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Devon and Somerset 2021/22

Effectiveness

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Good

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

We are pleased with the progress that Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has made in terms of its effectiveness.

The service has the highest number of on-call fire stations in England. In our last inspection, we said it should improve the availability of its on-call fire engines. Encouragingly, in 2020/21 the availability was 88 percent, an improvement of 7 percentage points compared to the previous year.

We also said the service should improve performance against its response standards. It has now set itself a 75 percent target of responding to dwelling fires within 10 minutes and road traffic collisions (RTCs) within 15 minutes. It is close to meeting these targets.

The service has set up a building risk review team that focuses primarily on high-rise premises in the service’s area. We are pleased to see the service has added to this team an operational risk information officer and a prevention officer who will focus on their respective risks. This makes sure that a joined-up approach to prevention, protection and response is taken when visiting these premises.

Following a fatal fire, the service put in place an effective intervention programme. It is also encouraging to see that operational staff are more involved in prevention activities.

Questions for Effectiveness

1

How effective is the FRS at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies?

Good

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding risk.

Devon and Somerset 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 its integrated risk management plan (IRMP) includes clear outcomes that show the public how it is currently 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 identifies risk well

The service has assessed an appropriate range of risks and threats after a thorough IRMP planning process. When assessing risk, it has considered relevant information collected from a broad range of internal and external sources and data sets. This includes data from operational incidents and health and social care data from third-party sources.

When appropriate, the service has consulted and undertaken constructive dialogue with communities and others to both understand the risk and explain how it intends to mitigate it.

Following the introduction of the IRMP 2018–2022, the service created a Safer Together programme, which addresses the priorities in the IRMP and how it intends to mitigate the risks. For example, the service proposed the closure of eight fire stations. The service also reviewed its duty systems and explored the removal of second and third fire engines at some stations. We are encouraged to see that the service is continuing to review whether its resources are located where the risks lie.

The service consulted with the public via social media messages and held sessions in town halls and libraries. Following the consultation with its staff and the public, the service closed two of its fire stations and relocated its resources elsewhere, where the risks are greater.

At the time of our inspection, the service had commissioned an independent organisation to improve the consultation process of its new community risk management plan (CRMP) 2022–2027.

The service should update its IRMP

After assessing relevant risks, the service has recorded its findings in an easily understood IRMP. Alongside its IRMP, the service has a fire and rescue plan, which describes the challenges the service faces and a Safer Together programme. However, at the time of our inspection, the current IRMP hadn’t been updated since it was published in 2018 and contained old data from 2016/17. The IRMP explains how prevention, protection and response activity will reduce risks to the community. But it is no longer aligned to the service’s current plans and the plans are not available to the public. At the time of our inspection, the service was consulting on its new CRMP, which will replace the current IRMP. The CRMP does inform the public how the service is addressing the current risks and identifies the resources (such as finances) needed to mitigate the risks. The public will benefit from having an annual update to the CRMP, which will show what progress the service has made in meeting its objectives.

A good range of risk information is gathered

The service routinely collects and updates the information it has about the people, places and threats it has identified as being at greatest risk. This includes Devonport military docks.

It has established processes and systems to gather and record site-specific risk information (SSRI) and make it readily available to the service’s prevention, protection and response staff. This enables them to identify, reduce and mitigate risk effectively.

The central operational risk information team has a good oversight in managing the SSRI records, which includes a quality assurance process. The mobile data terminal is updated almost instantly. The service would benefit from training its operational staff on how to record the SSRI as some staff we spoke to hadn’t received the appropriate support.

The service has systems in place to make staff aware of any significant changes to risk information. It was encouraging to see that, following our last inspection, the service has introduced an email bulletin that staff are required to confirm they have read and understood. This means staff receive any urgent risk information in relation to their role.

Where appropriate, risk information is passed on to other organisations. The service has a data sharing agreement with Devon & Cornwall Police and jointly funds a safeguarding officer post, which shares vulnerable persons data. We did find that some of the lower risk information (such as individual vulnerabilities data and key codes to premises) was past its review date.

The risk information is continuing to be enhanced

The service is continuing to develop its risk information. We were impressed with the creation of a 360-degree virtual tour of a high-risk premises. This allows operational staff throughout the service to virtually walk around the premises and carry out a desktop visit. We are encouraged to see that the service is looking to develop this for similar high-risk premises in future.

