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Cornwall 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

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

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

The service should make clearer links between its risk assessment and risk management plans.

We are concerned that the service is not reviewing or updating risk information for firefighters promptly. This affects public and firefighter safety.

We saw good progress in response to the Grenfell Tower inquiry. But the service needs to improve its handling of fire survival guidance calls.

The protection team is still understaffed so high-risk buildings are not inspected often enough.

The service reduced the prevention team to cut costs. But now there is a backlog of high-risk home safety visit referrals.

The service is still not evaluating all its prevention activity, so it can’t assess what actions are effective and how well they work. It needs to do more to assure the quality of its protection work.

Positively, we found a notable improvement in safeguarding knowledge since our last inspection. And we were impressed by the innovative tri-service safety officer collaboration. Incident commanders are well trained, and the service keeps the public informed about incidents. It has good arrangements for major incidents involving other emergency services, including neighbouring fire services.

We saw improvements since our first inspection, but the service has not made enough progress.

Questions for Effectiveness

1

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

Requires improvement

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at understanding risk.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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.

Cause of concern

The service still does not have effective systems in place to manage risk-critical information to make sure it is collected, shared and reviewed in a consistent and timely manner.

Recommendations

By 31 August 2021, the service should:

  • have a plan in place to manage the backlog of outstanding site-specific
    risk visits;
  • make sure that it regularly updates risk information on mobile data terminals, so that firefighters responding to incidents can see the most up-to-date information;
  • make sure that the systems it has in place to share risk-critical safety information between departments are effective; and
  • review the plans it has in place to undertake site-specific risk visits to make sure they are achievable with quality assurance and strategic oversight arrangements in place.

Areas for improvement

The service should make sure its integrated risk management plan includes clear outcomes which show the public how it is mitigating risk.

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

The service uses a wide range of information to identify risk

The service considers a wide range of risk information from a variety of sources. It analyses incident data and risk information in depth to develop its strategic assessment of risk. It refers to this as the risk-based evidence profile (RBEP). When developing the RBEP, the service worked with Cornwall Council colleagues and drew on data from internal and external sources. For example, it used population information from the Office of National Statistics and traffic forecasts from the Department of Transport.

When appropriate, the service has consulted communities and stakeholders such as Disability Cornwall and the Dyslexia Council. The majority of the consultation has been to explain the proposals in its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). Examples include changes in its local response standards in 2020 and to its use of resources in 2021. It also worked with the Consultation Institute, a non-profit organisation that promotes best practice, to assure and improve its consultation process.

Lack of engagement means the service misses chances to understand risk to hard-to-reach communities

The service recognises it has not spoken with all communities and interested parties to improve its understanding of local risk. So, it is missing opportunities to identify vulnerable and harder-to-reach groups during its community risk assessment. It is reviewing its communication approach so it can address this for future assessments.

The integrated risk management plan is not clearly linked to the risk profile

The service’s IRMP provides a summary outline of how it will use its prevention, protection and response resources to manage risk. This explanation is not clearly linked to the RBEP or the performance measures included in the plan. The service does not clearly show the outcomes it will use to demonstrate to the public that it is mitigating risk. It does not show how it will monitor the effectiveness of the plan and report this in an accessible and easily understood way. There is limited information on what steps the service plans to take in response to anticipated change in risk levels.

Risk information is not reviewed and updated quickly enough

The service collects risk information about the sites and buildings it has identified as being the highest risk. Firefighters have this information and use it to make sure they know the hazards they face when attending an incident. This allows them to keep the public and themselves safe. The information is also shared with prevention and protection staff to inform their work.

When we inspected in 2018, we found problems with the time it took to update these records. Staff were often relying on paper copies which are difficult to keep up to date. We raised this as part of a cause of concern following that inspection.

We sampled a number of risk records during this inspection. We were concerned to find not all records had been reviewed as planned and changes are not shared effectively or on a timely basis. We were disappointed to find over 20 percent of records had not been reviewed by their due date. One record was more than four years out of date.

