West Yorkshire 2018/19
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. West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
It understands local risk and its integrated risk management plan (IRMP) aims to address local and community risks. The service’s prevention work targets those most at risk. It supplies its firefighters with accurate information, quickly. And it is good at gathering and communicating site risk information. It needs to communicate better with hard-to-reach groups. It is working to improve this.
The service is good at preventing fires and other risks. It is clear about how it prioritises its work. It has an effective safe and well programme, and prioritises visiting those most in need. It makes sure that the visits are of a good standard and that people understand the information they are given.
The service is good at safeguarding vulnerable people.
It is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. But it is aware that it needs more staff in its fire protection teams. This will mean it can respond to building consultations quicker, and better meet its targets.
The service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. It is making improvements and communicating these well to staff. It needs to make sure that all commanders understand operational discretion.
The service is good at responding to national risks. Although it needs to make sure that operational staff can access up-to-date risk information. This includes cross-border risk information.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service needs to improve how it engages with the local community to build a comprehensive profile of risk in the service area.
All fire and rescue services should identify and assess all foreseeable fire and rescue-related risks. They should also prevent and mitigate these risks.
Understanding local and community risk
The service has a good understanding of local and community risk. It clearly explains this to the public in its IRMP, and outlines measures it has, or plans to put in place, to mitigate risks and keep the public safe from fire and other emergencies.
The service bases its IRMP on a comprehensive community risk profile. It uses a range of information including historical emergency incident records, census data and deprivation data to understand the people and neighbourhoods most at risk from fire and other emergencies.
It has also worked closely with local authorities at both district and planning department levels to take account of future major infrastructure plans, to better understand and model the likely increase in risk and demand from any future developments.
As at 31 March 2018, the service had 40 fire stations, of which 25 are wholetime, 8 are on call and 7 are a mix of wholetime and on call. There are currently 56 fire engines spread across these 40 fire stations.
The service has employed independent consultants to validate any changes it has made or proposes to make to the location of fire appliances or staffing arrangements. This ensures the service is responding fastest to those neighbourhoods that are most likely to have a fire. Similarly, prevention activity has been realigned to focus on those most at risk.
Having an effective risk management plan
The service’s IRMP meets the requirements of the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England. There is a clear link between the IRMP and local delivery plans, which drive prevention and protection activity.
The IRMP covers the period from 2019 to 2022. We were disappointed to find that consultation with the public during the development of the IRMP was limited. The service received only 27 public responses to its consultation exercise.
The IRMP clearly summarises the key risks, which include: significant changes in the size and age profile of the population, an expected growth in housing and employment and an increase in transport use and infrastructure.
The IRMP is clearly linked to the service’s prevention, protection and response work. For example, managers in Wakefield saw a notable increase in arson at a local park. By arranging for firefighters and specialist staff to identify the cause and take steps to remove it, the number of calls dropped.
The service is collaborating with its neighbours to share the cost and ensure the availability of specialist fire and rescue equipment. For example, it recently reviewed the provision of aerial ladders used to reach the upper floors of tall buildings. The new vehicles meet the needs of West Yorkshire but are also used to assist neighbouring fire services.
Through the IRMP planning process the service has taken account of major incidents it is likely to be called to, which are detailed in a community risk register that is maintained by the local resilience forum (LRF).
It has used information from this register and other sources to make sure it has the capacity and resilience to respond to larger incidents such as terrorist threats.
Maintaining risk information
Firefighters need up-to-date information about complex buildings and sites, and those which have hazards, such as chemicals. This helps them plan and keep themselves and the public safe when resolving emergencies.
We found the service is good at both collecting and communicating this information throughout the service. Firefighters are routinely visiting high-risk sites to ensure they are familiar with them and collect risk information. We found the risk information the service holds to be accurate and up to date.
The service’s control room effectively provides firefighters with information about vulnerable people and those at greater risk from fire, when they are mobilised to emergency incidents. For example, they are sent information about home oxygen users and those with poor mobility. Additional information is also accessible from the fire engine computers.
Firefighters informed us that they are kept up to date with new and emerging risk information through face-to-face-briefing and e-mail communications. For example, those we spoke to during the inspection were familiar with a recent change in the way high expansion foam is used to tackle fires. We were also encouraged to note that the service has effective systems in place to assure itself risk information has been communicated to staff.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires and other risks. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure that communication is designed to be appropriate and accessible to meet the diverse needs of the community.
The service undertakes a broad range of prevention activity, which it outlines in a safer communities prevention strategy. It is effectively working with health and other community safety organisations, such as police, to keep communities safe from fires. It is also supporting the wider health and wellbeing needs of the most vulnerable people it encounters when undertaking prevention activity.
