How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment
We are pleased with the progress that Avon Fire and Rescue Service has made in terms of its effectiveness in keeping people in its service area safe and secure. In 2018, we had a cause of concern about the lack of resources in the protection function. It has made good investments in this area. We were pleased to see that the service has changed its staffing model and, as a result, has been able to more than double the number of staff in that team. It now has enough qualified staff to meet the requirements of its risk-based inspection programme (RBIP).
It has also made investments in other areas like progressing the service’s compliance with the national operational guidance. It is experimenting with new staffing models to address crewing shortages in on-call stations and has increased response availability.
The service has published its own response standard. This is now based on risk, rather than more general factors like population density, and sets targets for its own response times to emergencies. We found that it is currently meeting the standards it has set itself, and its overall response availability is consistently high. The service is also well prepared for major incidents.
There are still areas which need to improve. The service gathers data regularly and has access to a range of data sets. But it doesn’t use this effectively. For example, the way it gathers and maintains risk information should be improved. And the service needs to make sure that lessons from operational activities are learned by firefighters.
Nonetheless, we were pleased with the improvements we found in this latest inspection.
How well does the FRS understand the risk of fire and other emergencies?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at understanding risk.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.
Each fire and rescue service should identify and assess all foreseeable fire and rescue-related risks that could affect its communities. Arrangements should be put in place through the service’s prevention, protection and response capabilities to prevent or mitigate these risks for the public.
Areas for improvement
- The service should make sure it gathers and records relevant and up-to-date risk information to help protect firefighters, the public and property during an emergency.
- The service should make sure staff are trained in how to carry out and identify site-specific risk information.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
The service doesn’t use the data it collects well
While the service has a range of data sets available to it, we found that it doesn’t effectively use this data to support its prevention, protection and response activities. For example, the service has station plans which outline its priorities for each local area, but staff told us that these don’t drive their day-to-day activities and the data is rarely used.
The service has assessed an appropriate range of risks and threats as part of its service planning process. It carried out risk profiling and an analysis of incident data to develop its strategic assessment for 2021. When assessing risk, it has considered relevant information collected from a broad range of internal and external sources and data sets. For example, it has used census data and demographic information from the Office for National Statistics. The service used a limited amount of data from its partner organisations (including local authorities and other emergency services) when creating the service plan.
When appropriate, the service has had constructive discussions with its communities and others. For example, the service took part in two BBC radio interviews to promote the service plan. It held five public consultation events and distributed more than 600 information cards. The service also engaged with the public at places such as shopping centres, and with its staff and representative bodies.
However, the service could do more to engage with less well-engaged groups such as Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities during the consultation process. The service carried out visits to some community groups. But these visits were not structured or targeted, and the service didn’t evaluate whether this approach was effective.
The service has an effective service plan for 2021–24
After assessing the relevant risks, the service has recorded its findings in an easily understood service plan. This describes how it will resource its prevention, protection and response activity to mitigate or reduce the risks and threats the community faces, both now and in the future. For example, the plan details how home fire safety visits (HFSVs) will target the most vulnerable people in the community.
The plan also describes the service’s achievements in the last 12 months. For example, it has introduced on-call support officers to provide tailored support for on-call stations. As a result, the service has seen an improvement in staff availability at these stations. This is encouraging to see, as it means that the more rural parts of the service area have greater resilience.
The service plan is updated each year. The service has effective measures in place to check how well the plan is being implemented and to regularly review it. The service provides information to the public about its performance in the previous 12 months, like its average response times and the number of fires that have occurred in the service area.
The way the service identifies, gathers and maintains risk information must be improved
The service collects risk information about the people, places and threats it has identified as being the highest risk, but the information we reviewed was limited, inaccurate or not up to date.
In our previous inspection, we evaluated the way that the service gathers and disseminates risk information about temporary events as an area for improvement. The service has now introduced a process to notify staff of temporary events. The information is uploaded onto the station calendar and the workforce receives a communication about the event. Staff told us that this process is effective.
