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. Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies in its area. It learns about risk using various methods. It works well with the public. It uses what it finds out to make an effective integrated risk management plan (IRMP). It effectively collects information about high-risk sites. But it needs to make sure that all operational staff are familiar with their local risk sites.
The service requires improvement to the way it prevents fires and other risks. It makes good use of volunteers and other organisations to promote community safety. But its operational staff do limited work in this area.
It also requires improvement to how it protects the public through fire regulation. The service approaches enforcement in a supportive way. It works well with enforcement partners. But it doesn’t make full use of its enforcement powers.
Suffolk FRS is good in the way it responds to fires and other emergencies. It has a range of emergency response vehicles and trained firefighters to provide a flexible response to emergencies. It uses dynamic mobilisation to send the quickest resources to incidents. But the service isn’t always achieving its response targets. The service uses its live incident mapping to effectively communicate with the public about incidents. Fire control staff give fire survival guidance to callers effectively.
The service is good at responding to national risks. During a major incident, staff know how to get national resources and additional resources from neighbouring services. But staff don’t have access to up-to-date cross-border risk information. The service does a variety of exercises with other agencies. It is well prepared for terrorist incidents. It should conduct cross-border exercises with all of its neighbours.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
Suffolk 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 should ensure that all operational staff are familiar with their local risk sites.
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
The service has a good understanding of local and community risk. It makes effective use of a wide range of data to produce an accurate and clear risk profile. Most of its data comes from Suffolk Observatory, which provides a comprehensive and up-to-date collection of data from across the county. This includes data on crime and community safety, population, economy and employment, housing, environment, and deprivation. The service uses this data along with its own incident data, as well as data it obtains from other organisations (such as medical oxygen providers and care providers).
The service works closely with Suffolk County Council’s knowledge and intelligence hub, and the council’s adult social care, building control and housing teams. They all share data and information and carry out joint activity. In this way, they have a common understanding of risk, based on the most up-to-date information available.
The service uses modelling software to make sure that it has the right resources, in the right place. External consultants also help the service to map risk and demand. This ensures that the service can effectively respond to current risk. It can also adapt to respond to emerging future risks.
In April 2019, the service consulted on its new IRMP, which covers the period 2019–2022. It used a variety of ways to consult with the public. These included posting social media and online video messages, advertising in the local press, sending mail shots, and speaking to people at local supermarkets.
According to data given by the service, the video messages had more than 20,000 views; the social media posts generated more than 5,000 online interactions; and the events in retail centres resulted in 800 face-to-face conversations. In total, the service received 284 formal consultation responses. According to data given by the service, this was a reduction in responses from its previous IRMP consultation of 3,000. The service feels that this is because it carried out early consultation on broad proposals this time. It plans to consult further on detailed proposals in the coming months, to allow for implementation of its proposals in early 2020.
In addition to its formal consultations, the service also works well with its local community. This work includes regular contact with groups such as Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, and Ipswich & Suffolk Bangladeshi Community. The service also recruits volunteers from within the community. During our inspection, we saw how a volunteer from the Syrian community had helped to forge links with the service. Previously, this community had been hard to reach.
Having an effective risk management plan
The service’s IRMP is developed in line with national guidance.
We were pleased to see how the service’s ‘golden thread’ work (linking daily activity to strategic direction) has raised awareness among staff of how their daily activity contributes to its strategic direction, and how this is directed by the IRMP.
The service uses a five-step approach to its integrated risk management planning:
- It assesses and understands local risk.
- It reviews current fire service arrangements for managing risk.
- It assesses the resources that are available to continue managing risk.
- It resets arrangements to manage risk, and considers current arrangements and finance.
- It monitors, audits and reviews the arrangements.
The service uses its clear understanding of local and community risk to produce the Suffolk Strategic Assessment of Risk. The current version covers the period 2018–2021. This document sets out the service’s assessment of risk, and its arrangements for managing that risk. It identifies how it will respond to:
- national risks (identified in national risk assessment and register);
- county risks (identified in community risk register); and
- service-level risks.
The IRMP also clearly states how the service will use its people, equipment and resources to complete prevention, protection and response activities. Finally, the service’s annual statement of assurance details how it is performing against its IRMP.
Maintaining risk information
The service has a programme of visits to high-risk sites. It visits these sites to make sure that firefighters have access to up-to-date risk information. A central risk information team assesses new and complex buildings. Firefighters carry out revisits and assessments of less complex buildings. Site-specific risk information (SSRI) is collected and then added to a database. Crews showed that they can access this information via mobile data terminals during an incident. We found SSRI information to be generally up to date and subject to regular review.
