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Buckinghamshire 2021/22

Effectiveness

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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Requires improvement

Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.

Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is a small and tightly resourced service. Staff work hard to keep people safe and secure. But the service doesn’t have clear processes for prioritising its work. This means that it is not always focused on areas of highest risk and is less effective than it should be.

The service’s integrated risk management plan (for 2020–25) doesn’t explore the broad range of community risks in enough detail. The information the plan uses to identify risks is more limited than it used in its previous plans. And for those risks that it does identify, it doesn’t lay out what the possible impacts of the risks are or how it intends to use its prevention, protection and response functions to address them. Accordingly, our assessment of this specific area has dropped from ‘good’ in our previous report to ‘requires improvement’.

We are particularly concerned about low productivity in the service’s prevention work. Staff in these teams told us that the system used to record their work is not fit for purpose, and we found little evidence of managerial oversight. We are particularly disappointed that the management of fire and wellness visits hasn’t improved, given that this was raised in our previous inspection.

The service has an innovative approach for resourcing its response functions. It is based on the risks it has identified in the integrated risk management plan and on extensive research to identify patterns of demand, which it uses its engines and response staff flexibly to meet. It has increased its capacity and the availability of its immediate response fire engines since our first inspection. Accordingly, our assessment of this specific area has improved from ‘requires improvement’ in our first report to ‘good’.

The service has done a good job of anticipating and planning for possible major risks and threats it may face – not just in its own service area, but also in neighbouring areas where it might be asked to respond in an emergency. It works well with the other two Thames Valley fire and rescue services, sharing information up to 10 km across borders, and is a valued member of the local resilience forum (LRF). It regularly carries out planned exercises for major and multi-agency incidents, including mass casualty, mass evacuation, wildfire and flooding.

Questions for Effectiveness

1

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

Requires improvement

Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at understanding risk.

Buckinghamshire 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, through regular engagement with its local community, needs to build a more comprehensive profile of risk in its service area.
  • The service should make sure its integrated risk management plan is informed by a comprehensive understanding of current and future risk. It should use a wide range of data to build the risk profile and use operational data to test that the risk profile is up-to-date.
  • The service should make sure that the aims and objectives of prevention, protection and response activity are clearly outlined in its integrated risk management plan.

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

The service does not consider all of the risks it faces

The service hasn’t fully assessed all the risks it faces as part of its most recent integrated risk management plan (IRMP), which it calls its public safety plan. This covers the years 2020–25. When assessing risk, it has only considered limited information from internal and external sources, which hasn’t enabled it to build a comprehensive risk profile. For example, its previous plans considered demographic, health and lifestyle data to inform prevention activity. But this was not evident in its latest plan, which only considers information about the built environment and high impact but low frequency emergency events such as flooding. The public safety plan doesn’t make it clear how the service intends to reduce the impact of these risks and understand community-level risk, as it does not include any aims for its prevention and protection activity.

The service has undertaken consultation with the public on its latest safety plan, but the returns to this were less than its previous consultations. The service’s latest consultation, completed via an independent company, generated 58 online responses. Five focus groups were held to discuss the service’s future, attended by 55 people in total. No changes were made to the IRMP following this consultation.

The service could do more to understand community risk

The service’s integrated risk management plan doesn’t fully identify the risks to the public, nor how they will be met. For example, the only vulnerability within the population that the service identifies is that the average age of the area’s population is increasing. There is no explanation of the possible impact of this, or of the ways the service intends to mitigate the risk in support of this vulnerable group.

It isn’t clear from the plan how the service intends to use its prevention, protection and response resources to reduce the risks and threats the community and the service face, either now or in the future. The public safety plan contains limited detail on what action the service plans to take in response to any anticipated change to risk levels in the future.

The service gathers information about the risks its firefighters face in response to incidents

The service collects information about the places and threats it has identified as being at greatest risk for its firefighters when they respond to an incident. The sample of this information that we reviewed was not always accurate and up-to-date. For example, information about short-term domestic risks that potentially put people at a higher risk in case of a fire, like a resident keeping medical cylinders in their home, was out of date or inaccurate. We heard that staff don’t always trust the information is up-to-date and therefore don’t always use it to inform their response plans.