Prevention, protection and response teams do not share risk information effectively. The process to do this is used inconsistently and the service was not able to assure itself that critical risk information was updated and available to operational staff. For example, the protection team recorded details about changes in evacuation procedures in a high-rise building. But despite this, these details were not made available to fire engines or control through the risk information system.

We were told that it could take between two or three days and several months to add updated risk information to the mobile data terminals on fire engines. So, firefighters do not always have prompt access to the most up-to-date information they need to keep the public and themselves safe.

Control passes short-term and temporary risk information to operational staff. But this is dependent on local staff identifying the information and passing it to control, and there is no central oversight of this.

The service uses learning from incidents to update its response plans

We were reassured to find the service has a range of mechanisms for learning and understanding risk following operational activity. We reviewed a sample of major incidents and multi-agency exercises and heard examples of shared learning from local and national incidents. For example, the meeting point for Newlyn Downs was moved to a better position after a multi-agency exercise.

The service has a single, co-ordinating department for operational learning it receives and shares nationally. We saw an example of information the service provided which was shared nationally. And we also saw a staff briefing based on learning the service received.

Good preparation for high-rise incidents, but more work needed to support residents

During this round of 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.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has responded to learning from this tragedy positively and proactively. The service has two high-rise residential buildings in its area and has already assessed the risk of both. It is working with private sector housing partners to identify and assess other similar residential buildings.

It has carried out a fire safety audit of the two high-rise residential buildings. Response teams have undertaken familiarisation visits and training exercises at the buildings. The prevention team has engaged with residents at both sites, but has not made any home safety visits.

Read the cause of concern progress letter

2

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

Requires improvement

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

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service was good 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 it allocates enough resources to meet its prevention strategy.
  • The service should make sure it adequately resources prevention work in areas covered by on-call stations.
  • The service should evaluate its prevention activity so it understands what works.

Innovative practice

The service and its partners have developed the tri-service safety officer (TSSO) scheme. This combines aspects of fire, police and ambulance prevention roles into a single officer. The initiative achieves financial efficiencies and community safety benefits for the community and the services involved.

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

Prevention strategy linked to risk but needs updating

The service has a prevention strategy which covers the period 2019–2022. It identifies the service’s main priorities as accidental dwelling fires and road traffic collisions. It refers to additional risks such as drowning, carbon monoxide poisoning and deliberate fire setting. The strategy contains overarching objectives for improving community safety. But there are no clear and measurable objectives which the service can use to show the impact of its prevention work.

The strategy links to risk identified in the IRMP. But it has not been updated to take account of changes. Examples of such changes are the recent reduction in prevention staff; and deliberate fire setting being removed as a priority from the IRMP.

A recent restructure has seen the central prevention team reduced to fewer than four full-time staff. We were told the service intended to use other staff to support prevention. For example, firefighters will do road safety work. This appeared to be in its early stages. The service does not have a clear plan detailing how it will effectively fulfil its prevention duties with reduced resources.

Prevention work is mainly done by a central team. This is complemented by the tri‑service safety officers, who do community engagement and home fire safety visits, as well as by wholetime firefighters who make home fire safety visits and organise some local risk-reduction initiatives such as beach safety in St Ives and road safety at Falmouth.

We were surprised to find the service has made little progress in improving its prevention work in on-call areas. This was an area for improvement in 2018. The service recognises that it has limited capacity to reach on-call areas, most of which are remote. We heard that some on-call station staff make home fire safety visits, although these are primarily from local referrals. We are not assured it has the resources to make sure there is effective coverage of all on-call areas.

Appropriate prevention work has been maintained during the COVID-19 pandemic

In 2020, we found the service had adapted appropriately to do prevention work during the pandemic. We were pleased to see work has continued with the local authority to identify vulnerable people. Specialist staff make COVID-safe home safety visits for those in greatest need. Numbers of operational staff making home safety visits were limited during the second and third lockdowns. The service told us that as soon as restrictions were lifted these would be restarted.

Prevention focuses on greatest risk

The service prioritises its home safety visit referrals well. It assesses six factors to determine if a request is high risk. It has set a 15-day target for completing high-risk referrals, although we heard that the team will try to do these sooner. In some cases, an urgent referral will be sent to local wholetime firefighters. Medium-risk referrals get a visit within 30 days. Low-risk people get an information pack.