The service recognises that its processes for identifying, gathering and maintaining risk information could be improved. We are not confident that the service has identified all the premises that require a site-specific risk information (SSRI) record. An SSRI is used to gather information such as the hazards and the risks associated in premises, to assist response crews in the event of an emergency. The inspection team sampled SSRI records. We found:
- four of the five high-rise records sampled had no risk information about the premises; and
- most of the records sampled on the mobile data terminal in the fire engine were a few years past the point when they should have been reviewed, even though firefighters told us they had recently visited and collected risk information for the sampled premises.
We found that fire control staff aren’t always aware of the evacuation strategies for the
high-rise premises in the service area. This will affect the quality of the information provided to residents in these buildings in the event of a fire. The service should make sure that it has identified all the premises that require an SSRI record and that they are up to date.
We were surprised to find that the mobile data terminal that firefighters rely on for risk information is only updated once a month. This is because it is a manual process. This means firefighters do not always have prompt access to the most up-to-date information they need to keep the public, and themselves, safe.
Furthermore, staff are not trained in how to carry out an SSRI, and the quality assurance of this process is limited.
The service learns from national incidents
The service has a process in place to disseminate lessons from national operational and joint organisational learning. The risk intelligence team distributes any learning to the workforce via bulletins and email.
The service has also assisted in national operational learning. For example, the service discovered that security teams in a large property management company didn’t routinely have access to the buildings they were guarding. This prevented firefighters from getting quick access to those buildings in the event of an emergency. Following feedback to the company, it changed its policy and security teams now have access to the buildings. This learning has been provided to other fire and rescue services nationally.
We found that, although operational debriefs do occur, most staff could not recall any learning following local incidents or training exercises.
The service has responded well to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry
During this inspection, we sampled how each fire and rescue service has responded to the recommendations and learning from phase one of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service has taken steps to respond to this tragedy. It has produced an action plan which details how it intends to implement the recommendations from the inquiry. It has identified one high-rise building with cladding, like that at Grenfell Tower, and is working with the local authority and the responsible person for the building. The cladding is now being removed.
Information gathered during this audit is made available to response teams and fire control operators, enabling them to respond more effectively in an emergency. For example, operational staff have carried out familiarisation visits to this high-rise building. We found limited evidence of prevention activity carried out at the premises but recognise that the service has plans to focus community fire safety activity on high-rise residential buildings with unsafe external wall systems.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at preventing fires and other risks.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.
Fire and rescue services must promote fire safety, including giving fire safety advice. To identify people at greatest risk from fire, services should work closely with other organisations in the public and voluntary sector, as well as with the police and ambulance services. They should provide intelligence and risk information with these other organisations when they identify vulnerability or exploitation.
Areas for improvement
- The service should make sure staff carry out HFSVs and wider prevention activities competently.
- The service should evaluate its prevention work, so it understands what works.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
The service has a prevention strategy linked to its service plan
The service’s strategy is linked to the prevention risks identified in the service plan. For example, it details how the service intends to introduce new ‘people risk software’ to better understand the risks that people in the community face.
The service is developing the way it engages with children and young people. One of the aims in the service plan is to develop the schools education programme which includes fire, water, and road safety.
Prevention work doesn’t take place in isolation – appropriate information is sent to other relevant teams across the service. This information is used to adjust planning assumptions and direct activity between the service’s prevention, protection and response functions.
The prevention team worked effectively during COVID-19
We considered how the service had adapted its prevention work during our COVID‑19-specific inspection in October 2020. At that time, we found the service had adapted its public prevention work appropriately. Since then, we are encouraged to find that the service has cleared most of its HFSV backlog. The service has introduced a new booking system where a central administrator arranges the HFSV on behalf of staff. This allows the staff to focus on carrying out the HFSV without having to spend time on administration. This has improved efficiency.
The service has continued to provide support to the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust by driving ambulances. It has also provided support to the mass vaccination centres in Bristol and Bath, as well as other local vaccination centres across the service area.
More needs to be done to train staff in home fire safety visits and wider prevention work
The prevention team carries out training for newly appointed firefighters as part of their induction. However, we found that staff who carry out HFSVs and wider prevention activities haven’t received the appropriate support to carry these out confidently. This could mean that the benefits of HFSVs provided to vulnerable people to protect them from fire and other emergencies are not maximised as they may not be receiving the fully tailored advice they need.