The site-specific risk information that is collected isn’t routinely communicated throughout the service and isn’t readily available or understood by all staff. This process needs to be improved so that staff in prevention, protection and/or response roles can access the information they need. For example, the risk database includes information about the same building in different formats and locations. This means that the service can’t effectively identify, reduce and mitigate all risks to both the public, its firefighters and support staff when responding to an incident or conducting site visits.

The service is good at using information from operational incidents attended to improve its understanding of current and past risk

The service records and communicates risk information. It also routinely updates risk assessments and uses feedback from local and national operational activity to inform its planning assumptions. The service has a dedicated central team that conducts routine assessments of its incident response data and its known risks, to ensure its resource planning assumptions and allocations continue to be correct.

The service is ahead of schedule to improve its information about high-rise risk following the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry

During this round of inspections, we sampled how each fire and rescue service has responded to the recommendations and learning from phase one of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry.

Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service has responded positively and proactively to the lessons learned from this tragedy. The service is on track to having assessed the risk of each high-rise building in its service area by the end of 2021.

It has carried out a fire safety audit and collected and passed relevant risk information to its response teams about buildings identified as high risk and all high-rise buildings using cladding that is similar to the cladding installed on Grenfell Tower. But it doesn’t always share this information with its prevention teams. Nor does it routinely make sure that its protection team is aware of new and emerging information about this risk. This means that the service isn’t always effectively identifying, reducing and mitigating all the risk associated with high-rise premises.

2

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

Requires improvement

Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at preventing fires and other risks.

Buckinghamshire 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.

Cause of concern

Prevention activity is not a sufficiently high priority for the service, and it is not adequately identifying those most at risk from fire.

Recommendations

By 30 September 2021, the service should have plans in place for:

  • an effective system to define the levels of risk in the community;
  • the revision of its prevention strategy in order that it clearly prioritises the people most at risk of fire and other emergencies, giving focus and direction to specialist teams; and
  • the review of systems and processes for dealing with referrals from individuals and partner agencies. This is to make sure that they are managed effectively and those referrals with highest identified risk are prioritised.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should understand the reasons for its decreasing number of prevention visits and consider how it can better target those who are most at risk of fire.
  • 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 activity is not a priority for the service

The service’s prevention plan isn’t clearly aligned with the risks in its IRMP. The prevention plan was developed before the public safety plan and there is no evidence that it has been reviewed since. The plan is high-level and doesn’t include details about how it should be delivered by the prevention department and response teams in a joined-up way. Nor does it explain how it will result in a reduction of risk for those most vulnerable to fire and other emergencies.

We are concerned by the decline in the number of prevention visits carried out by the service since 2016. As of March 2020, just prior to the pandemic, the service was carrying out 2.02 visits per 1,000 population, which was well below the national average of 10.17. This problem, which we raised in our previous inspection in 2019, has yet to be addressed. We recognise that much of this time was during the pandemic but the area for improvement remains.

We found that specialist teams and firefighters were unclear about what work they should prioritise and we found little evidence of management oversight of their productivity. The system used to record prevention activity was repeatedly described by staff as not fit for purpose and the information that is used to manage the service’s fire and wellness visits is difficult to access and analyse. We are disappointed to see that the service hasn’t changed the way it co-ordinates its fire and wellness visits, which we heard could be improved during the last inspection.

Prevention work happens in isolation and is not well co-ordinated and we found little evidence of relevant information being provided to the service’s protection and response functions. For example, although thorough protection activity had been conducted in several of the county’s high-rise residential buildings, there had only been 30 domestic fire safety checks (fire and wellness visits) to these buildings. As a result, vulnerable people and others may not be getting the support they need.

The service hasn’t improved its approach to targeting people who are most at risk from fire

The service doesn’t have a clear, risk-based approach that enables it to direct prevention activity towards the people most at risk from fire and other emergencies. Although the service has developed a scoring system for incoming referrals to the fire and wellness visit programme, we found evidence that visits aren’t consistently being prioritised based on risk. The service identifies its ageing population as a potential risk within its public safety plan, but its risk scoring means that an occupant over the age of 80 who requests a home visit but has no other identified risk will not receive one.

