture. The service plan is available to the public and is used to decide how to reduce risk and keep the community safe. Fire engines and crews are in the right places to work effectively. The service is good at responding to emergencies and has made changes that have improved the way it works. These include buying extra-large fire engines to respond better to fires in rural areas, using flexible crewing and setting up a flexible on-call support team.

The service works hard on prevention and works closely with other agencies, including local councils. Staff know why prevention is important. This work is aimed at those who are most at risk from fire. The service also carries out community safety work. It could use social media better in this area to get its messages to the public.

We found that there are not enough protection officers to carry out the risk-based inspections that are currently planned. The service is taking steps to tackle this problem. 

The service can respond effectively to national risks. It should stage more cross-border exercises and share the lessons learned afterwards. We believe that the alliance with the neighbouring service in Hereford and Worcester will benefit both services.

Questions for Effectiveness

1

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

Good

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to improve how it engages with the local community to build up a comprehensive profile of risk in the service area.

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

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has a clear understanding of community risk and is good at using data to help it make decisions about appropriate levels of prevention, protection and response to the public.

The service tells the public about its work by producing an integrated risk management plan (IRMP). The current IRMP, for 2015–2020, is published on the service’s website. The public are consulted during fire authority meetings, published minutes and via the website. An annual plan informs the public about priorities and measures the service’s performance against objectives.

Numbers, locations and target response times for fire engines are directly linked to risks identified using a software tool. The service regularly reviews how engines and stations are distributed. For example, larger engines have been sited to respond to particular local risks. The public are told about any changes.

Fire stations are located and staffed according to the level of risk. A map of the county showing historical data on fires, casualties and population information helps to categorise areas into low to high risk. Response standards to life risk fires are decided based on the known level of risk in an area. As at 1 April 2018, the service’s response standard was to arrive at an emergency incident within 15 minutes on 89 percent of occasions. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service arrived at emergency incidents within 15 minutes on 86.6 percent of occasions.

The service uses incident data with emerging information from protection and prevention work and national themes to identify emerging risks and future changes.

We saw evidence that the service works with a broad range of organisations to understand and reduce community risk. It uses a range of data to support this work, for example:

Information is shared with local authorities and partner agencies so services are focused on people who are most vulnerable to the risk of fire and other emergencies. The service also shares road safety risk data through working with the West Mercia Safer Roads Partnership.

Having an effective risk management plan

The service’s IRMP is known as the service plan and covers the period 2015–2020. It uses priorities for fire and rescue services that are set out in a national framework document. Risk is assessed using information on people and buildings, and commercial, environmental and historical information. External specialists have been used to analyse areas such as a fire cover review and changes to shift systems.

The service plan sets priorities for prevention, protection and response work. It highlights significant risks in Shropshire (such as hospitals and heritage buildings) and other risks such as flooding and road safety, and says what is being done to reduce these risks.

The service focuses extensive prevention work on people who are at the highest risk of harm from fire and other emergencies. This work supports Shropshire and Wrekin fire authority’s vision of ‘putting Shropshire’s safety first’.

Incident numbers and response standards are measured to check progress against the IRMP. Savings can be identified while still responding effectively to the risks identified in the IRMP. Measurements are reported to the fire authority and are publicly available. Each internal department has a risk register compiled from internal audits. These are used to inform and update the corporate risk register.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is part of the West Mercia local resilience forum. The service uses risk information from other local emergency responders to inform its own priorities for planning and exercising. 

Maintaining risk information

There is an effective process in place to gather, record and view site-specific risk information. Staff are trained to spot buildings where people may be at a greater risk from fire and other emergencies. These could be commercial premises with sleeping accommodation or elderly people living alone. Details are recorded and shared with colleagues. The service has recently improved its risk management system and there is a common standard between teams. A short report called an ‘Ops Flash’ shares operational information with staff. Staff must confirm that they have read and understood each report via an electronic portal. We observed that key information is also exchanged during a handover period at change of shift.