The quality assurance of prevention activities is limited. At the time of our inspection, the service was developing a new HFSV plan which will review the prevention training requirements for the wider workforce.
Prevention campaigns happen in isolation
The service uses social media to promote prevention campaigns. It also uses the National Fire Chiefs Council calendar to support seasonal campaigns, although most operational staff that we spoke to didn’t follow the calendar.
To support its service plan, the service has created station plans and community risk profiles. We found inconsistencies between local stations in how they select which prevention campaigns to support, and staff told us that the station plans are rarely used to make decisions about what prevention campaigns they should focus on. They told us that the data available to them to identify vulnerable people is outdated and not reliable.
Some operational staff give presentations to key stages 1 and 2 pupils. But they told us they haven’t been given the appropriate support to provide these activities – they aren’t confident presenting them and the messages are inconsistent. The service has recruited a children and young persons’ manager to make sure these activities are consistent.
The service is part of the West of England partnership for road safety initiatives. Before the pandemic, the service carried out a range of activities. For example, it would carry out reconstructions of cutting people free from a vehicle at schools. The service is currently developing a road safety plan.
The service carries out its water safety campaigns well. We found that firefighters we spoke to were involved in providing water safety advice in specific areas. The service supports the Bristol Water Safety Partnership and the Bath River Safety Group.
The service doesn’t routinely evaluate its prevention activity
We found limited evidence that the service evaluates how effective its activity is or that it makes sure all its communities get equal access to prevention activity that meets their needs. For example, prevention campaigns are not evaluated to assess their effectiveness or impact. The service does carry out some limited evaluation, such as feedback forms following school visits, but it does not use evaluation of its activities to drive further improvement. As a result, the service is missing opportunities to improve what it provides to the public.
The service targets its most vulnerable people for home fire safety visits
In our previous inspection, one area for improvement was that the service should target its prevention work at the people who are most at risk from fire and other emergencies. We were pleased to see that prevention activity is now clearly prioritised using a risk-based approach. The service has introduced a triage system which is incorporated within the referrals process. This is used to prioritise HFSVs based on the complexity of the vulnerabilities identified. We sampled HFSV records and found that staff were made aware of any identified vulnerabilities before the visit took place. We also found that the HFSVs we sampled were completed in a timely manner.
Staff told us that, after a fire, they carry out HFSVs and hot strikes, (where the service visits the property or specific area to offer HFSV advice). However, from the records we sampled, we didn’t find any evidence of this occurring. We also found that limited prevention activities had been carried out at the high-rise premises we sampled.
The service is effective at responding to safeguarding concerns
In our previous inspection, we identified the way the service’s staff understand and safeguard vulnerable people as an area for improvement. We are encouraged to see the service has now trained its staff in how to identify vulnerable people and make safeguarding referrals.
The staff we interviewed told us about occasions when they had identified safeguarding problems. They said they feel confident and trained to act appropriately and promptly. For example, one member of staff made a referral to the community risk reduction team following concerns that someone was hoarding in their home. The referrer received feedback which provided details on the outcome, and the hoarding concerns were shared across the relevant departments.
The service works well with a range of partner organisations
The service works well with a wide range of partner organisations such as the NHS, the British Red Cross, and organisations involved in local housing provision, such as social housing providers, housing associations and charities, to prevent fires and other emergencies. It has over 150 such partner organisations.
The main aim of these collaborations is for HFSV referrals. Since our previous inspection, the service has improved its HFSV referral form. It told us that, in the year to 31 March 2021, around 45 percent of HFSVs were generated through partner referrals. The service has also collaborated by:
- making joint visits with its partner organisations;
- exchanging information with other public sector organisations about people and groups at greatest risk. For example, the service became aware of individuals having financial difficulties because of the pandemic and could refer them to partner organisations to provide advice and support; and
- recognising there was an increase in suicide calls at the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Some firefighters requested negotiating skills training, as often they are the first to arrive at the scene. As a result, the charity Suicide Prevention Bristol has recently trained a team of firefighters, which has been well received by those who participated.
The service tackles fire-setting behaviour
The service has a range of suitable and effective interventions to target and educate people of different ages who show signs of fire-setting behaviour. This includes a fire‑setters programme, which engages with and educates schoolchildren.