The service has developed local station area action plans, which use a wider set of data to identify areas for targeted prevention work. Despite this, the station area action plans are yet to be implemented throughout the service and it is not clear how they will be co-ordinated and monitored by local management.

The service did well to adapt its prevention activity during COVID-19

We considered how the service adapted its prevention work during our COVID-19 specific inspection in November 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its public prevention work appropriately. Since then, we are encouraged to find that the service continued to provide face-to-face fire and wellness visits for those most vulnerable to fire, where it was safe and necessary to do so. If this wasn’t possible, or if the resident didn’t want an in-person visit, telephone advice was provided. The service has recorded those residents who have not been visited, but has not yet decided how to address this. The service staff supporting vaccination and test centres also took the opportunity to speak to people about fire safety.

The service is proactive in identifying and reporting safeguarding concerns

The service is still well connected to the local safeguarding boards and multi-agency panels. Staff we interviewed told us about occasions when they had identified safeguarding problems. They told us they feel confident and trained to act appropriately and promptly. We saw evidence of training and development plans for recognising and identifying safeguarding concerns and reporting these to the appropriate safeguarding team at the local council. These are well planned and the training is to the appropriate level.

The service could do more to work with others in reducing the risk of fire and other emergencies

The service doesn’t routinely exchange information with relevant organisations about people and groups at greatest risk. It works with some local organisations including housing associations, local councils, Thames Valley Police and South Central Ambulance Service, but they are not always approached when they should be to provide support to individuals identified who need it, for example, from mental health services. The service works with these agencies inconsistently and as a result, it isn’t using all available opportunities to prevent fires and other emergencies in its communities.

We found examples of where referrals hadn’t been made to other organisations where it would have been expected by the service. Referrals that had been made included to the falls team, to the sensory impairment service for a hearing-impaired device, and to the local service that provides telecare equipment. Proactive working with other organisations has reduced since the last inspection, in part due to COVID-19.

The service is now providing less road safety education

The service has identified road-related safety issues by analysing its incident data and comparing it with Thames Valley Police and South Central Ambulance incident information. But we were told that this doesn’t currently direct the approach the service takes to delivering road safety education. A joint project between these services has now come to an end, but it resulted in a bespoke role to provide road safety education. The service should do more to support the local approach that it hopes to take.

The service is tackling fire-setting behaviour

The service has recognised an increasing trend in arson within the county and has worked with Thames Valley Police to manage this. Some of this work had to stop due to COVID-19 and there are now fewer members of staff skilled in fire-setter intervention. The service should continue to do more to ensure this activity remains effective.

The service is yet to fully evaluate its prevention activity

We found limited evidence that the service evaluates how effective its activity is or makes sure all its communities get equal access to prevention activity that meets their needs. For example, a draft evaluation report has been developed since the last inspection that includes an initial analysis of prevention activity. We were disappointed to find that the service is yet to fully complete this evaluation or implement any changes from its findings. As a result, the service is missing opportunities to improve what it provides to the public.

Read the cause of concern progress letter

3

How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?

Requires improvement

Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at protecting the public through fire regulation.

Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in certain 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.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure it aligns its increased resources to a prioritised and risk-based inspection programme.
  • The service should make sure it has an effective quality assurance process, so staff carry out audits to an appropriate standard.
  • The service should review its response to false alarms (called ‘unwanted fire signals’) to ensure operational resources are used effectively.
  • The service should make sure it plans its work with local businesses and large organisations to share information and expectations on how they can comply 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 done a good job of increasing its number of qualified staff

The service has increased its number of qualified protection staff from 10 in March 2019 to 19 at the time of our inspection. This enables the service to provide the range of audit and enforcement activity needed, both now and in the future.

Staff get the right training and work towards the appropriate accreditation. The service continues to comply with the National Fire Chiefs Council competency framework for business fire safety advisors. The service should make sure it continues to support the development and direction of this newly established team.