2

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

Good

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires and other risks. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service is not using external communication mechanisms to full advantage. Better use of social media will help promote campaigns and share safety messages.
  • 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

We found that the service undertakes a broad range of prevention work. Its strategy focuses on reducing numbers of accidental house fires. Dedicated staff draw on extensive data to focus on households where people may be at a higher risk from fire and other emergencies.

Both Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin councils refer vulnerable people, such as those at risk from falls or who are hoarding. A central team manages and allocates referrals. The service has a three-tier ‘hot-strike’ system for following up in a specific area after a fire:

  • tier 1: a post-incident leaflet drop;
  • tier 2: a visit and offer of safe and well check; and
  • tier 3: a targeted visit following a fire fatality in an area.

Staff receive specialist training to enable them to conduct effective safe and well visits, also known as home fire safety checks. As at 31 March 2018, the service’s prevention visits include: advice on social welfare, ensuring working smoke alarms are fitted, advice on slips, trips and falls, identifying potential fire risks and taking action to reduce fire risks. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 8.5 home fire safety checks per 1,000 population.

The service works closely with other agencies to make sure that most checks focus on those most at risk. Firefighters who see an additional risk can make referrals to other agencies. An example described was someone at higher risk of falling due to age or living conditions. In the year to 31 March 2018, 83.3 percent of home fire safety checks were targeted towards the elderly (those over 65). However, the service was unable to provide the number of safe and well checks which were targeted at other vulnerable groups.

We found that all staff know why prevention work is important. The service carries out various campaigns and initiatives, driven by a central team. However, the service cannot consider the effectiveness of these campaigns as evaluation is limited to performance against the target to reduce accidental dwelling fires.

Promoting community safety

Prevention work includes community events, school education programmes and national campaigns in line with National Fire Chiefs Council guidance. Referrals from other agencies are prioritised using a scoring system. The central team deals with high-priority referrals. Station-based staff are expected to raise concerns such as social isolation, falls, lifestyle and winter warmth. Crews refer cases to the central team using a locally-developed assessment form so that the right agencies are contacted.

The service supports a youth quiz conducted at local schools. An early intervention scheme called iLearn aims to help young people who may be interested in fire and setting fires. Working on referrals from police, families and the education service, iLearn conducts one-to-one visits with young people up to the age of 15. The service has produced a short film involving police and ambulance called ‘It’s too late now’ which highlights the dangers and impact of fires.

Members of the prevention team develop local initiatives such as iLearn and water safety. We found that work is carried out with a wide range of other organisations, including sheltered accommodation providers, victims of domestic violence and Age Concern.

The service delivers water safety training through schools education packages. It has worked with a local charity to deliver water safety advice and throw-line training to volunteers such as door staff. The service has worked with the National Fire Chiefs Council and Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service to support national campaigns and made educational video clips, such as warning of the hazards around water and the dangers of texting while driving. 

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service holds a prevention partnership register. This is reviewed annually to ensure that each partnership continues to contribute towards the services strategy for a safer Shropshire. Partners spoke positively about the service’s involvement in joint prevention work. We were told that the service attends appropriate meetings, meets work deadlines and actively engages in discussions. In developing safe and well checks, the service led on making sure that other partners were asking the right questions.

We found that firefighters understood safeguarding. They are aware of the reporting system the service has put in place. They gave us good examples of occasions when they had identified safeguarding concerns.

Road safety

Through the safer roads partnership, the service supports West Mercia Police’s road safety strategy. Staff take part in road safety demonstrations during national and local campaigns and attend annual Bikefest events to promote bike safety. Schools education packages include some road safety awareness. Work to reduce the impact of road traffic collisions is largely in support of campaigns led by other agencies. The service uses its limited capacity to prioritise other prevention work.

