How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
The service understands the risk of fire and other emergencies. It uses the adult social care database to inform this understanding. The service has an effective, continuous, ten-year integrated risk management plan (IRMP). It collects and uses risk information in a good way, generally. But it could do better at prioritising the collection of site-specific risk information. Crews working across borders lack awareness of the risk information that they need.
The service requires improvement in the way it prevents fires and other risks. It shares data with other organisations to identify people particularly at risk. It visits anyone who requests a home fire safety check, without prioritising them according to risk. The service runs good prevention programmes, but does not evaluate them all. It promotes community safety, collaborating with others. It draws on the Surrey Fire Volunteer Service for prevention activities.
The service must improve the way it protects the public through fire regulation. Its audit and inspection rates are in line with the average for England. But it is not clear whether the service can inspect all the high-risk properties it identifies. The service works with other organisations. But we did not see much work with local businesses to reduce unwanted fire signals. The service does not engage with businesses to any great degree to educate them about complying with fire regulations.
The service requires improvement in the way it responds to fires and other emergencies. It has reduced its workforce over time but has not adjusted its way of working accordingly. We are concerned that it does not have a plan to ensure it can go on providing services in the way it does now. The service acknowledges that it relies too much on overtime working. Commanders have mixed levels of understanding of national guidance for decision making. The service holds debriefs after incidents and is working to improve the way it collects and shares learning from these.
The service is good at responding to national risks. It holds national assets for dealing with a variety of incidents. Control room staff know how to access these, but frontline staff are less confident in using them. The service has officers trained to command during an attack by marauding armed terrorists, but it has not tested these plans with frontline and control room staff.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
Surrey 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 its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information. This should include site-specific and cross-border 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.
Understanding local and community risk
The service interacts with the public in a positive way. It produces station plans that clearly detail its priority activities over the coming year. These plans show a good understanding of local communities and of the risks they face. But it is not clear how much the service engages with the public to produce these station plans.
The service publishes information on its website, such as its response standards. This allows the public to see how it is performing. The service has well-established working arrangements with organisations such as housing associations and Age UK Surrey. It uses social media to tell the public about incidents. The service could improve the information available to the public on its website by updating the content.
The service has a good understanding of its local community and of the needs of the people it serves and the risks they face. We found that the service uses a wide range of data to produce an accurate risk profile. This comes from a range of sources and includes general demographic data and data from other agencies like the NHS. Importantly, the service has direct access to the adult social care database. It uses this database to find and support those people most in need.
The service takes part in several community boards and plays an integral part in the local resilience forum. There are clear links to the community risk register in the service’s IRMP. The service is a lead agency for specific community risks, such as flooding and large chemical incidents. The service benefits from these partnerships and uses information from partner bodies to target its activity towards public need. Dedicated teams provide a range of educational and prevention work in targeted areas, such as youth engagement and road safety.
Having an effective risk management plan
Each fire and rescue authority must produce an IRMP. The service should consult the public when it writes this plan. The IRMP should provide an up-to-date picture of the risks within the county. It should say how the service will manage these through its prevention, protection and response activities. The plan should cover at least a three-year time span.
The service has a ten-year IRMP. The service refreshed its IRMP in 2016 and republished it. It used risk modelling, historical data and the council’s future planning assumptions, including housing and population predications. The service consulted the public through online surveys and face-to-face reference groups.
The IRMP describes the risks and difficulties that the service and the people of Surrey face. The plan links risk to the public with the service’s operational activity. This includes response times, education campaigns and its approach to protection and regulation.
The service does some good work with other agencies to reduce the risk of fires and other emergencies among those most in need. The IRMP does not explain how the service will work with neighbouring fire and rescue services to reduce risk and improve outcomes.
Maintaining risk information
The service has a programme to gather risk information. It uses specialist teams and wholetime crews to visit and update site-specific risk information. The service visits new premises and carries out risk assessments to determine whether the premises pose a risk to the safety of firefighters or to the public.
Operational crews can access site-specific risk information and other risk data. The information is available on mobile data terminals in every fire engine. It includes information about accidents involving chemicals, and data on vehicle safety systems when responding to road traffic collisions.
The service updates risk information to ensure crews are aware of changes to risks. Such changes might include sprinklers not working in a building, or the presence of a vulnerable person. Operators in the control room give this information to crews through the mobile data terminals.