The service is clear about its community safety priorities, with safe and well visits central to its strategy. Safe and well visits give safety advice and equipment, tailored to people who are at greater risk from fire. This advice covers: fire prevention, falls and mobility, smoking, keeping warm, crime prevention and social isolation.
It is good at using data to identify and offer those most at risk a safe and well visit. It combines this targeted approach with referrals from other organisations to assess if the criteria for a safe and well visit is met. This process is well understood by the staff who then undertake the visit.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service completed 18,477 safe and well checks. This equates to 8 per 1,000 population. This is less than the England rate of 10.4.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 51.4 percent of these checks at households occupied by older people. This is lower than the England rate of 54.1 percent. However, it completed checks in 41.9 percent of households occupied with a person registered with a disability. This is considerably higher than the England rate of 24.7 percent.
The service works with volunteers to evaluate the safe and well programme. A sample of recipients receive a telephone follow-up after the visit. The aim is to find out how much information is remembered and whether the visit prompted any changes in behaviour. The service is also able to assure itself that visits were conducted properly and remind people about the safety advice they received.
This information is combined with a review of more serious fires to evaluate the effect of prevention activity and decide whether activity should continue or be improved.
Prevention activity is tasked at district level, with plans that are clearly linked to the IRMP. As a result, local partnerships are central to the delivery of prevention activity and the different risks in each district are targeted appropriately.
The district teams are provided with central support. This includes promotion materials, updates on research and technological developments and identifying emerging trends.
Promoting community safety
In addition to the safe and well activity the service has developed district-based plans, which identify the highest risks the service targets for prevention activity. These take account of local knowledge and historical incident data.
For example, following several accidents and drownings in rivers in Leeds, staff recognised the customers of the pubs and clubs in the immediate vicinity of the rivers to be at most risk. They worked with local business owners, training door staff to be more aware of the risk and the actions they could take to help people in difficulties in or near the river. Marker posts with buoyancy aids were also installed beside stretches of the river. At least one member of the public has subsequently been saved from drowning by night club staff.
Although most prevention work is based on an understanding of risk in local areas, the service could do more to engage with hard-to-reach groups. It does not communicate well with these communities, which may be home to some particularly vulnerable people. It recognises this and is preparing a plan to help it better engage with, and understand the needs of, people in these areas.
All staff we spoke to understood the importance of recognising vulnerability and taking appropriate safeguarding action. Some staff told us they had not received training recently and would benefit from it. The service should consider improving its safeguarding support by providing refresher training.
We were also encouraged to see that the service is using information from fire investigation activity to inform prevention activity. For example, it has shared with the wider sector information about the dangers of paraffin-based moisturisers that have been a contributing factor at a number of fires it has attended.
The service is an active member of the five metropolitan road safety partnerships that co-ordinate activity to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on West Yorkshire’s roads. Partners told us that the service is a valued member.
Each road safety partnership has developed an approach tailored to the area it covers, which is incorporated into the service’s district plans.
For example, staff take part in road-safety roadshows in the Calderdale district. Guest speakers include a mother whose son was killed in a road traffic collision and firefighters talk about the impact of dealing with a road traffic collision. We also noted good work with year 5 pupils, highlighting the importance of wearing seatbelts and the dangers of driver distraction.
The year to 31 March 2018 saw a 41.6 percent reduction in the number of road traffic collisions when compared with the year to 31 March 2010. Although this is encouraging, the service could do more to evaluate the effectiveness of local initiatives in the way it evaluates safe and well activity. It could also make a greater effort to share good practice across its districts.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should assure itself that it allocates enough resources to meet its own targets for responding to building control consultations.
- The service should assure itself that it allocates enough resources to meet the demands of its risk-based inspection programme.
- The service should ensure it has effective arrangements for providing specialist protection advice out of hours.
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.
The service uses an intelligence-led, risk-based inspection programme. It uses information from the public, other organisations and its own staff to identify premises that aren’t complying with fire safety legislation. It then prioritises inspections at those premises where failure to comply may put people at the highest risk.
In the year to March 2018, the service undertook 928 fire safety audits and inspected all premises it had identified as high risk. The total number of audits has reduced by 256 compared with the previous year. It equates to 1.1 audits per 100 known premises. This is lower than the England rate of 3.0.
The fire protection inspecting officers we spoke to during our inspection were well trained and work to a nationally recognised competency framework. Staff operate at three levels. At the most basic level, staff have powers of entry only. At the highest level, staff can serve prohibition notices and use the full range of enforcement powers available to the service. It is also positive to note that the service has trained operational staff to carry out lower-level audits, which increases the resources available.
The service is making the best use of the time it has available during inspections by only undertaking a full audit where a shortened version indicates it is necessary to do so. This ensures that its limited resources are being used effectively.