The service’s system for collecting risk information is robust. But risk-site familiarisation by local crews was inconsistent. Many staff (particularly on-call staff) told us that they didn’t carry out any familiarisation visits or training exercises at these sites. The service should make sure that all operational staff are familiar with their local risk sites.
The service has effective arrangements to collect and share information about local events. Members of fire service staff attend safety advisory groups. For example, during our inspection the service was planning for Latitude Festival, a national music festival held annually in Suffolk. Fire staff are involved in the planning stages of such events and are on site throughout them. They pass information that they receive to operational staff and officers who would attend if an incident occurred.
The service has an effective system for communicating general risk information. It gives this information to firefighters in a range of ways. They include face-to face handovers between watches, briefings at the start of shifts and drill sessions, and safety alerts and significant information notes. The service also uses handover folders at stations, so that staff who aren’t present for a briefing in person have a single point of reference for risk information. Staff also confirmed that all risk information and outcomes from debriefs are available electronically and via a smartphone app.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it allocates enough resources to target prevention work at people most at risk, and increase the number of home fire safety checks it carries out. It should also ensure that all prevention activities are monitored and quality assured.
- The service should better evaluate its prevention work, so it understands all the benefits more clearly.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
The service effectively sets out its prevention strategy in its community risk management statement 2019–2022. It supports this with an up-to date action plan. The statement sets out a clear framework of how the service will carry out prevention activity, as well as protection and response, to “make communities safer” and support its aim of “living safely and ageing well in Suffolk”. The strategy is in line with national requirements.
The service aims to target activity to those most at risk. It has identified the following groups as being at the greatest risk from fire in the home:
- single adult households;
- lone parent households with dependent children;
- people with physical disabilities;
- people with mental health conditions;
- people who smoke or drink heavily; and
- people who face significant deprivation.
Operational wholetime staff carry out safer homes visits (home fire safety checks). These include fire safety activities such as identifying and reducing fire risks and fitting fire alarms. Specialist prevention staff and volunteers carry out enhanced safer home visits. These are known as safe and well visits. These visits also include welfare-related activities, such as advising on health prevention, social welfare, home security, crime reduction, and how to avoid slips, trips and falls.
The service has a risk-based approach to safer homes visit requests. It only carries out visits to those who are at higher risk. It sends fire safety advice to those who aren’t assessed as high risk and signposts them to other sources of information such as its website. The service makes effective use of referrals from the Suffolk Information Partnership (SIP), targeting the work of prevention teams to those most at risk. The service also makes referrals back to partners, for them to offer additional support.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 1,310 safer homes visits. This equates to 1.7 visits per 1,000 population. This is much lower than the England rate of 10.4. It is a reduction from 2,987 over the same time period in 2017.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 61.8 percent of its checks at households occupied by an elderly person, and 12.1 percent at households occupied by a person declaring a disability. This compares to the England rate of 54.1 percent and 24.7 percent respectively. As noted above, the service has identified people with disabilities as being among those who are at greatest risk from fire in the home. The service should make sure that it is targeting its safer homes visits (and other prevention activity) to all of its identified high-risk groups.
Staff told us that they don’t have any specific targets for completion of prevention activity. Managers said that a lack of accurate and reliable information and data made it difficult for them to quality assure or performance manage prevention work.
The service hasn’t done much evaluating of its prevention activity, although an externally commissioned evaluation of the #itcanwait road safety initiative has been completed. This is detailed below. As a result, the service doesn’t fully understand the benefits of its prevention activity.
Promoting community safety
The service is very successful at working with children and young people. It does this through initiatives such as Emergency Services Cadets and Fire Stars, as well as the work of school liaison officers. It runs a joint cadet scheme with Suffolk Constabulary. Fire Stars is a firefighting-related health, fitness and mentoring scheme.
School liaison officers are firefighters who work in schools in their spare time. They carry out prevention work, offer one-to-one mentoring, and are positive uniformed role models. Currently, three secondary schools fund school liaison officers. The service is looking to expand this offering to other schools.
The service also runs a fire-setter intervention scheme with 12 trained fire-setter counsellors. They work with children who have “an unhealthy fascination with fire” to try to tackle fire-setting behaviour.
Safeguarding is a clear priority for the service. Staff have been trained accordingly. Those who we interviewed showed a good understanding of how to identify vulnerability, and how to make safeguarding referrals. We saw evidence of these referrals being made. Staff consider the folders that are carried on all fire engines to be a good source of guidance and information in relation to vulnerability and safeguarding.