The community safety workers liaise with and visit people at a greater risk of arson. They also fit lockable letter boxes. The service’s website informs members of the public about arson prevention.
When appropriate, the service routinely shares information with other partner organisations about fire-setting. The service has fire investigation officers who identify the cause of deliberate fires and provide this information to the police to support the prosecution of arsonists. In the service area, there has been a downward trend in deliberate fires since 2017.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at protecting the public through fire regulation.
Areas for improvement
- The service should assure itself that its RBIP prioritises the highest risks and includes proportionate activity to reduce risk.
- The service should make sure it has effective arrangements for providing specialist protection advice out of hours.
- The service should make sure it works with local businesses to share information and expectations on compliance with fire safety regulations.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
The service has a protection strategy that is linked to its service plan
The service’s strategy includes details about the protection plan. It is clearly linked to the risks identified in its service plan.
The protection plan identifies the service’s main priorities, such as reviewing its RBIP to make sure it targets the highest risk premises. It also provides detail on how it intends to use its resources.
The service has significantly increased its staff in its business fire safety department since our previous inspection
We were pleased to see that the service has significantly increased its resources in its business fire safety department. This was highlighted as of a cause of concern in 2018. In our previous inspection, the service had 9.5 full time equivalents in this team. The service has since changed its staffing model, and for the first time has introduced non-operational staff as fire safety inspectors. At the time of our inspection, the service has more than doubled its staff working in this area.
We were encouraged to see that the service now has enough qualified protection staff to meet the requirements of its RBIP. This enables it to provide the range of audit and enforcement activity needed, both now and in the future.
Staff get the right training and work to appropriate accreditation. For example, most are working towards or have achieved their level 4 diploma in fire safety.
The service should refine its risk-based inspection programme
Following our previous inspection, the service has reviewed its RBIP by carrying out risk modelling to identify its highest risk premises. The service has a local definition of high risk and, at the time of our inspection, it had identified 1,998 premises as high or very high risk.
The service knows that it needs to be better at selecting its highest risk premises for the RBIP. For example, we found some premises which hadn’t been inspected in over 10 years, and some which had never been inspected. The service is planning to introduce new software to improve the way it targets its highest-risk premises. All the premises identified in the RBIP should be inspected within a reasonable timeframe.
The service adapted its protection activities well during COVID-19
In our COVID-19-specific inspection in October 2020, we considered how the service had adapted its protection activity. At that time, we found it had done this well. It carried out desktop fire safety audits and focused on care homes and schools.
At the time of our 2021 inspection, the service was planning to physically inspect those premises that received a desktop fire safety audit.
The service has been slow to inspect all high-rise premises
At the time of this inspection, not all high-rise buildings had been inspected. In spring 2020, the Home Office identified 187 premises over 18 metres high in the service area. It provided an additional funding of:
- £166,137 to support implementation of this work; and
- £368,894 to support wider protection work.
The service prioritised those high-rise premises that required a fire safety inspection. We were surprised to find that only 14 high-rise premises had been inspected. This means the service doesn’t have all the information it could to help it respond if an incident occurred at one of these buildings. The service knows what it needs to do to address this. We saw the service’s plan for how it will accelerate the inspections in the required high-rise premises by the end of 2021, but we were still concerned about our initial finding.
During our review of protection files, we found limited evidence of prevention activity at high-rise premises. This means the service is missing opportunities to engage with residents and offer tailored home fire safety advice.
The fire safety audits sampled were completed to a high standard
We reviewed a range of audits carried out at different premises across the service. This included audits as part of the RBIP; after fires at premises where fire safety legislation applied; where enforcement action had been taken; and at high-rise, high‑risk buildings.
Most audits we reviewed were completed to a high standard, in a consistent, systematic way, and in line with the service’s policies. All the audits we reviewed were completed within the timescales the service has set itself.
Relevant information from the audits is made available to operational and fire control teams. For example, protection staff came across an issue with a dry riser outlet in a building. (A dry riser outlet is used to distribute water to multiple levels of a building.) The information recorded by the protection staff was passed on to operational and fire control teams.
Protection staff told us that fire safety audits are carried out following a fire. However, in the records of premises we sampled where there had been a fire, none had any fire safety activity recorded afterwards.