Reduced staff and pandemic have caused a backlog in prevention work

At the time of our inspection, there was a backlog of 237 high-risk referrals waiting to be completed. This was due to the impact of COVID restrictions and recent reductions in the number of specialist staff. The service said it had been unable to keep the level of medium- and low-risk referrals under review.

To mitigate the loss of some administrative staff, the service plans to update the home safety visits recording system. A delay to this affected the availability of central staff time to complete visits. The service told us it was working to reduce the backlog, but it had not set a date for completion.

We heard that the service had engaged with residents of high-rise buildings in Cornwall. This included awareness activity with a local housing association and some coffee mornings hosted by local operational crews. But we were disappointed to find that it had not offered or completed any home fire safety visits.

Staff feel confident to do home safety visits and other prevention work

Operational staff we spoke to were confident in their ability to plan and complete home fire safety visits. Wholetime staff receive training as part of their early development. They also shadow colleagues on such visits. Selected on-call staff receive some familiarisation so they can make these visits, but the detail of this was not clear to us. The central team are the only members of staff who are trained to do living safe and well checks.

The service has improved its response to safeguarding concerns

The service had made good progress in making sure its staff can recognise vulnerability and make appropriate safeguarding referrals. This was highlighted as part of a cause of concern in 2018. Staff we spoke to at wholetime and on-call stations were confident to recognise signs of vulnerability and make a referral or seek advice. We heard many practical examples from staff to support this.

We were pleased to see the service has recently introduced a specialist safeguarding role which is jointly funded with Devon and Cornwall Police. This is a positive move. It is intended to improve how the service handles complex safeguarding cases. It makes it easier for the fire service, Devon and Cornwall Police and Cornwall Council to share information about vulnerable people.

The service collaborates well with others to improve community safety

Cornwall FRS works with several local organisations to reduce community risk. The primary focus of these arrangements is home fire safety visits. The service told us it had 19 active partnerships, including with local housing associations such as Ocean and Coastal Housing, and Western Power. Where appropriate the service refers individuals to other organisations following either a safeguarding or other concern identified during a home fire safety visit.

Most partners refer clients to the service for a home fire safety check. Three partners have staff who are trained to do basic risk checks and fit smoke detectors. The service records 800–900 home safety visits a year by their partners.

We were pleased to see the service has continued to work with Devon and Cornwall Police and South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT) to develop the tri-service safety officer (TSSO) role which combines aspects of fire, police and ambulance roles into a single officer. TSSOs do prevention and emergency response work on behalf of the service in some of its rural communities. Following evaluation, the scheme has recently been extended to a further three locations in Cornwall. This is an innovative practice that achieves financial efficiencies and community safety benefits for the community and the services involved.

No co-ordinated programme to reduce the impact of deliberate fire setting

During our 2018 inspection we found the service had joint working and information sharing arrangements to tackle fire-setting behaviour. We were disappointed that the service has not continued this. We heard this was due to a reduction in staff and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We were given examples of visits to provide safety advice. During these visits the service supplied specialist equipment such as smoke detectors and fire-retardant bedding. It also referred people to adult social services. These visits were in response to referrals to the service about fire setting and they were not part of a co-ordinated programme of work.

The service recognises the limitations of its current approach. It told us it has plans to train the tri-service safety officers to tackle fire-setting behaviour. This work would be overseen and co-ordinated by the new safeguarding role which is working with Devon and Cornwall Police. We look forward to seeing how these plans develop.

The service still has no effective evaluation arrangements for prevention work

We were disappointed to find the service had made little progress towards evaluation of the full range of its prevention work. We highlighted this as an area for improvement during our last inspection in 2018. We heard that the service continues to do a before and after survey to assess the quality of its home fire safety checks. But we saw little other evidence of evaluation.

The service would benefit from establishing a routine approach to evaluating its prevention work. This will help it better understand the benefits of its prevention initiatives and improve its service to the public. Given the limited resources the service has for prevention, this would help it to ensure its initiatives make the best contribution to its community risk-reduction objectives.