The service has also developed a system, which was partly released during our inspection, that further enhances the management of risk information. It will capture all risk information for prevention, protection and response in one place. We look forward to seeing how this develops.

The service is good at learning from operational incidents

The service records and communicates risk information effectively. It also routinely updates risk assessments and uses feedback from local and national operational activity to inform its planning assumptions. For example, following a fire in which there were multiple fatalities, the debrief process identified that all fire engines should have defibrillators available. The service is now investing in these.

The service also makes good use of information from its operational debrief process and national operational learning from fire and rescue services, as well as joint organisational learning from other blue light services.

The service has responded positively to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry

During this round of inspections, we sampled how each fire and rescue service has responded to the recommendations and learning from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has responded positively and proactively to learning from this tragedy. At the time of our inspection, the service was on track to having assessed the risk of every high-risk building in its area by the end of 2021.

It has carried out a fire safety audit and collected and passed relevant risk information to its prevention, protection and 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.

2

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

Good

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires and other risks.

Devon and Somerset 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, and 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 evaluate its prevention activity so it understands what works.
  • Safeguarding training should be provided to all staff.

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 community safety plan is clearly linked to its IRMP

The service’s community safety plan is clearly linked to the risks identified in its IRMP. The service has identified that accidental dwelling fires and an increasingly ageing population are some of the risks the service is facing.

The service works well with other relevant organisations on prevention and it passes on relevant information when needed. We were pleased to see information is used to adjust planning assumptions and direct activity between the service’s prevention, protection and response functions.

For example, the service identified a high-rise residential premises that had cladding similar to the cladding installed on Grenfell Tower. Prevention, protection and response all worked together to provide the relevant support to the residents and the responsible person for the building, and risk information was gathered for firefighter safety.

The pandemic has had a negative impact on prevention activities

We considered how the service had 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. But since then, we found that the service has accumulated a backlog of about 1,400 home safety visits (HSVs). The backlog is because of a change in working practices: only the highest-risk individuals received a visit during the early stages of the pandemic.

The service has telephoned most of the individuals in the backlog but has yet to visit them. We are satisfied the service has a clear action plan as to how this will be addressed and how the outstanding jobs will be prioritised.

The service consistently targets its highest risk people for HSVs

Prevention activity is clearly prioritised using a risk-based approach towards people most at risk from fire and other emergencies. The central team assesses the HSV by eligibility criteria such as any vulnerabilities the person may have. We sampled HSV records and found they were completed to a good standard.

Most prevention campaigns are carried out by the central team. The service also has community champions who work with its partner organisations and communities, including those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

We identified an area for improvement in our last inspection: that the service should evaluate whether prevention campaigns can be better supported by operational crews. Progress has been slow in this area. The service provides heat maps that show the greatest risks in specific areas, and wholetime staff are now carrying out basic HSVs, which are currently confined to the doorstep due to the pandemic. The service recognises they need to improve the data that is provided to staff. We found that wholetime operational staff are also carrying out school talks to Key Stage 1 and 2 children.

Home safety specialists receive the appropriate training

Most staff told us they have the right skills and confidence to make HSVs. These checks cover an appropriate range of hazards that can put vulnerable people at greater risk from fire and other emergencies. The home safety specialists complete the highest-risk visits. They receive enhanced training, which includes regular continuing professional development (CPD). Wholetime operational staff have recently received training but some staff felt they should be provided with more prevention training.

In our last inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should assure itself that the HSVs conducted by staff are consistent. The service had introduced a process of quality assurance of the work of the specialist prevention staff. The service paused this during the pandemic and it had not been restarted at the time of our inspection. But we were told plans are in place for the process to restart.

Safeguarding training should be provided to all staff

Staff we interviewed told us about occasions when they had identified safeguarding problems. For example, staff found children left alone in a property and made an immediate safeguarding referral to the police. We found that most staff we spoke to have a good understanding of safeguarding and would feel confident in making a referral.

The home safety specialists receive enhanced safeguarding training. However, we found that most operational staff we spoke to haven’t received any safeguarding training in over two years. The service should assure itself that all staff receive the appropriate training.

