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Warwickshire 2018/19

Effectiveness

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

Last updated 20/12/2018
Good

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

The service has a clear plan for managing risk, based on accurate data from a good range of sources. But it could do more to involve the public in its decision making.

It conducts regular and efficient checks on local businesses to make sure they meet fire regulations. The information from these checks is made available to crews through the mobile computers in fire engines. However, this information is not always up to date due to a lack of staff capacity.

The service has effective strategies to prevent fires and other emergencies. It makes good use of social media, and has appointed an arson officer, who works closely with the police force. But we are concerned that staff do not fully understand how to target prevention work at the people who are most at risk from fires.

Our main area of concern is the service’s work on protection, which requires improvement. It hasn’t been prosecuting businesses that fail to meet fire regulations, and it hasn’t allocated enough resource in this area to enable the team to work in a structured way with other enforcing authorities.

The service is well placed to respond to fires and other emergencies. Staff are confident about how to mobilise in response to different kinds of incidents, and work well together. However, the service needs a better procedure for investigating cases where a fire engine is not dispatched due to a lack of on-call firefighters arriving at the station. It also needs to improve staff awareness of safeguarding. 

The service has clear procedures for managing national risks, and has agreements in place to work with neighbouring services. It should make sure its staff are confident in accessing information about incidents across the county border.

Questions for Effectiveness

1

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

Good

Warwickshire FRS is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies. But we found the following areas 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.
  • The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information.

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

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

Understanding local and community risk

The service has an integrated risk management plan (IRMP) to help it match its resources to the risks it has identified in the county. This is updated every three years. The plan is underpinned by a risk profile, which is based on data about population and risk sites over the three-year period. It helps the service understand what the risks are, identify emerging problems and make recommendations about how to reduce risk.

The risk profile draws on data from a range of sources, including: Warwickshire joint strategic needs assessment; community safety partnership strategic assessments; and the quality of life report 2015 (Warwickshire observatory). The service also uses Mosaic and Exeter data to identify those who may be vulnerable to fire incidents through age or illness.

The service works with police and health partners in the multi-agency safeguarding hub to understand local risk, and to exchange information. They told us the arrangement is working well.

The service recognises that it needs to do more to involve the public in helping it understand risk. Currently, its main area of community engagement is the consultation for the IRMP. The service plans to review the methodology used within the IRMP process, which will provide an opportunity to widen the range of data used and improve the ability to identify hard-to-reach groups. We were told that there are also plans to increase the range of data used for the IRMP, but the service didn’t give us any further detail.

The service should do more to make sure employees understand how to use the information about vulnerable people gathered from Mosaic and Exeter, to target prevention activity better.

Having an effective risk management plan

Warwickshire has a working IRMP for 2017–2020, which is underpinned by data from the risk profile 2016. It sets out the achievements of the service to date, its priorities for the future, and how it plans to manage risk.

The IRMP meets the requirements of the fire and rescue national framework for England. The service has assessed risks from a wide range of sources and has plans to mitigate them. The IRMP explains how the service plans to maintain day-to-day emergency cover, in the case of both major risks and local resilience forum (LRF) community risk register issues such as flooding and terrorism. The IRMP is linked to an annual business plan that sets out the priorities for each year.

Members of the LRF told us that the service is valued as a strong partner. Staff from Warwickshire FRS chair several groups and have contributed to the two ‘control of major accident hazard’ site plans in the county.

Maintaining risk information

An important part of maintaining up-to-date risk information is conducting site-specific risk checks. The service inspects businesses, such as factories or shops with sleeping accommodation, to check they meet fire regulations. Warwickshire FRS carries out three different checks in one visit: firefighter safety, business fire safety and fire prevention measures. Its inspectors fill in a simple form and then pass information to relevant departments. This is a good use of resources. It gives the service a detailed picture of each site, and reduces the effect of inspection on businesses.

The team who conduct the checks pass information about any new risks to the operations planning team. They then create a temporary action note that alerts crews to any immediate risks they might face if they are sent to the site. These notes are held on the computer system used to dispatch fire engines.

There are effective processes in place for handing over risk information between shifts. Staff are aware of the local risks within their station area and can access risk information on the mobile computers in fire engines. Firefighters can also use these computers to access information about dealing with hazardous materials, where to cut open different vehicle models, and the locations of hydrants and flood maps. However, the information on the computers is not always up to date, due to a lack of capacity in the operations planning team.

2

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

Good

Warwickshire FRS 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 should ensure it targets its prevention work at people most at risk.
  • The service should evaluate its prevention work, so it understands the benefits better.