3

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

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it allocates enough resources to a prioritised and risk-based inspection programme.
  • The service should ensure it addresses effectively the burden of false alarms (termed ‘unwanted fire signals’).
  • The service should assure itself that its arrangements for providing specialist protection advice out of hours are effective.

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

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service can show that it takes a broad approach to addressing protection risk, fulfilling its statutory and discretionary duties.

Protection inspection officers are well trained. But we found there are not enough officers to complete the service’s risk-based inspection programme to its planned timescale. However, in the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 3.1 fire safety audits per 100 known premises (which equates to 451 audits). This is higher than the England rate of 3.0 over the same period. Of the 451 fire safety audits the service carried out in the year to 31 March 2018, 76 percent were satisfactory.

Protection staff work with many other partners, local authorities and local businesses. This delivers a programme that meets legal requirements, improves public safety and reduces the risk of arson-related incidents. Staff gave several examples where this approach had improved outcomes for members of the public.

Operational crews no longer carry out low-level protection audits as the service has recognised that they need more training. When a significant risk to the public is identified, a manager can approve enforcement work quickly, using a recall system introduced by the service. We found that 24-hour protection expertise is not guaranteed, but the strategic alliance with Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service should address this.

The service does not have a formal definition of ‘high risk’. This means that the public may not understand what a high-risk building is, and that the service’s activities may not capture them all. For example, proactive work is focused at properties with a known sleeping risk and where incident data and intelligence tells them that risk may be higher.

The service is not clear about which properties should be part of its risk-based inspection programme.

Other areas of protection work, such as complaints, building regulations and licensing, have a higher priority. Risk is assessed from data collected during visits and from known sleeping risks such as hospitals and sheltered accommodation. In the year to 31 December 2018, the service audited 101 of the 463 high-risk premises it had identified. At this rate, the service is unlikely to visit all known premises currently categorised as high risk within three years.

There is no formal quality assurance of audits. After reviewing a sample of files, we were satisfied that the service’s inspection officers are carrying out all audits consistently and are acting in line with policies. In the nine months to 31 December 2018, the service responded to 81 percent of building regulation consultations within the required timeframes. Responding to these consultations may be a factor why the service’s risk-based audit programme is behind schedule. 

Enforcement

The service uses a management model to decide when to take enforcement action. This ensures that action is taken consistently, and in all circumstances where premises are deemed a risk to life due to fire safety issues.

The number of enforcement notices issued is low. Over three years to 31 March 2018 the service has issued 18 prohibition notices, four enforcement notices, one successful prosecution, and no alteration notices following fire safety audits. In line with the Regulators’ Code, the service works with businesses to support compliance rather than using their legal powers to prosecute. While engaging with business is an important part of the protection work services do, it should not come at the expense of using enforcement powers when they are necessary to keep the public safe. Another factor behind the service’s low number of prosecutions is the significant resource needed to bring a prosecution with the service only having finite capacity to complete the totality of its protection work. Again, while we recognise these resourcing concerns, this should not be a reason to avoid taking action where it is considered necessary.

Working with others

We found that the service has effective partnerships in place to share information and intelligence. Partners include police, immigration, local authorities, the probation service, trading standards and environmental health. As a result, resources are used to identify targets and areas of risk. The service shows a clear commitment to engaging with and developing partnerships such as the multi-agency targeted enforcement strategy. Staff conduct joint inspections with other agencies.

This ensures public safety by formalising shared enforcement activities. The service works with local businesses to achieve fire safety compliance. Business education seminars are run for sectors such as care homes, pubs and holiday lets. The protection team runs at least eight of these each year to support audit compliance and reduce risk by raising awareness. The service has helped to set up a ‘better business for all’ forum with Shropshire council. This will give businesses a single point of contact for fire safety.

No clear system is in place for dealing with automatic fire alarms, which mistakenly report a fire when no fire has broken out. Data highlights that the number of false alarms attended has remained relatively stable between the year ending 30 September 2010 to the year ending 30 September 2018. In the year ending 30 September 2018, 46 percent of incidents attended were false alarms. This compares to the England average of 40 percent over the same period. Some work is carried out to identify patterns, but it is not prioritised. We found that control room staff do not fully understand the call challenge process.