3

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

Requires improvement

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

Cornwall 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 allocates enough resources to complete its risk-based inspection programme.
  • The service should make sure it has an effective quality assurance process, so staff carry out audits to a consistent standard.
  • The service should make sure it effectively addresses the burden of false alarms.

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

There is limited information for building owners and public about the protection strategy

The service has developed a protection strategy which outlines how it intends to review safety in the highest-risk buildings. The strategy reflects the properties highlighted in its 2019–2022 IRMP as presenting the greatest risk.

The strategy is very high level. It provides limited information for the public and building owners about how the service will work with businesses, review safety and act on shortfalls. There are no measures which show how the service will evaluate the effectiveness of its protection work or improvements in public safety.

The process the service has for sharing information is not good. It is used inconsistently, and the service can’t assure itself information is acted on in a timely way. For example, we saw information about risks in a residential building which was not followed up by the protection team for nearly ten months.

Limited progress towards providing enough resources to the protection team

We were particularly disappointed to find the service has yet to secure additional resources for its protection team. We identified this as an area for improvement in 2018. The service has taken too long to act on it.

A recent enquiry by members of Cornwall Council accepted the need for additional posts in the protection team. But the service has not secured sustainable funding for the posts. So, it does not have a plan for recruiting all the additional staff it needs. Some more capacity has been brought into the team, but the funding for this is short term. The main impact of limited capacity in the protection team is that it can only visit high-risk buildings every five years. The service has assessed that it needs to visit them every three years.

Protection staff receive specialist training, to a nationally recognised level, for their roles. However, it takes two to three years to fully train an inspector. This will extend the time needed to build protection capacity once new staff are recruited. The service is training some operational staff to do lower-level fire safety work. This will help reduce some of the burden on their specialist protection colleagues.

The service plans to restart face-to-face audits after the COVID-19 pandemic

We considered how the service had adapted its protection activity during our COVID-19 specific inspection in September 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its protection work well. The service had not changed its operating model since. But we were pleased to hear that it plans to restart face-to-face audits as lockdown measures are lifted.

Protection is aligned to risk but the risk-based inspection plan lacks detail

The service’s risk-based inspection programme (RBIP) is based on the risk identified in its IRMP and protection strategy. We were pleased to find this had improved since our first inspection in 2018. Protection staff we spoke to had a clear and consistent understanding of the highest-risk buildings, and they understood where risk reduction activity would be focused. However, the RBIP contained limited detail about the time it would take the service to visit all high-risk buildings and the resources it needs to do this.

Good progress auditing high-rise buildings and those with ACM cladding

In Cornwall there is one high-rise residential building and one multi-storey residential building with ACM cladding similar to Grenfell. The service has visited and audited both buildings. It is working with the building managers to reduce the risk. Sprinklers have been installed and the evacuation procedures changed.

Operational staff have visited both buildings and done training exercises in them. So they are familiar with the buildings and with procedures for any incident. The service has established a partnership with private sector housing to jointly review other multi-storey residential accommodation in Cornwall.

Improved oversight of audits needed to ensure follow-up work is done

We reviewed a range of audits carried out at different premises across the service. This included audits that were made:

  • as part of the service’s risk-based inspection programme;
  • after fires at premises where fire safety legislation applied;
  • after enforcement action had been taken; and
  • at high-rise, high-risk buildings.

Not all the audits we reviewed were completed in a consistent or systematic way. In particular, some post-fire and low-risk audit records were missing details and follow‑up inspections had not been completed in line with timescales that the service had given the building owners. The service should consider how it can better oversee its audits to make sure records are consistent and follow-up work completed in a timely manner.

No improvement in protection work quality assurance since our previous inspection

We were disappointed to find limited evidence of quality assurance of protection activity. This was an area for improvement we identified during our 2018 inspection.

When we last inspected, protection staff had their work reviewed for quality every quarter. Now, because of limited capacity, these reviews are every year. With an infrequent quality assurance process, the service will lose opportunities to promote consistency and drive improvement.

There has been some improvement in the use of enforcement powers

The service has made some progress in increasing its use of enforcement powers to deal with failures to comply with fire safety regulations.