Operational staff told us that the prevention work they are involved in is limited to home fire risk checks, school visits and attending community events such as fetes.
Recently, the service issued local risk profiles to stations. It did this to help the stations target their prevention work. Also, each watch now has a prevention lead to help co-ordinate more prevention activity on stations. These initiatives aren’t yet routine, and so they don’t yet give evidence of any benefits or improvement. We look forward to seeing how this work progresses.
According to data given by the service, it has 20 active volunteers. They work with specialist prevention staff to support the service in carrying out safer home visits and prevention campaign events. By recruiting volunteers from diverse backgrounds, the service is able to better target the community’s diverse needs.
The service offers a variety of accessibility tools on its website to make its information more accessible. These include translation services, bigger font sizes and colour filters.
In addition to working with other agencies through SIP, the service also works with a variety of other organisations and charities to help prevent fires and keep people safe. These include Lofty Heights (a not-for-profit social enterprise), The Royal British Legion Poppy Calls, and REACT (Reactive Emergency Assessment Community Team). The area’s Rotary clubs support the service’s prevention work.
Partners spoke highly of the role that the service plays as part of the Suffolk RoadSafe Partnership Board with Suffolk Constabulary, Suffolk County Council, the East of England Ambulance Service, Highways England, and the police and crime commissioner. However, the operational crews we interviewed told us that they never get involved in road safety initiatives.
The aim of the RoadSafe Partnership is to make Suffolk’s roads safer for all, and to reduce the number of people who are killed or seriously injured. It has identified its main groups of concern as motorcyclists; young drivers under the age of 24; and pedestrians (especially school-age children in deprived areas).
Road safety initiatives include the FireBike project, Biker Down training course and Braking Point. Braking Point is a project aimed at pre-drivers. It encourages good behaviour that is linked to the so-called ‘Fatal Four’ (inappropriate speed; using a mobile phone while driving; not wearing a seat belt; and drink driving).
The service has also developed its own road safety initiative, called #itcanwait. As with the Braking Point project, it focuses on drivers’ mobile phone use. The initiative aims to make young people (aged between 15 to 18 years) aware of the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving.
The service told us that the RoadSafe Partnership reached approximately 2,000 year 11 students in 2017/18. To date, it has offered two sessions of the #itcanwait initiative and has commissioned an external evaluation before running any further sessions.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Areas for improvement
- The service should assure itself that its risk-based inspection programme prioritises the highest risks and includes proportionate activity to reduce risk. It should also include appropriate monitoring and evaluation.
- The service should assure itself that its use of enforcement powers prioritises the highest risks and includes proportionate activity to reduce risk.
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.
All fire and rescue services must promote fire safety, which includes fire protection. They should assess fire risks in buildings and, where necessary, require landlords and building owners to comply with fire safety legislation. It is up to each fire and rescue service to decide how many assessments it carries out each year. But each must have a locally determined, risk-based inspection programme (RBIP). And each must have a management strategy for enforcing the regulations.
Suffolk FRS has a protection strategy. This is part of its community risk management statement 2019–2022. It is supported by a risk-based inspection policy, an enforcement policy and an up-to date action plan. These documents set out a clear framework as to how the service will offer its protection activity alongside prevention and response. The strategy and supporting policies are aligned to statutory guidelines such as the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England, so that the service meets its obligations under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The service uses them to prioritise its activities based on risk.
The number of audits that the service has carried out on known premises has reduced year on year since the year to 31 March 2014 (from 1,150 to 294 over the same time period in 2018). The rate of audits per 100 known premises in the year ending 31 March 2018 was 0.6. This is lower than the England rate of 3.0 over the same time period.
The service saw a reduction in competent dedicated inspectors from 21 as at 31 March 2013 to eight as at 31 March 2017. However, this figure has increased to 15 as at 31 March 2019. Currently, the service allocates only eight inspections to inspectors every month. This number of inspections, along with an increase in staffing, means that the service has some additional capacity to carry out more inspection activity. It has a plan in place to do so.
Recently, the service updated its definition of high-risk premises. As at 1 April 2019, the service defines ‘high-risk premises’ as “large premises (sleeping) with complex evacuation strategies and/or sleeping unfamiliar”. The service uses a premises management system to collate building information (including risk score and risk rating). The system then generates audits by order of risk.