COVID-19 had a limited impact on protection activity

We considered how the service had adapted its protection activity during our COVID‑19 specific inspection in November 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its protection work well. Since then, we are encouraged to find that the service has continued to use some of the new virtual contact methods to carry out inspections and has continued to support staff to develop their abilities in face-to-face audit inspections, completing audits, issuing notices and enforcing action when appropriate.

The service is ahead of schedule to audit all high-rise premises clad with aluminium composite material (ACM)

Audits have been carried out at all high-rise buildings the service has identified as having cladding that is similar to the cladding installed on Grenfell Tower. Information gathered during these audits is made available to response teams and control operators, enabling them to respond more effectively in an emergency.

The service is on track to visit all the high-rise, high-risk buildings it has identified in its service area, both Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, by the end of 2021.

The service provides proportionate enforcement activity and works with others to support its capacity

The service consistently uses its full range of enforcement powers and, when appropriate, prosecutes those who don’t comply with fire safety regulations. A specific enforcement and training officer role has been added to the team’s structure to support the service in its enforcement activity. In addition, the service works closely with other enforcement agencies to regulate fire safety and routinely exchanges risk information with them. It is actively using the local council’s legal support services to follow up on prosecution cases.

In the year to 31 March 2020, the service issued 3 alteration notices, 11 enforcement notices, 13 prohibition notices and undertook 1 prosecution. We were told by the service that it has eleven other prosecution cases pending court dates.

The service is improving its response to building consultations

The service has improved its performance in commenting on fire safety arrangements at new and altered buildings. In the year to the end of March 2020, the service was only able to complete 46.1 percent of the building consultations it received – and it received far fewer that year than in previous years. Encouragingly, the situation has improved throughout 2020, despite the pandemic. The service has been able to respond to 88.6 percent of building consultations within the required timeframe. The service also received a record number of licencing requests in the year ending March 2021 and has responded to 93.5 percent of these within the required timeframe.

The service’s protection strategy is not being used to direct its work

The service’s protection strategy isn’t clearly linked to the risks identified in its IRMP. Although it has a broad protection policy statement, which has been revised in light of the new public safety plan, the protection plan hasn’t been reviewed or updated. The protection team have an action plan for the year ahead, but some of these actions are not aligned with the strategy, and some do not clearly set out what level of activity will be carried out or how the benefits for the public of this activity will be evaluated.

Protection activity generally happens in isolation rather than across the whole service. It appears that operational staff don’t conduct any protection activity unless they are in a specific role within the specialist protection team. The staff survey conducted for the service by an external consultant in February 2020 identified the need to better establish ways of working across the service’s different departments. Information isn’t always and accurately shared between the service’s protection, prevention and response functions.

It is unclear how the service aligns its activity to risk

The service has recently reviewed its risk-based inspection programme, but this has not yet been implemented. We were told that the service plans to pilot this revised programme for three months from July 2021 and will then allocate resources according to the findings of the pilot.

The service has no set target for the number of high-risk premises it must audit. Staff told us that they are unclear about which activities to prioritise, with the result that some high-risk premises may not receive the protection activity they need.

The number of audits conducted in the year ending March 2020 was 267. This is a reduction from the previous year in which 360 audits were conducted. We were told that the new risk-based inspection programme has identified 1,458 premises for inspection from June 2021. Of these, 8 percent of visits are already complete. We are concerned that the service hasn’t completed its review of the risk-based inspection programme before determining the resources it needs.

The service needs to do more to adopt quality-assurance to its activity and to raise the quality of its audits

We reviewed a range of audits of different premises throughout the service. This included audits as part of the service’s risk-based inspection programme after fires at premises where fire safety legislation applies, where enforcement action had been taken, and at high-rise, high-risk buildings. Not all of the audits we reviewed were completed in a consistent and systematic way.

Only limited quality assurance of the service’s protection activity takes place. The process relies on verbal discussions about audit findings and activity. We were told that this conversational approach is supportive for developing protection officers, but it is recognised that it doesn’t provide consistency across a geographically dispersed and separated team.