There was a modest increase of 44 audits in 2019/20. But the number of enforcement notices issued more than doubled to 27. Although there were no prosecutions in 2019/20, the service told us about two successful fire safety prosecutions in 2020/21. And a further two are due to go to court.

The service recognises it has more work to do. It has some staff who are trained to investigate and prepare prosecutions. But the cases the service is dealing with were described as ‘complicated’ and are taking time to progress. The service should review recent and forthcoming cases when they conclude. This is to ensure it learns from them so it can make improvements.

The service works with others to improve building safety

We found the service regularly works with other organisations to regulate fire safety. It works with the Cornwall Council housing team on joint inspections of residential buildings. It has recently joint funded a post to bring specialist housing knowledge into the service as part of the national building risk review project.

We heard that the service works with other partners on joint inspections. And it shares information about risks in buildings with them. These partners include the Care Quality Commission, the Health and Safety Executive and Cornwall Council trading standards. The service also does petroleum and explosive licensing inspections.

The majority of building consultations are completed on time

The service does building control consultations with Cornwall Council and approved building inspectors. Cornwall Council told us it had a positive working relationship with the service. The council said the majority of consultation requests got a response within the agreed 14 working days. The council could talk to the service to resolve any delays.

The service uses its limited resources well to engage with businesses

The service told us capacity issues were affecting its ability to promote compliance with fire safety regulation to local businesses. It has worked with Cornwall Council on webinars for businesses where it advises businesses about their responsibility for managing fire safety. It also promotes business safety using social media. And it runs publicity campaigns in line with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) campaign calendar.

The service told us it has six primary authority partnerships where it provides bespoke advice to assist businesses to meet their fire safety responsibilities. This is an area the service would like to expand should additional resources become available.

More could be done to highlight the problem of unwanted fire alarms

The service’s main approach to unwanted fire signals is through a call challenge. As a result, it does not send an emergency response to approximately 33 percent of the automatic fire alarm calls it receives. This reduces the number of times fire engines are committed to unwanted calls and not available for genuine emergencies. But the service could do more to highlight to businesses the importance of managing their alarm systems to prevent unwanted calls.

4

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

Requires improvement

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at responding to fires and other emergencies.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service was inadequate 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 develop a response strategy which clearly links to the risks in its IRMP.
  • The service should review its ability to provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously. It should put in place a plan to increase capacity where required.

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

The response strategy is not linked to the IRMP

The service’s response strategy isn’t clearly linked to the risks identified in its IRMP. It has not reviewed the locations of its fire stations for over ten years. And its risk profile is based on incident types rather than specific locations.

To address changes in risk, the service has introduced measures to reduce the impact of seasonal demographic changes and the remoteness of some of its stations. These include a seasonal crewing increase at Newquay, enhanced crewing, and community safety support at Bodmin and tri-service officers who support on-call response.

The service told us it intends to review its station locations as part of research for its next community risk management plan in 2022. We look forward to seeing this progress.

The service does not meet its response standards

There are no national response standards against which the service can benchmark its performance for the public. The service introduced a new response standard in April 2020. This is an 11-minute response for wholetime and 16 minutes for on-call fire engines, it aims to achieve this for 70 percent of calls. The service doesn’t meet these standards. It told us that in the first year (2020/21) it achieved these standards on 63.4 percent of occasions for wholetime and 65.1 percent of occasions for on-call.

The service recognises there is more it can do to improve this. It told us that it had recently upgraded the communications equipment at its fire stations. This would improve the speed of alerting firefighters. It expects this to improve performance against its response standard.

Fire engine availability is good

Given the predominantly rural nature of the service’s area, travel times can be extensive. So, the service aims to crew its fire engines with five firefighters. It does this to ensure there are enough staff to deal with an incident while waiting for additional crews to arrive. The service set a performance standard of 87.5 percent of its fire engines available with a crew of five for the year 2019/20. The service exceeded this standard with 93 percent availability. We were pleased to see control staff had confidence in the accuracy and reliability of information about fire engine availability. This has improved since our last inspection.