Quality assurance for fire safety audits is inconsistent
We found examples where quality assurance had taken place during a fire safety inspection. This was completed in a proportionate way. The service recognises that not all of its staff’s work has been quality assured. We spoke to competent protection staff who said their work hadn’t been quality assured since joining.
The service doesn’t have good evaluation tools in place to measure its effectiveness or to make sure all sections of its communities get equal access to protection services that meet their needs.
The service uses its enforcement powers well
The service consistently uses its full range of enforcement powers and, when appropriate, prosecutes those who fail to comply with fire safety regulations. The files sampled showed that the service provides support to the responsible persons but, if necessary, it will enforce its full range of powers.
In the year to 31 March 2020, the service issued:
- no alteration notices;
- 10 enforcement notices; and
- 15 prohibition notices.
It completed four prosecutions between 2016/17 and 2019/20. The service has access to legal counsel who oversee enforcement and prosecution activities. In 2021, they have supported the service in carrying out three successful prosecutions, so far.
The service works effectively with its partner agencies
The service works closely with other enforcement agencies to regulate fire safety, and routinely exchanges risk information with them. It has a protocol with all four local authorities that makes clear which authority will use its powers in which parts of the premises.
The service makes joint enforcement visits. For example, it did a joint initial premises inspection with Bristol City Council. There were serious fire safety failings in the building. The service worked closely with Bristol City Council to make sure the premises was safe.
The service has significantly improved its response times to building consultations
Since our previous inspection, it is encouraging to see the service has significantly improved the way it responds to building consultations. More staff and resources mean it consistently meets its statutory responsibility to comment on fire safety arrangements at new and altered buildings. The building consultations are sent electronically, and an officer is assigned to provide the response. The service has good relationships with the local authorities. If any urgent consultations need to be reviewed, the assigned contact agrees the timescales for the review.
The number of unwanted fire signals attended has declined
In our previous inspection, we identified the way the service addresses unwanted fire signals (false alarms) as an area for improvement. The service has since published a new policy to tackle this issue and has an effective risk-based approach in place. The service has stopped responding to some automatic alarms, but continues to respond to risks to premises where people sleep (like care homes or hotels) and high‑risk premises.
We are encouraged to see that it attends fewer unwanted fire signals as a result of this work. In the year to 31 March 2021, the service attended 39.2 percent fewer unwanted fire signals per 1,000 population than in the previous year. Fewer unwanted calls ensure fire engines are available to respond to genuine incidents, and fewer fire engines travelling at high speed on the road reduces the risk to the public.
The service works with businesses, but could do more
The service could do more to engage with local businesses and other organisations to promote compliance with fire safety legislation.
The service held a seminar for business owners for businesses in the Yate area. But this kind of activity is not consistent across the county. The service would benefit from collecting equality data from the designated responsible persons for premises, which may help it to promote fire safety advice to those communities most likely to need it. The service is developing data sets which will help it to work with businesses and premises that are at higher risk.
The service doesn’t have sufficient 24/7 fire safety cover
The service’s duty rota doesn’t make sure that the specialist fire safety knowledge needed for responding to certain fire safety concerns is always available. Outside of office hours, there may be dangerous situations where access to a premises needs to be prohibited or restricted – only a limited number of staff on the rota system have the specialist protection knowledge required to authorise this decision. We expect all services to have the capability to respond to fire safety concerns at all times.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.
Fire and rescue services must be able to respond to a range of incidents such as fires, road traffic collisions and other emergencies within their areas.
Areas for improvement
- The service should make sure it has an effective system for learning from operational incidents.
- The service should make sure its operational staff have good access to relevant and up-to-date cross-border risk information.
The service aligns resources to the risks identified in its service plan
The service’s response strategy is linked to the risks identified in its service plan. Its fire engines and response roles, as well as its working patterns, are designed and located to enable the service to respond flexibly to fires and other emergencies with the appropriate resources. For example, the service has reintroduced a community first responder vehicle at Thornbury Fire Station, in collaboration with South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust. This allows firefighters from Thornbury to mobilise to category 1 (the most serious) medical emergencies to provide vital lifesaving care before the arrival of ambulance teams.