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

Prevention strategy

Warwickshire FRS’s service delivery strategy 2018–2020 includes a prevention strategy. This sets out various proposed initiatives, including ‘home from hospital safe and well’, which is a system for risk assessing vulnerable patients’ homes prior to them being discharged from hospital, and ‘Telecare falls response’, for people at risk of injuring themselves by falling at home. We couldn’t evaluate these projects, as they have yet to start.

The service uses data from Mosaic and Exeter to identify people most likely to be at risk from fires and who could benefit from support in fire prevention. It also receives referrals from the Warwickshire County Council customer service centre and various partners.

However, we found that operational crews and community safety specialists do not fully understand how to prioritise the most vulnerable people. Rather than using Exeter/Mosaic data to prioritise those who needed help most urgently, crews and community safety staff are simply working through a list of address-enhanced prevention activities. The IRMP states that the service will provide home fire safety checks to those most at risk, but it isn’t clear that this is happening. One problem is a lack of clarity about how many visits the service is aiming to make: staff told us that the overall target within the service delivery strategy 2018–2020 has been reduced to 4,000, although the service’s performance indicator remains at 6,000. A further problem is that, again, staff don’t fully understand how to use the Exeter/Mosaic data. They work through referrals from the council, rather than proactively prioritise people most at risk.

The focus of home fire safety checks has shifted from purely fire safety to a wider wellbeing agenda, including winter warmth; slips, trips and falls; and even identifying cases of suspected modern slavery, which recent recruits told us is part of their training. However, when we looked at samples of completed home fire safety check documentation, we were concerned to find that it is difficult to follow on the current ‘firmstep’ system. It wasn’t obvious that the risk profiles the service has developed are helping it to target the most vulnerable.

There was little evidence of evaluation of the home fire safety check process, so it is unclear – both to us and to the service itself – whether it is meeting its aims.

Promoting community safety

The service works with partners in the county council, the Youth Justice Service and Warwickshire Police to promote community safety. Together they raise awareness about vulnerable people at risk of fire, and work to tackle arson in higher-risk areas of the county.

Warwickshire FRS regularly uses social media to communicate fire safety messages. For example, it used Twitter to warn the public of the risk of further grass and wildfires during the hot spell in July 2018. The information on its website is sometimes lacking, however. We were concerned to see that people visiting the website to request a home fire safety check must sign in or register first with the county council. The service should evaluate the data about visits to this page, to make sure this process isn’t deterring the public.

The service carries out fire safety education work in schools across Warwickshire, targeting key stages one and two. This includes all local authority and faith schools. The service also offers this to all independent schools. It has developed an education programme, Heartshield, to teach children cardio-pulmonary resuscitation techniques and other aspects of healthy living. It provides this jointly with public health professionals from the county council.

One particularly successful element of the service’s community safety strategy is the role of its arson reduction officer, who works closely with the local police force. The officer carries out campaigns during holiday periods when there are often more deliberate fires, especially in the north of the county. The officer has also been trained in stage one fire investigation, which allows the fire and police services to work together to gather evidence. We saw evidence of the service working with the police to identify and ultimately convict an arsonist after a spate of deliberate fires.

Road safety

The service carries out a range of road safety work within the county road safety partnership. It runs the Fatal Four programme for year 11 students who may be starting to drive themselves or travelling as passengers in cars with young drivers. And its regular Biker Down sessions educate motorcyclists about what to do in the event of an accident. These sessions use new technology, such as virtual reality, to simulate the scenes of accidents. The road safety partnership told us that the service’s support is valuable, and that it will look to build on this work in future.

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 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, 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.

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

We have considerable concerns about the service’s risk-based approach to fire protection, which relates to non-residential properties. It uses the fire service emergency cover model codes to determine the risk profile of commercial buildings in the county. But managers told us that this data is not always reliable and expressed doubts about the consistency of the scoring system.

The service’s protection strategy has only recently been published and staff don’t fully understand it. There has been limited evaluation of the enforcement work that the service has done in the past. The new service delivery strategy 2018–2020 doesn’t define how success will be measured, other than broad quantitative measures such as the number of fire protection inspections conducted, the number of community safety contacts and the number of fire-related deaths. The service needs to provide more detail about how it plans to evaluate its work.

We are also concerned about the workload of fire safety inspectors. There is a relatively high turnover of staff in this department. In theory, they have a target of three new risk-based inspections per week, and the rest of their time is taken up with reactive work. But workloads aren’t managed well enough and we came across some inspectors with case files still open after several years, as well as insufficient capacity in the team to mentor new staff.

In the past the service focused largely on its operational response. However, more recently, the balance has shifted towards prevention and protection. The service has made a significant investment in the prevention team, but the protection team lags behind due to a high staff turnover. The service needs to make sure it has sufficient resources in place to carry out its principal protection functions before it expands its discretionary activities.