The system’s data is inaccurate. These inaccuracies are leading to duplication and the manual allocation of inspections. Therefore, the service can’t confirm that the audits it is carrying out are in line with its RBIP. The service is aware of this and has invested in improvements to its premises management system. The new system was undergoing user testing at the time of inspection.
The number of audits where the service deemed the premises to be unsatisfactory has increased to 29 percent in the year to 31 March 2018 but remains below the England average of 32 percent. This may suggest that the service isn’t targeting its audit work at the highest-risk premises. The service should make sure that its premises management system is fit for purpose, and that it supports the RBIP in effectively targeting high-risk premises.
The service has set itself a target of auditing all of its high-risk premises over a three-year period. As at 31 March 2019, it has identified 683 high-risk premises. In the year to 31 March 2019, it had audited 218 high-risk premises. If the service continues to carry out a similar number of high-risk audits annually, it is likely that it will nearly reach its target.
The service received 587 building regulation consultations in the year to 31 March 2019. Of these, the service completed 96.3 percent within the required timeframe.
Suffolk FRS has a well-trained and qualified protection team. The service has a memorandum of understanding with Essex Fire and Rescue Service’s fire engineering department to assist with complex cases. A member of the protection team is nearing completion of a fire engineering degree, which will allow them to offer this support internally in the future. Operational officers receive training and carry out compliance checks at lower-risk, less complex premises. This helps the service to identify any further areas of non-compliance, and to include them in its programme of audits.
Protection officers are available day and night. They will respond to fire safety concerns that are brought to the service’s attention.
The service prefers to take a supportive approach, based on informal action, to seek compliance with fire safety legislation. Data suggests that the level of enforcement that the service takes is low: it has brought just three prosecutions since the year ending 31 March 2011.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service issued:
- 81 informal notices;
- two enforcement notices (under article 30 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005);
- nine prohibition notices (under article 31 of the Order);
- no alterations notices; and
- no prosecutions (under article 32 of the Order).
While we recognise the desire to promote compliance, we still expect services to use their formal enforcement powers where necessary. This applies particularly in cases where there is significant risk to life, or where building managers may be reluctant to work with services to improve building safety. When we interviewed staff during our inspection, some told us that they feel Suffolk FRS doesn’t use its enforcement powers effectively.
The service gives regular training to make sure that inspectors’ enforcement and prosecution skills are refreshed and remain current.
The service works closely with enforcement partners. These include Suffolk County Council’s housing and environmental health departments, Suffolk Trading Standards and Suffolk Constabulary. They carry out joint visits and enforcement action, and share risk information. An example of effective joint action is the service’s ‘impact days’. Inspecting officers from the service work with housing officers to carry out joint inspections. They target high-risk sleeping accommodation located above commercial premises. During our inspection, we also saw evidence of the service’s inspecting officers attending a police-led, multi-agency operation, in which several vulnerable people were identified and given support.
Working with others
The service has a call-challenge and non-attendance policy to automatic fire alarms. This is in line with national guidance. In the year ending 31 March 2019, the service received 2,578 unique automatic fire alarms. It didn’t attend 881 (34.2 percent) of these. It will, of course, attend if it receives confirmation of a fire.
In addition, the service has a policy to work with those premises that generate the most unwanted fire signals. This is in order to reduce future call-outs. During our inspection, staff weren’t applying this policy consistently.
The service uses its website to share information with businesses about fire safety regulations, enforcement and prosecution. The service is also a member of the New Anglia Better Business for All (BBfA) Steering Group, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, and New Anglia Growth Hub. These all offer opportunities for the service to talk to and work with local businesses.
The service has a dedicated business engagement officer. Most of their time is taken up with planning and running the impact days, and working with businesses through the service’s primary authority scheme. This leaves little time to carry out activities such as business seminars and other direct business engagement.
The chief fire officer is the chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council’s protection and business safety committee. The service is also a member of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s national trailblazer groups. It is involved in creating the institute’s fire safety inspector and fire engineer apprenticeship standards, which are in development.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Managing assets and resources
The service’s response strategy is outlined in its Response Statement 2019–2022. The statement sets out to give a proportionate response to the risk identified in the service’s IRMP. The service does this by maintaining a range of emergency response vehicles and trained firefighters who can respond to its identified risk.
In the year to 31 December 2018, the service attended 5,335 incidents. This figure has remained relatively stable over the last three years. It equates to 7.0 incidents per 1,000 population. This is lower than the England rate of 10.4 over the same period.
The service has a combined fire control with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service. This single fire control handles all 999 calls for both services. Its staff are well trained and knowledgeable.