Fire engines are often committed to answering unnecessary calls because the service’s approach to managing automatic fire alarms is not successfully reducing the pressure on emergency resources.

4

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

Good

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it understands what it needs to do to adopt national operational guidance, including joint and national learning. It should then put in place a clear plan to do so.
  • The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date 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

We found that the service’s response strategy is based on a thorough assessment of community risk. Response standards are based on risk to life using the fire service emergency cover modelling software.

The service has time-based emergency response standards. They aim to ensure at least one fire engine arrives at any high-risk fire emergency within 10 minutes, any medium-risk fire emergency within 15 minutes and any low risk within 20 minutes. In addition, there is an overall service response target of one fire engine arriving within 15 minutes to any emergency incident 89 percent of the time. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service met that target 86.6 percent of the time.

The service reviews its IRMP against data annually. The annual plan compares performance against targets. More resources are located to areas where data suggests there is a higher risk of fire. Target attendance times are longer for lower risk incidents.

Most firefighters in Shropshire work an on-call system. As at 31 March 2018, on-call staff represented 66 percent of the FTE firefighters. This means that they respond to incidents from their home or workplace. Firefighters are supported by an electronic rota system which enables managers to ensure staff can respond when needed.

The service has implemented a range of duty systems which are matched to the predominant risk rating of the surrounding areas. This ensures that it meets attendance times but does not have more crews and fire engines available than needed.

A flexible team can be sent where they are needed day-by-day to give flexible cover and resilience across the service in the event of a shortfall. This team also supports local prevention work and training activities.

As at 31 March 2018, the service had one wholetime fire station, 19 retained fire stations and three mixed fire stations. There were 28 operational fire engines.

To make sure it has enough resources in rural areas, the service has introduced extra-large fire engines for some on-call stations. These have a larger water tank and extra seating but can be crewed by the same number of staff as a standard engine. Between April 2018 and December 2018, the overall average monthly engine availability ranged from 96 percent to 98 percent.

The service can provide assistance to neighbouring services. However, we found that firefighters had limited access to risk information to support them. For example, mobile data terminals do not provide access to cross-border risk information.

Response

The service has an action plan in place to implement national operational guidance. We found evidence that some operational staff did not know enough about this. The service is part of a regional group looking at better ways of joint working using national operational guidance. However, the group is still in its early stages.

The service uses a system called SEED for mobilising fire engines. This system is backed up by two other fire and rescue services. We found that control room staff responsible for mobilising did not have instant access to the on-call staff rota system, which relies on manual updating.

In the year to 30 September 2018, the service attended 8.0 incidents per 1,000 population. This compares to the England rate of 10.5 over the same period. In the year to 31 March 2018 the service’s average response time to primary fires was 10 minutes 16 seconds.

We visited a number of fire stations during our inspection. We found firefighters who are well trained, well equipped and knowledgeable about the risks on their patch. Firefighters across these sites demonstrated how they access risk information using onboard tablet computers, known as mobile data terminals (MDTs).

We found the MDTs were unreliable on some occasions, but the service is in the process of an upgrade which will include the updated risk management system software.

Command

Operational staff across the service were able to demonstrate a good understanding of how to command and control incidents. The service is in the process of adopting national operational guidance for incident command.

A central team provides incident command training and assessment. However, we found that some competency records were out of date. In most cases, this was a recording error. However, the service must ensure that risk-critical records such as these are updated expediently. Incident commanders can take command roles at service exercises.

Incident commanders told us that they understand they have the support of the service’s senior leaders to override operational policy and use their discretion if they feel it is right to do so. Some commanders gave us examples of when they had done this. We found a no-blame culture that shares the outcomes of any learning.