The service’s use of risk information generally is good. And staff have good access to it. But the service could improve the way it updates and prioritises site-specific risk collection work. We found examples of out-of-date risk information. There were also no set time frames for the service to update risk data submitted for change. The service told us that risk information is available to crews working 10 miles over the border. However, we found that crews were not always aware of this information. This could increase the risk to them when they attend fires outside their own service area.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Areas for improvement
- 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.
- The service should ensure staff understand how to identify vulnerability and safeguard vulnerable people.
The service prioritises prevention activity and aligns its plan for prevention work to risk. This is in line with statutory guidelines.
We found the service shares data with other organisations, such as adult social care and the health service. This helps it to identify those people within the community who are at risk from fires and other emergencies. But the service could do more to prioritise the most vulnerable people. This would allow it to manage better the increasing demand on its resources. For example, anyone who requests a home fire safety check from the service will receive one, regardless of how vulnerable they may or may not be.
In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 3,521 home fire safety checks. This represents 3.0 visits per 1,000 population and compares with the England rate of 10.4 per 1,000 population. The service should ensure it works more effectively to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in its communities.
The service runs education campaigns to improve the safety and wellbeing of its residents. These range from well-established programmes run by specialist teams to local events run by operational crews.
We found some good prevention activities developed by the service and other agencies. One example is the One Stop Surrey scheme. The service showed how it has evaluated the effectiveness of some campaigns, such as the Safe Drive, Stay Alive programme. But it was a limited evaluation. A consistent level of evaluation could help the service to better inform its approach and target its resources more effectively.
Promoting community safety
The service works closely with other organisations to promote community safety. For example, at Camberley fire station, the service has an agreement with a housing agency to refer new residents for home fire safety checks.
Health Hubs provide integrated health and social care teams in the community. The service works with these teams to share information to support vulnerable people. It works with youth justice and educational welfare services to identify those at risk of anti-social behaviour or fire-setting. In this collaboration, the service leads on youth engagement to combat anti-social behaviour among young people. It offers vulnerable children education and positive options through the Firewise scheme.
Staff receive training to help them identify vulnerable people. In their fire engines, they can access guidance on what makes someone vulnerable. They can also speak to on-call safeguarding officers. But we found the approach to safeguarding between specialist and operational crews inconsistent. Specialist teams felt more confident than operational crews at recognising vulnerable people and accessing safeguarding services. The service should assure itself that all staff have appropriate and up-to-date safeguarding skills.
Service leaders play an active part in road safety partnerships and the serious and organised crime partnership board. The service’s team of fire investigators supports the police in reducing arson and the impact of fire-setting.
The service uses the Surrey Fire Volunteer Service in its prevention activities. The volunteers help the service with education programmes. They also make home fire safety checks and install sensory alarms in people’s homes. The service’s use of this group to support the service’s objectives and keep the community safe is a good way of working.
The service’s main road safety education programme is Safe Drive, Stay Alive. This multi-agency, interactive experience has communicated its message to thousands of young people aged over 13, according to data provided by the service. The service has a dedicated team that raises funds and co-ordinates this activity. Wholetime staff and volunteers also provide support. The University of Surrey and Road Safety Analysis have independently reviewed this activity. The review shows a positive change to the sort of risk behaviour that may have led to accidents on the roads. Locally, operational firefighters promote road safety in line with their station plans. They promote road safety at station open days and through road-user awareness days.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it allocates enough resources to a prioritised and risk-based inspection programme.
- The service should ensure it addresses effectively the burden of false alarms (termed ‘unwanted fire signals’).
- The service should ensure its staff work with local businesses and large organisations to share information and expectations on compliance with fire safety regulations.
All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in buildings and, where 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.
The service has a risk-based programme of audits and inspections. It uses a range of data to inform this programme. But the allocated resources do not meet the demands of its risk-based inspection programme. The central protection team manages the programme. Its members are trained to a higher level, and can do more complex risk protection work. The wholetime workforce conducts low and medium-risk thematic audits. The proportion of protection audits on known premises (except for private single dwellings) has increased from 1.1 percent in the 12 months to 31 March 2014 – which was below the England rate – to 5.2 percent in the 12 months to 31 March 2018 – which is above the current England rate of 3.0 percent. This equates to audits on 1,525 of the 29,076 known premises.
The service needs to consider how it is resourcing and prioritising its risk-based inspection programme. The resourcing levels may also limit the resilience of the team to respond to future changes in demand. As at 31 March 2018, the service identified 2,216 high-risk premises. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, 313 protection audits were conducted on high-risk premises, representing a high-risk audit rate of 14 percent. It was unclear how the service will be able to inspect the 2,216 high-risk premises that it has identified.