Suffolk FRS uses dynamic mobilising. Its mobilising system identifies the quickest resource available to send to incidents. There is an effective system to update mobilisation times. It uses information about closed roads and other factors affecting response times to make sure that dynamic mobilising is accurate.
In the year to 31 March 2019, the overall on-call fire engine availability was 91.6 percent and the overall wholetime fire engine availability was 100 percent.
The service uses an on-call crewing reserve to support on-call availability. The service has allocated a group of nine wholetime staff to a 42-hour-week day duty shift pattern. This group can be sent to any station within Suffolk during the day (when need is greatest), to keep on-call fire engines available. The service also uses any surplus wholetime staff to supplement the on-call crewing reserve. It makes decisions about where to send staff in line with its pre-planned emergency response plan, and it plans three months in advance. Staff can react to changes daily, moving to different locations throughout the day if required. The service uses its degradation plan not only for exceptional circumstances, but also for day to-day management of resources.
All new firefighters, both wholetime and on-call, attend the same training. The service offers training for wholetime firefighters in a single block. On-call firefighters attend the same courses as wholetime firefighters, but they take modules. This form of training offers more flexibility, given that on-call firefighters have other primary employment. The service gives all operational staff ongoing training according to the same training plan. And it gives wholetime firefighters additional training for specialist roles (for example, water rescue and boat training).
The Home Office collects and publishes data on response times by measuring the time between a call being made and the first fire engine arriving at the scene. This offers consistent data across all 45 services. However, services measure their own response times in a range of different ways.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service had the fourth slowest average response time to primary fires of all predominately rural services (11 minutes 0 seconds). However, this is an improvement from 11 minutes 30 seconds in the year ending 31 March 2017. The improvement is mainly as a result of a reduction in the average drive time to primary fires.
The service’s IRMP contains time-based emergency response standards. The time is calculated from the time of alerting the fire engine. The service aims to respond as follows:
- It aims to have the first fire engine at a primary fire within 11 minutes, for 80 percent of incidents.
- It aims to have the secondary fire engine at a primary fire within 16 minutes, for 80 percent of incidents.
- It aims to have the first fire engine at a road traffic collision within 13 minutes, for 80 percent of incidents.
In the year ending 31 March 2019, the service wasn’t achieving these standards. It met them in 66.9 percent, 72.9 percent and 73.3 percent of incidents respectively.
The service is reviewing these response standards as part of the latest IRMP consultation.
The service makes use of a flexible response to incidents. Its normal response is a standard fire engine with a crew of four or five. It also has a light rescue pump based at Wrentham, which can respond with a crew of two. The service uses reduced crewing at on-call stations, enabling the stations to mobilise an engine with a crew of three when necessary. Whenever a reduced crew is mobilised, the service sends additional resources to make sure that it has enough firefighters and commanders, in line with national guidance.
The service has carried out a gap analysis against national operational guidance (NOG). And it plays a leading regional role in the implementation of NOG across local services. The service has a plan in place to adopt NOG across the region by 2020. During reality testing at stations, firefighters showed good knowledge, understanding and practical application of breathing apparatus procedures in line with NOG.
Staff at fire control allocate resources to incidents. They do this based on pre-determined attendances. During our inspection, fire control staff used their professional judgment to increase or decrease the pre-determined attendance, based on information they received from callers.
Incident commanders at all levels demonstrated the knowledge and understanding to enable them to command fire service assets assertively, effectively and safely. They had working knowledge of NOG and showed effective decision making, using the decision control process.
Incident commanders make effective use of the service’s support materials. These include command packs, checklists, analytical risk assessments, safe person report forms, and message and decision logs.
The service has an effective system to make sure that incident commanders at all levels keep their command competence. As well as undergoing regular refresher training, they complete an incident command re-assessment every two years. The service carries out assessments for more senior level 3 and level 4 commanders regionally, at Essex Fire and Rescue Service.
Incident commanders told us they had the support of senior leaders to use operational discretion and step outside guidance where appropriate, and following a suitable risk assessment. Through its debrief process, the service has an arrangement to review incidents that involve the use of operational discretion.
Keeping the public informed
The service makes good use of live incident mapping on its website to communicate information about incidents to the public. The mapping is automatically populated from the service’s mobilising system. Fire control or on-call crewing reserve staff then add updates, using information they receive from crews at an incident. Fire control staff can remove incidents from public view if an incident is deemed to be sensitive or confidential. The service also gives additional information to the public, including safety messages from incidents, through social media. Responding officers give this information 24 hours a day.