Incident commanders are well trained

The service has a clear programme to train and assess its incident commanders. Incident commanders we spoke to were confident in their training and ability to command the full range of incidents they would be expected to face. This included large and multi-agency incidents, for which strategic commanders receive additional training. The service regularly assesses the skills of incident commanders.

As part of our inspection we interviewed incident commanders from across the service. We found them to be familiar with assessing risk, making decisions and recording information at incidents. And they did these things in line with national best practice, as well as the joint emergency services interoperability principles (JESIP).

Operational discretion allows incident commanders to use their professional judgment at incidents to make decisions in an unforeseen situation. The service has recently completed additional training on operational discretion. But we were not assured that this was fully understood by all incident commanders.

Emergency control staff have a greater involvement in debriefing

The service has focused on improving its debriefing process following our inspection in 2018. We were pleased to find this has seen critical control staff getting more involved in wider service debriefs, as well as their own team debriefs.

The use of online conferencing, which the service introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, had helped staff from control to attend debriefs. They can attend without leaving the control room. Staff we spoke to were clear about how the debrief process worked.

Handling of fire survival guidance calls needs to be improved

The service hasn’t reviewed its ability to provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously. This was identified as learning for fire services after the Grenfell Tower fire. We were told the service would find it difficult to resource fire survival guidance for 10 to 15 simultaneous callers. The service has arrangements to draw on call-handling resources from partner services in other parts of the country. But they have not planned and tested this for an incident involving multiple simultaneous calls about survival guidance. While staff appear to have received training in this area, the support material for managing calls was neither easy to access nor up to date.

We don’t have confidence in the systems the service has to exchange real-time risk information with incident commanders, other responding partners and other supporting fire and rescue services or the public. The service has yet to introduce arrangements to pass large amounts of information from fire survival calls to incident commanders. Poor situational awareness limits the effectiveness of the advice the service can give the public.

Firefighters have better access to risk information

We sampled a range of risk information, including what is in place for firefighters responding to incidents at high-risk, high-rise buildings. The information we reviewed wasn’t always up to date. For example, some records had not been reviewed within the timescale set by the service.

We did find that access to risk information on fire engines had improved since our last inspection in 2018. Staff told us that the mobile data terminals on fire engines had improved, were easier to operate and provided information quicker. The mobile data terminals also included risk information for the bordering service. We were told this information was updated every two weeks.

Control staff can’t easily access all available risk information

Staff in emergency control have access to some risk information from the despatch system. They can access a wider range of risk information through a separate computer. But it is not connected to the despatch system. Staff have to leave their work position to access the computer. In practice this rarely happens.

Despite improvements in debriefing and operational learning, more work is needed

While there is still work to do, we were encouraged that the service has improved how it reviews incidents and learns from operational activity. This was raised as part of the service’s cause of concern in 2018.

The service holds hot debriefs on site immediately after an incident, and formal debriefs later on. Staff told us these had increased since our last inspection in 2018 and it was easier to submit debrief and learning information using an online form. We were also told the outcomes from debriefs were easy to find, through a debrief document which is sent to all stations and made available on the service’s intranet.

The operational assurance team reviews all information from debriefs and co‑ordinates the service’s follow-up actions. It has recently introduced a new tracker system to help with this. We found the system needed more work. It was not easy to search and retrieve information. Some information in the system was incomplete and it didn’t allow the service to check that debrief actions had been completed. We look forward to seeing how the service develops the system and the improvements it brings once fully established.

There are good arrangements to keep the public informed about incidents

The service has effective systems to inform the public about ongoing incidents.

For major and significant incidents, Cornwall Council leads communications, with the service providing fire-specific messages and briefings. There is also a group of incident commanders with media training. They can provide media updates at smaller incidents.

The service makes extensive use of social media to provide incident information, updates and safety messages to the public. Information about recent incidents is also available from the service’s website.

Areas which gave concern have improved

When we last inspected, we saw notable shortfalls in some areas. As these were significant, we gave the service a cause of concern with recommendations for improvement. We were pleased to find the service has made sufficient progress in these areas for the original cause of concern to be lifted. We will continue to work with the service to review its progress and make sure the improvements are sustained.

5

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

Good

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to major and multi-agency incidents.