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 has increased the ways in which it works with businesses to help them understand and comply with fire safety legislation

The service now has designated team members for working with businesses and has increased its activity with large organisations. An example of this is that it organised a Thames Valley online information seminar for the region’s care home organisations. This service could still do more to engage with local businesses and other organisations to promote compliance with fire safety legislation. And it needs to better co-ordinate and monitor the effect its activity has to understand how it reduces risk.

The service has made no progress in reducing its attendance at false alarms (‘unwanted fire signals’)

The service has continued to respond to all automatic fire alarm activations – in the year ending March 2021, 2,890 false alarms had been attended, which means that 39 percent of the service’s activity was taken up in responding to false alarms. This means that engines may be unavailable to respond to genuine incidents because they are attending false alarms. It also creates a risk to the public if more fire engines travel at high speed on roads to respond to these incidents.

We are disappointed that the service has made no change to this policy and therefore has made no progress in addressing the area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains.

4

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

Good

Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies.

Buckinghamshire 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.

In the year to 31 December 2020, the service responded to 7,458 incidents. This equates to 9.17 incidents per 1,000 population, which is comparable to the England rate of 9.39 over the same period. As of March 2021, the service had 19 fire stations and 30 fire engines, as well as 2 swift water rescue boat teams and four urban search and rescue vehicles. Its public safety plan (2020–25) identifies that it intends to maintain these.

We have graded the service’s response to fires and other emergencies as good, but we still have concerns that the approach the service takes to maintain this unique operational model has negative impacts for its overall availability (both wholetime and on-call fire engines) and its productivity in prevention and protection.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that it understands what resources it reasonably requires to meet its foreseeable risk; it should make sure that all of its fire engines can be sufficiently resourced, if required.
  • The service should make sure it consistently gives relevant information to the public to help keep them safe during and after all incidents.

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

The service’s response plan takes a unique and innovative approach

The service’s response plan is linked to the risks it identifies in its public safety plan. The extensive research conducted to develop its unique resourcing model is regularly reviewed through the strategic management board. Its fire engines and other vehicles and response staff, 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. The service states that on 99 percent of occasions it will need 12 or fewer fire engines to respond to daily demand. The service maintains 18 additional flexible resilience fire engines to support the service’s response for the 1 percent of occasions when it may need more.

The service meets its immediate availability standard

The service aims to have 12 fire engines ready for immediate use to cover its daily demand. Additional ‘when needed’ crews are available on ‘delayed turnout’ of 20 minutes, 60 minutes or up to three hours. These can be called on to respond to incidents or provide cover arrangements. This is known as the second, third and fourth lines of availability.

The service reports that 99 percent of the time, it has had (at least) the 12 fire engines immediately available that it needs to respond to daily demand. Therefore, the service consistently meets that standard and this has improved since our first inspection. It is due to this improvement in immediate response that the previous area for improvement has been closed.

The service meets national response standards of performance

Home Office data shows that in the year to 31 March 2020, the average (mean) time that it took the service to attend a primary fire was 9 minutes and 41 seconds. This is in line with the national average for services that include both rural and urban areas.

We reported in our round one inspection that the service’s approach to reporting attendance times could theoretically lead to an increase in its response times. In actuality, the service has seen a reduction in its average response time in the year ending March 2021.

The service’s overall availability is negatively affected by its low on-call figures

In the year to 31 March 2020, the service’s overall fire engine availability was 47.1 percent, which is very low compared to other services. While its 12 wholetime crewed fire engines were almost always available, its additional 18 on-call fire engines were only available 24.3 percent of the time.

We are not satisfied that the service has a plan to maintain the long-term viability of its additional 18 resilience fire engines. It is unclear why the service needs so many additional fire engines when its daily demand pattern is consistently met with 12 available fire engines. The service continues to see a reduction in its on-call staff and has no plans to address this trend.