The service audits businesses to improve fire safety in premises that do not comply with legislation. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the number of protection inspections that the service completed, where the outcome was unsatisfactory, was 24 percent. We saw examples of the service taking joint action to increase fire safety with enforcement agencies, such as housing and environmental health. In these cases, one agency takes the lead and the others provide support. This shows a collaborative approach and makes the best use of time and resources. The service has access to independent legal advice. It prosecutes those that fail to comply with their legal duties under the fire safety order. The service has successfully secured several prosecutions over the past two years.
Working with others
We saw limited evidence of effective work with local businesses to reduce the burden of unwanted fire signals. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, Surrey FRS attended 5,292 false alarm incidents. Of these, 72 percent were due to the apparatus, rather than good intent calls or malicious calls. This is a relatively high proportion of false alarm incidents compared to other services, and an increase compared to the 12 months to 31 March 2011, when 67 percent of 4,994 false alarm incidents attended were due to the apparatus. The service has announced that it will reduce the number of times it goes out for unwanted fire signals. But its approach is not co-ordinated and it has not engaged well enough with businesses. Doing so could help the service target those premises with the highest numbers of unwanted fire signals.
The service could do more to improve compliance with fire safety legislation through education. We found examples of good work with businesses when crews found problems. But there was little evidence of the service taking a proactive approach to educate businesses. Education may help businesses to understand and comply with fire regulation. This would reduce the burden on the service and on local businesses.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Cause of concern
Surrey FRS doesn’t have a robust and sustainable system to support its operational response model.
By 30 June 2019, the service should:
- put in place a response plan based on a thorough assessment of risk to the community;
- ensure it has appropriate resources (people and equipment) available to respond to risk in line with its integrated risk management plan;
- ensure it understands and actively manages the resources and capabilities available for deployment; and
- tell the people of Surrey what benefits its service provision and ways of working in the operational response model will give them.
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it has an effective system for staff to use learning and debriefs to improve operational response and incident command.
Managing assets and resources
Since 2011, the service has reduced its wholetime workforce. But it could not show us how it has adjusted its operational model to work with fewer staff. The service pays some wholetime staff overtime to bolster the numbers of available crews. But sometimes it does not have enough fire crews to keep all the fire engines available to respond to the public (including specialist assets) in accordance with its normal expectations. So, station crews will be temporarily relocated to areas of greater need.
The service describes its over-reliance on overtime as its highest risk. But we could not see how it manages the daily operational consequences of this. Watch managers leading firefighters working overtime do not have enough management information. This means they cannot always assure themselves that crews are fit to work. We told the service that we are concerned about the potential risk to firefighter and public safety. Since our inspection, we have revisited the service to check on its progress in addressing this risk.
The service uses a system called a dynamic cover tool to support its operational resource management. This real-time mapping system uses historical data to predict current risk levels within the county. The service also has a policy for what is known as degradation. This considers the impact of reduced staffing levels and resulting reduction in appliances. The policy manages the order in which stations and appliances are removed from operational use. These tools help to relieve some of the effects of the over-reliance on overtime. The policy aims to ensure that the service can provide a prioritised response to the public when needed.
In the IRMP, the service told the public it will have a certain number of fire engines available. It rarely achieves this figure, but still manages to respond to all calls for service. The service supplied data to us that shows this is worse during the day, when demand is at its highest. This is an ineffective use of resources. The service needs to consider what level of resources is appropriate for the risks it identifies within Surrey. It needs to communicate this to the public.
The service has clear response standards within its IRMP and its performance is available on its website. The service tells the public that it will get the first fire engine to the most critical incidents within 10 minutes, and a second in 15 minutes, 80 percent of the time. The service told us it met this target 79 percent of the time in 2016/17, and 78 percent of the time in 2017/18.
During our inspection, we saw a confident approach to intelligent call handling by fire control room staff. This allows control operators to use their skills and experience to make changes to resourcing when they felt it was appropriate. Staff felt confident to make these decisions. The automated vehicle location system allows them to identify the nearest fire engine to an incident. This means they can ensure the fastest response. The control room has good systems to pass on risk information to crews. This included information about buildings, national guidance or vulnerable people in their communities.
The control room is currently operating below its expected staffing levels. This limits the resilience of the organisation and the way it can adapt and respond to changing circumstances. It means that control managers sometimes have to support operational deployments when they could be managing the control room.