The service has a robust referral process. It can immediately refer urgent safeguarding issues that are identified at incidents. Staff showed a good understanding of how to identify vulnerability, and how to make a safeguarding referral. They could give examples of having done this at incidents.
During our inspection, fire control staff effectively communicated fire survival guidance to the public. Staff access this guidance from within the mobilising system. It is in line with national guidance, and tailored to specific premises, based on risk.
Evaluating operational performance
The service has an effective system for carrying out hot debriefs of small-scale incidents. Crews discuss what has gone well, and any learning, immediately after an incident, usually while still at the scene. Crews then complete a safe person report form or an operational assurance, monitoring and debrief form, and submit it to the operational assurance team. These forms were being completed and submitted. The service monitors the level of completion of these forms. It is seeing improvements in the numbers being submitted.
Larger-scale and more complex incidents are also subject to a more formal debrief. The operational assurance officer decides whether this is needed. The officer has a limited capacity to monitor incidents and arrange debriefs. As a result, it isn’t clear whether the officer is identifying all incidents that need a formal debrief. The service should make sure that the operational assurance officer’s improvements continue, and that there are systems in place to support them.
The service collates and shares learning from all incidents with staff. It does this through information notes on the service’s intranet and a staff smartphone app. There are monthly operational assurance updates. The operational assurance officer completes and circulates incident debrief information notes for notable incidents. Recently, the service has added an operational assurance ‘must read’ section to its training record system. Staff must record when they have read this debrief information.
During our inspection, there was an example of an incident debrief information note for a silo incident in February 2019.
All learning from incidents (both internally and nationally) is discussed at the service’s operational assurance board. The operational assurance manager allocates and tracks any actions that arise from these discussions. As the tracking is done manually, the service can’t confirm how many of the actions have been completed and how many are still outstanding. The service should make sure that all learning from operational incidents is being actioned, so that it leads to operational improvements.
During our inspection, there was an example of the service sharing learning from a high-bay racking warehouse incident through the national operational learning process.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
Suffolk 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 ensure its operational staff have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information. This should include cross-border risk information.
- The service should make sure it participates in a programme of cross-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).
The service has good arrangements to supplement resources in the event of a major incident or other extraordinary need, such as a flood. These include arrangements for the mobilisation of multi-agency resources and national assets. During our inspection, there was evidence of when this mobilising of national assets had been used, most recently in response to a large flood in Suffolk in 2017. The service set up an effective strategic holding area for incoming national resources.
Staff showed a good understanding of what would constitute a major incident. They also showed good understanding of their responsibilities, and how to request additional resources, including national assets, when needed.
The service has well established multi-agency response plans for high-risk premises, including control of major accident hazards (COMAH) sites and a nuclear establishment within the county.
Working with other services
The service has mutual aid arrangements with its neighbouring services to support an effective cross-border operational response. However, there was evidence that cross-border exercises were infrequent. The service should make sure that there is a programme of regular cross-border exercises.
Where a cross-border exercise has taken place, there was effective sharing of learning between services. This resulted in the updating of procedures in both services.
Staff could show how to access cross-border risk information on mobile data terminals. However, the majority of cross-border risk information that we sampled was found to be out of date. The service should work with its neighbouring services to make sure that cross-border risk information is up to date.
The service uses analogue radios, whereas some of its neighbouring services use digital radios. The two systems are incompatible, and this incompatibility hinders joint working. The services are aware of the impact this has on their ability to work together. They switch all radios to analogue as a short-term fix, and are exploring a longer-term solution.
Working with other agencies
The chief fire officer is the current chair of the Suffolk Resilience Forum. Other officers play active roles. This has resulted in effective working with multi-agency partners. It also ensures that the service plays a leading role in the planning and organising of joint training and exercises.
During our inspection, there was evidence of a variety of multi-agency exercises taking place. In the last 12 months, exercises have involved a COMAH site, a shopping complex, and a simulated collision involving a nuclear device. These have been both table-top and physical exercises and covered the emergency and recovery phases of incidents. The service and partners have also tested the setting up and running of strategic and tactical co-ordination groups.
Incident commanders showed good knowledge and understanding of Joint Emergency Service Interoperability Principles.
The service is well prepared to form part of a regional response to a marauding terrorist attack. During our inspection, there was evidence of the service having carried out a regional exercise in 2018 and having trained staff. Fire control staff were well prepared to deal with calls to this type of incident. They could show how they would give ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ safety advice to callers who reported such incidents.