The service introduced a new response standard which is based on risk
There are no national response standards of performance for the public. Since our last inspection, the service has published its own revised response standard. This has moved away from standards based on population density to those based on risk. There are three categories: emergency critical, emergency non-critical, and non‑emergency. The service aims to attend emergency critical incidents such as house fires within 8 minutes. The service will use an average (mean) for the relevant year to see if it has reached its target. The service told us that its emergency critical response time in 2020/21 was 7 minutes and 16 seconds. This meets its standard.
The service’s overall response availability is consistently high
The service hasn’t set itself a target for the number of fire engines that need to be available to support its response strategy. Instead, it intends to improve the availability of engines at all fire stations. In 2020/21, the overall availability was 87 percent. The service’s fire control staff met their target of answering at least 94 percent of 999 calls within 7 seconds. In 2020/21, the figure was 96 percent.
To support its response strategy, the service published an operational degradation plan, to address how it would deal with not having enough firefighters available. This plan will come into effect when the availability of firefighters on any given shift falls below the minimum required to crew all the service’s fire engines.
Staff have a good understanding of how to command incidents safely
The service has trained incident commanders who are assessed appropriately. Each commander has an assessment every two years. This enables the service to safely, assertively and effectively manage the whole range of incidents that it could face, from small and routine ones to complex multi-agency incidents. However, we found that incident commanders don’t carry out any ongoing training to maintain their competencies in between their two-yearly assessments. The service should make sure incident commanders receive continuous professional development in between the command assessments.
As part of our inspection, we interviewed incident commanders from across the service. We found that they were familiar with risk assessing, decision making and recording information at incidents in line with national best practice, as well as the joint emergency services interoperability principles (JESIP).They feel able to step outside of guidance at operational incidents and that the service will support their decisions.
The service has invested in progressing national operational guidance
In our previous inspection, we identified the way the service intends to adopt national operational guidance as an area for improvement. The service has now completed a gap analysis and adopted and trained staff in some of the guidance, such as the use of breathing apparatus. The service has invested in a dedicated team who will progress the implementation of national operational guidance. The service is working with other fire and rescue services to ensure a consistent approach is applied.
The service keeps the public informed about ongoing incidents effectively
The service has good systems in place to inform the public about ongoing incidents and help keep them safe during and after incidents. This includes:
- using social media and its website;
- arrangements with local resilience forum (LRF) partners to inform the community about ongoing incidents;
- media training for flexible duty officers; and
- social media training for staff who run a service or station social media account.
The service is improving the risk information available to firefighters
In our previous inspection, one area for improvement was that staff weren’t confident in accessing risk information on fire engines’ mobile data terminals. Encouragingly, most staff spoken to had received the appropriate support and felt confident in navigating these terminals.
In our inspection we sampled a range of risk information, including:
- records on the risk intelligence system; and
- SSRI records on mobile data terminals.
We found that the service doesn’t give its staff appropriate support in how to complete an SSRI. Nor does it carry out quality assurance on SSRIs.
Some staff told us the information on the SSRI record is basic, and therefore they don’t always refer to it when responding to an incident. This means that firefighters don’t have all the relevant information available to them when responding to an emergency.
The service is familiar with some of the significant risks in neighbouring fire and rescue service areas, which it might reasonably be asked to respond to in an emergency. But it has more to do. For example, most staff we spoke to weren’t aware of any risk information available to them from adjacent services. The service shares information about cross-border risks and major risks through a national database which flexible duty officers have access to. The service should make sure that all operational staff have access to this information.
The service recognises the information stored on the SSRI records needs to be improved. A business case has been approved to further enhance this area. The service is also working with Bristol City Council to provide detailed computer-aided design plans for high-rise buildings in the Bristol area. At the time of our inspection, these plans were being published and were a significant improvement on what firefighters currently have access to.
Fire survival training should be provided to fire control staff
Control has good systems in place to exchange real-time risk information with incident commanders, other responding partner organisations, and other fire and rescue services. Maintaining good situational awareness helps the service to communicate effectively with the public, providing accurate and tailored advice. It has also taken steps to review its high-rise procedures.
The service hasn’t reviewed its ability to provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously, as we would have expected it to. This was identified as learning for fire services after the Grenfell Tower fire. Fire survival training is provided as an initial acquisition, but this competence is not maintained. The service has identified this in its action plan and will be developing this as an ongoing competency.