Cornwall 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 improved since 2018, and it has effective plans to deal with major and multi-agency incidents. It has considered the reasonably foreseeable risks it may face. These include site-specific risks such as Newlyn Downs and Wheal Jane mine; community risks such as wide area flooding; and event risks like the Historic Tall Ships and Maritime festival. Throughout the inspection, the service was working with blue light, local authority, and national partners to plan for the G7 conference held near St Ives.

The service has also worked with its bordering service, Devon and Somerset, to prepare for risks in their area which it could reasonably be asked to respond to. These include Devonport military docks and high-rise flats in Plymouth with cladding similar to Grenfell Tower.

The service shares risk information with Devon and Somerset fire service on a reciprocal basis. Firefighters can access this information through the mobile data terminals on fire engines.

There are good arrangements for major incidents

The service has good arrangements to respond to major and multi-agency incidents. Critical control staff were familiar with what to do when a major incident is declared, and they knew how to request national resilience assets. Incident commanders receive specific major and multi-agency incident training and flexible duty officers are trained to run multi-agency briefings. Incident commanders we spoke to were confident in their ability to manage multi-agency incidents and work with partners.

The service and its local agency partners have signed the Combined Agency Emergency Response Protocol (CAERP). This details arrangements for responding to major incidents. We heard about the service working with partners to test response plans including an exercise at the Torpoint oil storage depot and a water supply exercise using a national resilience asset in St Ives.

Some staff at fire stations told us they were not regularly involved in major incident or multi-agency exercises. They were not clear about the programme for these exercises. The service should make sure the programme has effective management oversight and that all operational staff are included in such training.

The service can work with its neighbouring fire service

The service borders one fire and rescue service – Devon and Somerset. It works closely with its neighbouring service to make sure both services can work effectively together and provide emergency response into each other’s areas. It regularly attends incidents with its neighbour. It is interoperable with this service and can form part of a multi-agency response.

Operational staff from Cornwall FRS visit Devon and Somerset frequently for risk familiarisation and training. There is an annual training update for Cornwall FRS staff in Devon and Somerset on the capability and use of national resilience assets.

The service has a plan for cross-border exercising, but it needs updating

The service has an exercise plan which includes multi-agency and cross-border exercises. The service has completed some cross-border exercises recently. But progress on the plan had been affected by the COVID pandemic and some exercises had been postponed. The service should review and update its plan to make sure its staff are prepared for incidents at the sites in the plan.

Incident commanders understand JESIP

The incident commanders we interviewed had been trained in, and were familiar with, the JESIP. They were confident in these. They knew when they should be applied and could describe the joint decision model and decision-control process. The service could give us examples of the principles being applied in practice. This included a recent incident involving a crashed military aircraft. Virtual working arrangements developed during COVID allowed the incident command group to be established very quickly.

There are good arrangements to work with partners

The service has good arrangements to respond to emergencies with other partners in the Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly local resilience forum (LRF). It contributes to the assessment of risk sites and provides specialist knowledge when planning response to, for example, sites which are registered as presenting a major hazard.

It is a valued member of the LRF. During the pandemic it took the initial lead on procurement of PPE. It also led on PPE distribution, supported the NHS and care homes by fitting face masks for staff and delivered welfare packages to vulnerable people. The service also supported South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT) by providing staff to drive ambulances. It continued to support SWASFT in this way during the inspection. The trust told us this had allowed it to maintain a ‘business as usual’ response to emergency calls throughout the winter, despite increased demand.

The service works with its partners to review plans for response to risk sites. For example, we were told about a recent review which highlighted an improved site for the multi-agency strategic holding area. This was incorporated into the plan when it was updated in 2020.

The service learns from national services and organisations

Cornwall FRS has good arrangements to share and receive operational learning nationally. This is managed by the operational assurance team, which acts as a single point of contact for receiving and sharing information.

We saw examples of learning which the service had shared after a fatal incident on a fishing trawler. We were also shown an example of an operational bulletin sent to staff highlighting hazards associated with fires in shipping containers. This was as a direct result of information the service received from the national operational learning team.

We heard about the service providing specialist advice on wildfires and response planning to a submission for the national risk register made by the LRF.