The service has good command of incidents

The service has trained incident commanders who are assessed regularly and appropriately. Incident command is standardised via documentation in the incident command pack and by uploading decision logs to a central point so that command officers can be provided with continuing support through learning reviews and training days. As part of our inspection, we reviewed the service’s recently implemented Learning Review Command reports, which were comprehensive and shared throughout the service. This allowed the service to recently identify a training need relating to the incident command pack, and it quickly implemented a plan to improve the problem. This process 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.

As part of our inspection, we interviewed incident commanders throughout the service. Those we spoke to were familiar with risk-assessing, decision-making and recording information at incidents in line with national best practice, as well as with conforming to the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP).

The service has a positive relationship with Thames Valley Fire Control

We were pleased to see the that service’s control staff are integrated into the service’s command, training, exercise, debrief and assurance activity. Thames Valley Fire Control is a joint control room for Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Royal Berkshire fire and rescue services. Staff in control described a positive relationship with Buckinghamshire FRS, including involvement in regular assurance meetings and invitations to attend debriefs and learn from incidents.

The service has established an agreement throughout the Thames Valley Fire Services to mobilise across borders, making sure that the quickest fire engine is always sent, no matter where the incident occurs. This has a positive effect on Thames Valley Fire Control, which is able to deploy resources promptly and effectively.

Thames Valley Fire Control is developing its ability to handle fire survival guidance calls

The control room staff were confident they could provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously. This was identified as learning for fire services after the Grenfell Tower fire. Staff interviewed described recent training exercises and the use of its back-up control systems to support multiple fire survival guidance calls should this type of incident occur.

Control has good systems in place via Airwave radio and it is trialling video calling, which they described as being predominantly promoted by Buckinghamshire FRS, to exchange real-time risk information with incident commanders, other responding partners and other supporting fire and rescue services. Maintaining good situational awareness enables the service to communicate effectively with the public, providing them with accurate and tailored advice.

The service maintains and regularly updates information about risk to firefighters

We sampled a range of risk information cards and logs on the service’s centrally co‑ordinated database, including what is in place for firefighters responding to incidents at high-risk, high-rise buildings and what information is held by fire control.

The information we reviewed was in the main detailed and had recently been updated. For example, the service provides recent photographic, mapped and written information about these sites, which is then quickly refreshed on the mobile data terminals used on the ground at incidents. Staff reported that the system is easily accessed and understood, but that there are sometimes inconsistences in the quality of some site data.

The service intends to integrate information for response, prevention and protection into one accessible system so that all potential risk information, including that of medical cylinder use or short-term domestic risks, is available to all staff.

The service is good at evaluating its operational performance and is aligning with national operational guidance

As part of the inspection, we reviewed a range of emergency incidents and training events. These included a multi-agency incident on the railway, a single domestic dwelling incident, an incident at a commercial property, and a training exercise within a high-rise building.

We were pleased to see the service routinely follows its policies to assure itself that staff command incidents in line with operational guidance. Internal risk information is updated with the information received. The service collates operational learning into an operational assurance newsletter and other documentation that is shared throughout the service and mandatory for all staff to read. The quarterly strategic performance monitoring board reviews operational learning and shares this regularly with the fire authority. This information is exchanged with other interested bodies such as South Central Ambulance Service and Thames Valley Police.

The service has responded to learning from incidents to improve its service for the public. For example, we were told about an information leaflet that can be provided to members of the public who have assisted at traumatic incidents and that includes information about support for what they have witnessed. The service also uses the LRF warning and informing group to make sure standardised and appropriate messaging is communicated in the event of a major incident.

We were encouraged to see that the service is contributing towards, and acting on, learning from other fire and rescue services and operational learning gathered from other emergency service partners. The service undertook a comprehensive gap analysis to ensure service policy aligns with national operational guidance. The service has also jointly implemented the Thames Valley Action Plan for the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations; active use of nationally recognised declaration of tactical modes; and a recently reviewed incident policy for marauding terrorist attacks developed by the Thames Valley resilience forum.

The ways in which the service keeps the public informed are inconsistent

The service relies on the LRF systems to inform the public about ongoing incidents and help keep them safe during and after incidents. It does provide communication training to incident commanders and makes efforts to use social media platforms such as Twitter and its external website to update the public about some ongoing incidents. It has links with local radio and press to provide information when appropriate. This needs to be applied consistently across all incidents and platforms to provide information to the public about incidents, exercises and safety concerns.