Keeping the public informed

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has systems in place to communicate with the public during and after fires and other incidents.

Basic incident information is regularly updated on its public website. The service uses a central social media platform to reach other groups. We found use of social media by fire stations was inconsistent. Some staff wanted extra help to create effective social media posts.

Evaluating operational performance

We found that hot debriefs are consistently carried out after incidents. All staff were aware of the mechanisms for sharing learning. But some staff were unaware of the triggers for more formal structured debriefs.

The service has a good system in place for debrief and monitoring operational incidents. We found that control room staff ensure that a debrief form is automatically triggered for any incident where a level 2 (tactical) commander is required. The electronic system requires that everyone involved completes relevant sections before returning it to a central team. The team then collates information which is used to identify trends. Any learning is shared with staff through various mechanisms depending on severity.

The service uses the information collected to evaluate whether response levels are right for the level of risk. It uses feedback from incidents to make improvements to operational performance.

The service has introduced a ‘nearest officer mobilising’ policy. This is so the best level of command is in place at all times, and ensures a prompt quality assurance role for lower level commanders at operational incidents.

We found that formal structured debriefs still use a paper-based system for larger multi-agency incidents. This system may be less effective when auditing to ensure learning has been recorded and shared appropriately. The service can demonstrate learning from other services. For example, following the Grenfell Tower fire in London, all stations were involved in exercises simulating high-rise fires.

5

How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?

Good

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

Areas for improvement

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

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

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has a boat team, high-volume pump and flood tactical advisers. These staff and resources can help teams elsewhere in the service or as part of a national response to an event of extraordinary need, such as a flood. The service shares the inter-agency liaison officer function with Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service.

The service is an active member of the local resilience forum. Commanders take part in quarterly exercises with partners in support of the Shropshire tactical co-ordination group. Learning is shared, and response capability is tested through multi-agency exercises. The service works with these partners to develop site-specific risk and response plans to high-risk premises and locations. Plans are shared via Resilience Direct, a national web-based platform for category 1 and 2 emergency responders.

During inspection we found that some level 1 incident commanders could not articulate their actions in the event of a major incident. The service should ensure that operational commanders at all levels are confident in recognising and declaring a major incident.

We found that the fire control function can be passed over to two other services (Hereford & Worcester and Cleveland) in the event of extraordinary need. This could be an unusually high volume of calls or a system failure.

Working with other services

We found that the service can give mutual aid to neighbouring services at busy times. One example was supporting Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service for the Winter Hill wildfires in summer 2018.

The service shares fire investigation and intelligence vetted officers with neighbouring services. Level 3 and 4 commanders take part in incident command exercises to ensure capability can be shared across the region. Some of these exercises have a multi-agency response and involve neighbouring fire and rescue services.

The service carries out training and exercising with neighbouring services, but only in southern parts of the county. This approach should be consistent across all borders.

Operational crews have limited access to cross-border risk information. We found that information is available on some internal systems, but not on the mobile data terminals that crews use en route to an incident.

The service is preparing to enter a strategic alliance with Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service. It is anticipated that this will benefit both services, enabling them to share assets and resources when required.

Working with other agencies

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service chairs the local resilience forum risk assessment sub group. The service shares its HQ with emergency planning staff from the local council, offering the opportunity to share information. These staff are invited to join in training exercises across the service.

The service undertakes joint exercising with local resilience forum partners. There are monthly tactical command multi-agency exercises. These are focused on joint risk sites and give opportunities to share learning. This ensures all agencies have a robust response capability.

The service has trained strategic and tactical commanders to respond to a terrorist incident. We found that these commanders have a good understanding of how they would respond to such an event. However, some operational commanders told us they did not feel confident to recognise and declare a major incident.

Strategic and tactical-level incident commanders have a good understanding of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles. This assures effective joint working between blue light services at that level. However, this was less evident at operational command level. Senior managers exercise command skills by taking part in local resilience forum exercises as part of strategic and tactical response groups.