There is some evidence that fire control staff are involved in the service’s command, training, exercise, debrief and assurance activity. But the involvement is usually initiated by control staff and they aren’t routinely invited to these activities. This means that fire control staff won’t have the opportunity to learn from others or contribute to these sessions.
Although operational debriefs occur, the learning is not always used
In our previous inspection, we identified as an area for improvement the fact that operational staff weren’t fully aware of the service’s operational debrief process. The service has made progress in this area, but more work is required.
At the time of our inspection, we found that the service had carried out over 300 operational debriefs in the previous 18 months. However, operational staff could only recall limited learning that had taken place from these. Furthermore, firefighters don’t have access to the formal debriefs that have occurred. This means that operational staff aren’t able to continually learn from operational incidents.
As part of the inspection, we reviewed a range of emergency incidents and training events. We found:
- delays in carrying out some actions following the debrief;
- limited evidence of other agencies being involved in the debrief process; and
- operational assurance officers not always being deployed to incidents involving four fire engines or more, contrary to the service’s own policy.
The service should make sure that the debrief process is effective and that lessons learned are accessible and understood by staff.
How effective is the FRS at responding to major and multi-agency incidents?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to major and multi-agency incidents.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.
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 is well prepared for major and multi-agency incidents
The service has effectively anticipated and considered the reasonably foreseeable risks and threats it may face. These risks are listed in both local and national risk registers as part of its strategic assessment for 2021. They include severe weather and flooding risks. The service has effective means of declaring a major incident and responding to it. For example, it was instrumental in responding to the Wessex Water explosion, where four people died.
The service can respond to major and multi-agency incidents
We reviewed the arrangements the service has in place to respond to different major incidents, including ones at the Severn Tunnel, control of major accident hazard (COMAH) sites, and other high-risk sites.
The service has good arrangements in place, which are well understood by staff. For example, at the Severn Tunnel, the service holds four major incident exercises each year. This helps staff to familiarise themselves with the arrangements in place, should an emergency response be required. The service has resources to support a major incident, such as a mass decontamination unit, an urban search and rescue team and a high-volume pump. Staff are clear on when and how to deploy these resources.
The service works well with other fire services
The service supports other fire and rescue services in responding to emergency incidents. For example, in May 2020, the service supported Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service at the major fire in Wareham Forest. The service also supported Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service in providing cover for the G7 conference in 2021, which involved national leaders from across the world. The service has formal agreements for providing support to its neighbouring services. It used these arrangements when tackling the Strachan and Henshaw fire in 2019, with support from Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service. It is intraoperable with these services and can form a part of a multi-agency response.
The service would benefit from a structured cross-border exercise programme
The service carries out exercises with its neighbouring fire and rescue services. However, there is no strategic oversight in place for these, nor for how the learning will be acquired. We would expect to see a consistent approach, as the approach has been inconsistent in different parts of the service area. The service would benefit from having a strategic programme of exercises.
The service works well with other emergency services
The incident commanders we interviewed had been trained in and were familiar with JESIP. The service provided us with strong evidence that it consistently follows these principles. This includes staff having knowledge and use of the joint decision-making model. Staff could also describe the procedures for reporting information on major incidents to relevant government departments.
The service works closely with Avonmouth Docks and carries out joint exercises and training. This helps it prepare better for possible incidents. The service also participates in an annual training exercise with other emergency services, which fire control staff spoke highly of.
The service is a valued partner in the local resilience forum
The service has good arrangements in place to respond to emergencies with other partner organisations that make up the Avon and Somerset LRF.
The service is a valued partner and is represented at the LRF’s strategic and tactical co-ordinating groups and subgroups. During the initial stages of the pandemic, the service drove ambulances in emergencies; took patients to outpatient appointments or to receive urgent medical care; and provided training to care home staff.
We were pleased to see the service continuing its support to the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust in driving ambulances. It has also provided support to the national mass vaccination programme, with marshalling and logistics.
The service keeps itself up to date with national operational learning updates from other fire services, and with joint organisational learning from other blue light partner organisations, such as the police service and ambulance trusts. This is used to inform planning with other partner organisations.