5

How effective is the FRS at responding to major and multi-agency incidents?

Good

Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to major and multi‑agency incidents.

Buckinghamshire 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).

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

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 integrated risk management planning. For example, the service identifies major infrastructure projects such as HS2, the impact of flooding, cyber security and the risk of attacks on technology, both in its own risk assessments and as part of the LRF.

It is also familiar with the significant risks that could be faced by neighbouring fire and rescue services that it might reasonably be asked to respond to in an emergency. It is good that the service has standardised its predetermined response for high-rise buildings throughout the three Thames Valley Fire Services. Firefighters have access to risk information from neighbouring services via the fire engine mobile data terminals, control mobilising software and Resilience Direct. The service shares risk information up to 10 km across borders via an agreed and centralised email-sharing system, and that it is looking to align the three Thames Valley mobile data terminals to improve interoperability.

The service has a good ability to respond to major and multi-agency incidents

We reviewed the arrangements for responding to different major incidents, including flooding, high-rise and a specific multi-agency railway incident. The service has good arrangements in place, which are well understood by staff. For example, the service has routine and regular planned exercises for a variety of incident types including mass casualty, mass evacuation, wildfire and flooding.

We were able to follow up on our review of how the service responded to the COVID‑19 pandemic. The service continues to play a vital role in the support of its local health services and co-ordination of vaccination centres. The service’s continuing support of these is highly commendable.

The service works well with other fire services

The service supports other fire and rescue services in responding to emergency incidents. For example, the service has specially trained national inter-agency liaison officers, which are a shared resource to support the Thames Valley region. It also has an urban search and rescue unit, and specialist tactical advisors available for deployment locally and nationally. It is interoperable with these services and can form part of a multi-agency response.

The service has successfully deployed to other services and has used national assets, such as its urban search and rescue capability and swift water rescue capability.

The service works well with other partners

The service has good arrangements in place to respond to emergencies with other partners that make up the Thames Valley LRF. These arrangements include the continuing development and nurturing of the relationships between the agencies so that in the event of a major or multi-agency incident the service knows who will take on what role. This was evident in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and during the flood of December 2020.

The service is a valued partner and is an active member in many of the LRF’s working groups, including training, communications, mass casualty, and the warning and informing group. The service takes part in regular training events with other members of the LRF and uses the learning to develop planning assumptions about responding to major and multi-agency incidents. Prior to COVID-19, the service took part in a flu pandemic tabletop exercise with LRF partners. Staff described the partnership as very strong.

The service has a well-established cross-border exercise plan

The service has a cross-border exercise plan with neighbouring fire and rescue services so that they can work together effectively to keep the public safe. The plan includes the risks of major events at which the service could foreseeably provide support or request assistance from neighbouring services, such as at Silverstone Circuit or Pinewood Studios. We were encouraged to see that feedback from these exercises is used to inform risk information and service plans.

The three Thames Valley services meet regularly and review and align their procedures, equipment and practices wherever possible. They recently undertook a joint training exercise at the Fire Service College and are awaiting an independent evaluation of their command structures and shared polices. The shared control room means that the nearest fire engine to an incident is mobilised first and the three services often jointly respond to incidents across their borders, using their aligned equipment and fire engines.

The service has adopted JESIP

The incident commanders we interviewed had been trained in and were familiar with the JESIP.

The service could provide us with strong evidence that it consistently follows these principles. This includes the service recently testing staff on their knowledge to identify if further learning was required, and the operational assurance team attending incidents to monitor and assure application of the principles. JESIP is included in all levels of incident command courses, from a level 1 e-learning awareness package to level 4 multi-agency gold incident command (MAGIC).

The service listens to and applies learning from national incidents and practices

The service keeps itself up-to-date with joint operational learning updates from other fire services and national operational learning from other ‘blue light’ partners, such as the police force and ambulance trusts. This learning is used to inform planning assumptions that have been made with other partners.