Staff get appropriate levels of command training. Those required to command incidents felt confident and competent in their roles. The training team trains incident commanders. The team also formally assesses how safe and effective staff are. Operational commanders showed mixed levels of understanding of national models such as Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP) and national guidance for command decision-making. We found less understanding among frontline managers than senior managers. The service should assure itself that all operational commanders are aware of, and well-practised in, the use of command principles. The levels of command at operational incidents are proportionate and based on risk.
Keeping the public informed
The service communicates with the public through other organisations, such as the police. It also uses social media, which the control room updates. It uses them to raise awareness of safety messages, such as the risk of wildfires during hot weather. The service has one communications officer. It was not clear how the service would maintain meaningful communications outside normal working hours, or during times of high demand.
The service also runs a Telecare service from two of its retained stations. Telecare supports vulnerable people in their homes who require help because of mobility issues or a fall. This interaction with vulnerable people raises the service’s awareness of those in need in its communities.
We found that prevention specialists recognised vulnerable people and make safeguarding referrals appropriately. Frontline staff are less confident. The service should assure itself that all staff maintain their skills in recognising vulnerable people within their communities.
Evaluating operational performance
The service has access to a range of performance data. Response times have increased in recent years. For example, these are the average response times to a primary fire:
- In 2015/16: 8 minutes and 52 seconds.
- In 2016/17: 9 minutes and 9 seconds.
The service is looking at ways to improve response times. Work is at an early stage. For example, the service is exploring the use of the initial response vehicles crewed by two firefighters. These vehicles can deal with low-level incidents or provide an initial assessment at the early stages. The service believes that this will allow for a better use of resources and free up fire engines to deal with higher-risk calls. The service is trying two of these vehicles and will evaluate the results.
Hot debriefs, which crews conduct immediately after an incident, are in wide use across the organisation. Staff can also communicate learning from incidents using an electronic debrief form. This provides a more structured format and covers areas such as health and safety, and command.
The service holds structured debriefs after large or significant incidents. A central team co-ordinates this work. The service needs to ensure it does not miss opportunities to learn and improve its operational practices. For example, we saw examples of unreturned and poorly completed incident documentation, including operational risk assessments. The service knows about this and aims to do better but it is too early to observe any improvement. We also found that formal debriefing lacked scrutiny and challenge. It didn’t always lead to improvements.
In assessing this question, we identified a cause of concern. We then asked the service to provide an action plan detailing its response to this concern. We revisited the service three months later to assess its progress.
In our second revisit, in autumn 2019, we monitored progress against this cause of concern.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
Surrey 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 it is well-prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to a community risk identified by the local resilience forum, including a marauding terrorist attack, and that its procedures for responding to terrorist-related incidents are understood by all staff and are well tested.
The service has dedicated national resilience assets to deal with a range of incident types. We saw that staff in the control room are clear about how to make these available. The service can draw on national and local agreements with bordering services as needed. We found operational staff were less confident with the use of their national assets. The service needs to put a robust process in place to maintain and monitor these additional skills.
The service has effective arrangements to support the control room at times of high demand. It has back-up arrangements with another fire service to take excessive calls. But this can only hold calls until local mobilisation is possible.
Working with other services
Surrey FRS has several neighbouring fire and rescue services and cross-border work is well established at incidents. We found good examples of the service working closely with East Sussex and West Sussex FRSs. But we saw less work with other neighbouring fire services (including London Fire Brigade). We also found that crews have limited risk information when working over borders. We also found limited evidence of the service sharing learning when crews work with neighbouring services.
The service needs to encourage effective working arrangements with other fire services to improve safety and the service to the public.
Working with other agencies
The service works well with its multi-agency partners. But we found better working between more senior managers than at the operational level. The service is part of the local resilience forum and has a dedicated member of staff on this team. We found a good regime of multi-agency exercising. The service participates in a programme to co-ordinate volunteers called Surrey Preparedness, which the local resilience forum started after recent flooding.
The service has no dedicated teams for incidents involving marauding terrorist firearms teams. But it does provide a command function through specially trained officers (national inter-agency liaison officers). These officers have documented procedures that are well tested. Control staff and operational staff have access to information about what to do in the event of a terrorist incident. But there was little evidence that the service tests and exercises these plans. The service should ensure that it explains to staff across the organisation what it expects of them during marauding terrorist firearms incidents. It should also test their understanding of its plans.