During the inspection the service was unable to accurately tell us how long it takes to respond to building consultation requests. But it is aware that it isn’t always meeting its target of 15 days.
The service informed us that it recognises that its protection team is under-resourced to meet the demands placed on it by its risk-based inspection programme and to respond to statutory consultations. As a result, it plans to recruit a further nine inspection officers.
The service offers specialist advice out of hours by relying on staff who volunteer their time. While this arrangement isn’t robust, it has given good cover since it started 12 years ago. At the time of our inspection the service was working with other services to develop cross-border, out-of-hours support that could provide more capacity for dealing with serious fire protection issues.
Where possible, the service supports businesses to address fire safety concerns. But where there are significant issues, it is willing and able to enforce compliance and regularly carries out enforcement action against those failing to comply with fire safety legislation. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service issued 224 informal notifications, 87 enforcement notices, 22 prohibition notices and carried out one prosecution. Any decision to prosecute is subject to the public interest test and appropriate scrutiny by the service’s legal team.
We saw evidence that the service takes joint enforcement with other partners such as housing authorities, the Health and Safety Executive and licensing bodies.
Working with others
The service works with other organisations to enforce fire safety legislation and has formal arrangements in place with five local authorities. There were examples of the service working with public sector housing partnerships to share information to make sure tenants complied with this legislation.
In December 2011, the service put in place a policy of call challenge in the control room, which means it does not attend automatic fire alarms at certain premises during business hours unless there is a confirmed fire.
The service has reduced its attendance at false alarms and the number of calls to automatic fire alarms (AFAs) that it receives. Data available after inspection shows that in the year to 31 March 2019, the number of AFA calls the service received fell by 3.1 percent compared with the previous year (from 8,903 AFA calls in the year to 31 March 2018 to 8,628).
When necessary, we saw evidence that fire safety inspectors are working with building managers to reduce the burden of automatic fire alarms to help them work out the reason for the false alarm, and to prevent a repeat. We saw examples of this being effective. For example, it has successfully worked with Bradford Royal Infirmary to reduce the number of unwanted fire signals from that site.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure that all commanders understand what is meant by operational discretion.
Managing assets and resources
The service is good at allocating resources to meet its attendance standards, which it has set using risk-based planning assumptions (RBPAs).
Since 2010, the service has been changing the way it allocates resources to ensure it can consistently meet these attendance standards. This has meant merging and relocating fire stations and changing some working patterns so that they are more closely matched to risk and demand.
In the nine months to 31 December 2018, the overall average monthly fire engine availability ranged from 91 percent to 93 percent. More recent data that wasn’t available at the time of inspection shows that for the year ending the 31 March 2019, the service had an average fire engine availability rate of 92.3 percent.
The service maximises the availability of on-call fire engines by sending full-time firefighters to staff them if there is capacity.
The service attaches specific markers to incident types and addresses. This includes information about vulnerable residents. This could include risk factors such as extreme hoarding, those with poor mobility, or people using oxygen. Having this information about an incident, at the time fire engines are mobilised to incidents, means the service can match the weight of response to individual incidents.
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 provides consistent data across all 45 services. However, services measure their own response times in different ways.
As at the 31 December 2018, the service’s response standard is measured from the time mobilised until the time the first engine arrives at the scene. It is measured against RBPA.
If an area is determined to be a very high-risk ward, the service has a RBPA to life risk incidents in that area of 7 minutes. The RBPA is increased by 1 minute for each subsequent lower level of risk to 11 minutes for very low-risk incidents. Property-related incidents in very high-risk wards have a RBPA of 9 minutes down to property incidents in very low-risk wards that have a RBPA of 13 minutes. Other risk incidents (such as false alarms, rubbish and grass) have RBPA of 11 minutes down to 15 minutes. In the 9 months to the 31 December 2018, the service attended 92.9 percent of incidents in line with the requirements of its RBPA.
In the year to the 31 March 2018, the service’s average response time to primary fires was 8 minutes and 28 seconds. This was a reduction from 8 minutes 55 seconds in the year to the 31 March 2016. The service’s average response time is slower than the average of 7 minutes and 39 seconds for other predominantly urban services.
Operational risk information is available on computer terminals on all fire engines. Those firefighters we spoke to during inspection were able to demonstrate that they could retrieve this information quickly. They could also update risk information and send it immediately to other fire engines.
But staff were less confident about the reliability of the computers on fire engines when they were travelling to or at incidents which means they often have to be passed risk-critical information directly by radio from fire control.
The service is good at developing the skills of staff new to a command role. This includes courses hosted internally by qualified incident command trainers and the use of external courses for more senior commanders.