In addition to a small team of specialists, the service also uses operational crews for business fire safety inspections. This is a good use of resources, as it increases the number of premises that are inspected. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, it carried out protection audits on 513 of the 13,060 known premises (excluding single private dwellings) in the service area (3.9 percent). Operational crews are generally positive about this approach, but told us they needed more focused training in risk assessment.

Enforcement

We found that the service has not been prosecuting businesses that fail to uphold fire safety legislation. The small protection team told us that it tries wherever possible to support businesses. It carries out enforcements and prohibitions but hasn’t brought a prosecution for several years. We found examples of prohibition notices that have been in place for several years and are only revisited infrequently.

If the service fails to use its regulatory power, it sends out the wrong message to those that don’t take fire safety legislation seriously. Senior managers accept that they don’t have the capacity or the experience to mount a prosecution and are considering working with West Midlands FRS to improve this. However, there are currently no clear plans in place.

Another fire and rescue service has recently peer-reviewed the protection team, but the results weren’t available at the time of inspection.

Working with others

The service works with several other local authority agencies and these partners are generally positive about its capacity for joint working. For example, it worked with building control and housing partners to review high-rise blocks in Rugby, which had been identified as a risk following the Grenfell Tower fire. Together the agencies did a complete review of fire precautions and put an immediate action plan in place.

The service has also recently joined Warwickshire County Council’s trading standards department in a primary authority scheme with the Midcounties Co-operative. This means it will be the lead fire and rescue service for any of the company’s premises throughout the country, making sure there is a standardised approach to fire safety.

However, we were told that structured joint working has become more difficult because of staffing reductions. For example, the service wants to work with other enforcing authorities, such as housing enforcement, building control and environmental health, but lacks the capacity to engage in regular planning meetings. As a result, joint working tends to be informal and reactive.

The service would like to be more focused on supporting business but lacks the staff capacity. It does have some business information on its website, but it has only recently been able to contribute to the ‘Better business for all’ forum, which is designed for businesses and local regulators to come together to discuss areas to improve and assist each other.

The service should be working with businesses to tackle repeated false alarms, but there was little evidence of this. Watch commanders at headquarters are keeping a manual record all false alarm calls, but overall the approach lacks both clarity and co-ordination.

4

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

Good

Warwickshire FRS 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 has an effective policy for the managerial actions to take if a fire engine does not respond to an incident.
  • The service should ensure staff understand how to identify vulnerability and safeguard vulnerable people.

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.

Managing assets and resources

The service has a risk-based approach to responding to incidents and has set pre-determined attendances (PDAs) for particular types of incident. Its resources are focused close to population centres and incident hotspots, such as Gaydon for the M40. These are monitored daily by a resourcing officer to maintain cover as effectively as possible. As well as mobilising to the service’s own PDAs, control staff showed they could use their professional judgment when they needed to.

The PDAs for incidents in high-rise blocks were amended following the Grenfell Tower fire. The service has carried out exercises to test its procedures in the event of such an incident. These include the service control centre’s ability to manage multiple-fire survival guidance. In Grenfell Tower, fire control had many different people trapped and needed to give them guidance on the phone, as well as inform fire crews of their locations.

A re-tendering process earlier in 2018 awarded a contract to a new supplier for an availability system, which manages the staff booking on and off duty. The old contract ended before the new supplier was ready to take over and a rudimentary interim system was implemented, which added to the workload of both managers and staff.

The most recent staffing changes have freed up enough staff to run the new 12-hour day-duty station at Gaydon to the south of the county, where data provided by the service shows target response times are difficult to achieve.

We found that both wholetime and on-call duty staff are confident in their knowledge of breathing apparatus and are clear in their understanding of operational risk. They are confident about using the fire engine’s mobile computer, although less so when asked to access information about risks outside the county border.

Response

Wholetime and on-call crews work well together and on-call support officers are available to support on-call staff. On-call firefighters provide cover from their home or place of work and must be able to get to the station within 5 minutes on average. There are times when the minimum number of firefighters drops below the accepted limit, or ‘availability level’. The service recognises that maintaining on-call availability is difficult, due either to problems recruiting staff, or on-call firefighters’ employment taking them outside the five-minute response time.

There is a process in place to make sure a fire engine is always mobilised by control where necessary. However, when a fire engine can’t be dispatched due to a lack of on-call firefighters arriving at the station, there is no procedure to investigate why this has happened. During the inspection, we found several incidents where a first fire engine had failed to mobilise, which meant the service had to send a second.

Responding to availability, the service moves staff or fire engines into on-call stations to cover when necessary.

Warwickshire FRS is following the national operational guidance programme, which was implemented to make sure the operation of fire and rescue services is consistent across the country. The service is in the process of assessing what it needs do to comply with this programme.

‘Peak demand plus’ is a duty system specific to Warwickshire: wholetime firefighters are on the station during the daytime, but on call from home at night. We witnessed a delay because the on-call and wholetime teams at that station did not appear to be fully integrated; the service may want to review this to make sure the response is as quick as possible.

We found a lack of understanding about safeguarding across the service. Staff are aware of it, and many have completed an online training package. But many would benefit from further practical training.

Command

The service has various levels of command, starting with level one commanders who are in charge of fire engines, through to level four strategic commanders who take charge during large-scale major incidents. We tested incident command from level one to level four, and found that staff are confident in their responses.

The service’s management team has focused on encouraging managers to be assertive. Staff told us that they are confident the management would support them if they needed to exercise their discretion rather than simply follow normal procedures.

The service has issued watch managers and above with tablets to allow them to carry out incident command monitoring at the scene of an incident. This is recorded and sent through to the incident commander. It is used for professional development, and to identify organisational trends.

Keeping the public informed

The service uses Twitter to inform the public of incidents and gets advice from the county council’s communication team on engaging with the press. Because resources are shared, this is not a 24-hour service. Outside office hours, flexi-duty officers are expected to carry out this function. However, LRF partners pointed out that this shared service does make it easier to release multi-agency messages during incidents.

Evaluating operational performance

The service has developed a debriefing process to learn as much from each incident as possible. Crews complete a debrief form, on which they give feedback after an incident. The service’s in-house incident-recording system also has an operational learning tab. A member of the operations planning team reviews incident logs each day and can ask the firefighters who attended the incident to fill in a debrief form if they need more information.

When the service needs to make improvements, such as changing procedures, or solving equipment problems, the operations planning team gives actions to named individuals and checks that they have completed them. An operational assurance team evaluates areas where they think there need to be further improvements. It is a thorough process, although the service needs to make sure any findings are disseminated throughout the whole of the organisation, not just those attending specific incidents.

We didn’t find any recent examples of the service talking about its best practice with other fire and rescue services. It did proactively share the learning after the Atherstone-on-Stour fire. 

5

How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?

Good

Warwickshire FRS 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 it understands national and cross-border risks and is well prepared to meet such risks.
  • The service should ensure it has enough national interagency liaison officers and duty group managers, and that these roles do not conflict with each other at critical times.

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

Preparedness

The service has national inter-agency liaison officers (NILOs) who manage national risks and oversee plans such as those for a marauding terrorist firearms attack (MTFA). We found that, although the service does always have one NILO on duty, this is usually a duty group commander performing multiple roles. The service should review this, as it could create delays in responding to NILO requests if that officer is already committed to an incident.

In testing level three and level four for incident command, officers could describe the national co-ordination advisory framework arrangements in detail. They also described how their national assets had been deployed to flooding and, during our inspection, to a large-scale moorland fire in Lancashire.

The service has a good system in place for site-specific risk checks, including for large sites such as the Kingsbury oil terminal. There is a clear annual plan for re-inspection and finding new risks. Crews showed they understand the risk plans, which are graded to show the severity of risk.

The service can receive and upload risk data from bordering fire and rescue services up to 10km over the county boundary via a system known as Resilience Direct. Staff on both wholetime and on-call stations we inspected could retrieve data from the mobile computers in their fire engines. But, as we said above, they lack confidence when an incident is over the border (see ‘managing assets and resources’). We are satisfied that operational staff understand the system of risk categorisation. 

Working with other services

The service has effective agreements with neighbouring fire and rescue services to support each other at incidents. In certain areas, they have also agreed that a neighbouring fire and rescue service should respond where they have a closer fire engine. The service planned to share some control functions with Northamptonshire FRS from June 2018, but this was delayed due to technical difficulties. Currently, the service can answer calls on behalf of Northamptonshire FRS, but can’t mobilise resources directly and must pass calls back via landline.

The service has recently announced a collaboration with West Midlands FRS.

A feasibility study will examine areas dealing with fire control, training and prevention.

We also saw evidence of recent exercises with Hereford and Worcester FRS.

Working with other agencies

The service is an active member of the LRF. The other agencies involved told us that attendees from the fire and rescue service are at the appropriate level to make decisions.

The service has taken part in recent LRF exercises such as the multi-agency exercise Flying Turpin, involving the Royal Air Force and other partners. The service and the LRF recognise that they need to do more cross-border multi-agency exercising.

The service has policies to deal with an MTFA and these are currently being reviewed and developed. A sub-group of the LRF has recently formed to identify what further risk planning needs to take place to prepare for MTFAs and other malicious actions.