Incident commanders at all levels are re-assessed every two years. More senior commanders, who go to fewer, but more serious incidents, maintain their skills by taking part in a rolling monthly development programme. The first level of incident commanders are regularly monitored at incidents by more experienced commanders who provide support and assess performance. Learning from this assurance process is reviewed centrally to identify trends and inform future training and development.
The service has worked with regional partners to fully adopt, or adapt national operational guidance, which includes guidance on the use of operational discretion and a decision control process. Some of the incident commanders we spoke to weren’t confident in their understanding of either.
Operational discretion relates to rare or exceptional circumstances where strictly following an operational procedure would be a barrier to resolving an incident, or where there is no procedure that adequately deals with the incident. The decision control process provides incident commanders with a logical framework to follow when making safety-critical decisions.
Keeping the public informed
The service has an on-call rota for its media team. This makes sure there is always someone available to offer support at incidents. This arrangement was the result of feedback from debriefs with staff.
The service makes effective use of social media and encourages the use of station and district accounts. This is to inform the public about ongoing incidents, community safety campaigns and safety advice.
Staff recognised the need to refer vulnerable people through the safeguarding process. These include hoarders and those who may be suffering abuse.
Operators in the control room were confident in communicating fire survival guidance to the public.
Evaluating operational performance
We found the service has good debrief systems in place for gathering information following operational incidents.
Debriefs take place at the scene of every incident, or where that is not practical, as soon as staff return to station. Firefighters told us that they are actively encouraged to contribute to the debrief process. The outcomes of this are reviewed centrally and shared with relevant departments.
The most serious incidents are subject to more in-depth debriefs. This involves key staff coming together with other organisations who attended an incident to share lessons learned. There were good examples of this from wildfires the service attended during July 2018.
Staff fed back that the service’s drones would have improved the incident commander’s overall awareness at the incident. As a result, the drone is available at the incident commander’s request and now has the capability to fly at night.
We were also encouraged to see that the programme the service has in place to ensure firefighter competence uses real learning from local and national incidents. It also holds seminars for staff where speakers use case studies taken from debriefs and give updates on changes to procedures.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
West Yorkshire 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 it is well-prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to an incident and all relevant staff know how to apply Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP).
- 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.
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 can demonstrate its ability to support neighbouring fire services at large incidents or to call on support from other services.
For example, during the summer of 2018, the service supported Lancashire and Greater Manchester to resolve wildfires alongside fire services from across the country. Similarly, over Easter 2019, the service successfully received and deployed resources from other services to extinguish wide area wildfires that had broken out in West Yorkshire.
Cross-border risk information that shows risks in neighbouring services is not available on the computers in each fire engine. As a result, crews rely on the control room of the service they are entering to verbally pass relevant risk information by radio.
It is positive that the service is using on-call staff from across the service efficiently by combining the staff from stations that would otherwise be individually unavailable. This ensures additional resources are available when they are most needed at large protracted incidents such as the wildfires referred to previously.
Working with other services
The service takes part in an exercise programme for cross-border risks, which includes the involvement of other services and partner agencies. Some crews have taken part in exercises to test procedures and see how well they work with other services. But we found these arrangements were more effective in some areas than others.
Robust training has taken place with other services and blue light partners to exercise the service’s response to terrorist attacks.
The service works well with the other fire services in Yorkshire and Humberside to ensure they collaborate effectively. This includes ensuring that any planned changes to equipment and procedures maintain interoperability. A tri-service collaboration group of fire, police and ambulance services also focuses on interoperability.
As part of our inspection, we surveyed FRS staff to get their views of their service (please see Annex A for more details). Of the 169 firefighters or specialist support staff to respond, 45 percent stated that the service hadn’t regularly trained or exercised with neighbouring fire and rescue services in the past 12 months.
Working with other agencies
The service is part of a multi-agency exercise programme co-ordinated by the LRF training and exercising group. The service invites other organisations and neighbouring services to join these exercises. For example, the service has taken part in a multi-agency, cross-border national flooding exercise.
Service learning from multi-agency exercises is taken to the LRF learning subgroup where outcomes are communicated to all partners.
The service has trained crews that are equipped to respond to terrorist attacks. They take part in regular multi-agency training and exercising. They also train with teams from neighbouring services. The service has given frontline crews more training and equipment to deal with blast injuries in response to the lessons learned from the Manchester Arena attack. This means initial responders can help save lives. We spoke to some non-specialist staff who were less confident in procedures.
All officers attend regular Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP) training sessions and the principles form a key part of operational command training. However, some of the initial incident commanders we spoke to during our inspection had little understanding of the JESIP.
JESIP principles are in place to help incident commanders from the blue light services work well together. The service should make sure all incident commanders know and understand them.