The service is good at collaborating in prevention

The service works with a wide range of other organisations such as care providers, social services and other emergency services, to prevent fires and other emergencies. It has over 500 partner organisations, which are regularly reviewed. From the HSV files we sampled, we found referrals were consistently made from these organisations and home safety specialists carried out joint visits with them.

We were pleased to see the service has introduced a specialist safeguarding officer role, which is jointly funded with Devon & Cornwall Police. This is a positive move. It is intended to improve how the service handles complex safeguarding cases and makes it easier for both services to share information about vulnerable people. This in turn allows the service to identify the most at-risk people in the community and provide the relevant support where necessary.

The service has effective interventions for reducing 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 is for children and young people up to the age of 18. The service also has an arson detection dog who works with their handler in the prevention team two days a week to assist in education about arson reduction.

The home safety specialists visit those at a greater risk of arson. They also fit lockable letterboxes if appropriate to prevent arsonists from igniting material and pushing it through a letterbox. The service’s website informs members of the public about arson prevention and, because of the service’s rural area, there is a section dedicated to arson risk at agricultural premises.

When appropriate, it routinely shares information with partner organisations. The service has fire investigation officers to support the police in the prosecution of arsonists. In the service’s area, there has been a decline in deliberate fires since 2018.

The service should evaluate all its prevention activities

We found some 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, such as the evaluation of road safety activities. However, not all prevention activities have been evaluated. As a result, the service is missing opportunities to improve what it provides the public.

We are pleased to see the service carries out several prevention activities. During the early stages of the pandemic, it was encouraging to see that a series of virtual resources were created, and we were told that 50 percent of primary schools in the service’s area had requested them. Water safety is carried out with the RNLI and the service has good links with the local authorities in its area to promote road safety. The service actively promotes its ‘Learn2Live’ road safety partnership, which runs events for Year 12 and 13 students (age 16–18). The events provide students with information and resources to help keep them safer on the roads.

Following a tragic fire, the service provided good support to its communities

The service provides a range of interventions that it adapts to the level of risk in its communities. Following a devastating fire in Exeter, where four people including two children tragically lost their lives, we were pleased to see the service put an effective intervention programme in place. The aim of the intervention was to provide prevention education and advice, in order to reassure and support students who were increasingly anxious about fire and its effects.

The service gave information to children to take home and provided advice in the school’s newsletter. Encouragingly, a total of 26 families had an HSV following this intervention. The service worked with the school’s psychologist and wellbeing teams to make sure the appropriate messages were given. In addition, the service provided HSVs in the wider community.

3

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

Good

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation.

 Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service was good 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 has an effective quality assurance process, so staff carry out audits and fire safety checks to an appropriate standard.

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

The protection plan outlines the service’s main risks

The service’s protection plan is linked to the risk it has identified in its IRMP. The service has identified fires in heritage premises and deliberate fires as some of its main risks.

Staff across the service are involved in this activity, with information effectively exchanged as needed. For example, wholetime operational staff carry out fire safety checks at lower-risk premises. The service has also added risk information and prevention staff to the building risk review team, which focuses on high-rise premises. This information is in turn used to adjust planning assumptions and direct activity between the service’s protection, prevention and response functions. This means resources are properly aligned to risk.

The service has made limited progress since the COVID-19 inspection

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. Since then we have found that the service has a backlog of inspections that it wasn’t able to complete during the pandemic. The service has a target to carry out 175 audits of high-risk premises annually. In the year ending 31 March 2021 it had only audited 96 such premises. It has no clear plan to complete these inspections.

The service adapted its protection activities positively during COVID-19

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. It continued to give support and guidance to care homes, hospitals and crematoriums as these premises were considered a priority to remain functional during the pandemic. Since then, we are encouraged to find that protection activity has continued, and wholetime operational staff and specialist protection staff are continuing to carry out face-to-face visits.

All high-risk premises will be inspected over a three-year cycle

The service has reviewed its RBIP, which is focused on the service’s highest-risk buildings. It uses a variety of methods to identify and categorise risk. The service identifies low-risk buildings, where fire safety checks will be carried out by operational staff, advocates (who work on zero-hours contracts to supplement regular staff) and some protection staff. The service told us it has identified 1,508 premises as high risk, such as buildings with sleeping accommodation, and specialist fire safety staff will inspect these over a three-year cycle. Protection staff we spoke to have a clear and consistent understanding of the service’s highest risk premises. The service is on track to inspect these premises by 2024 in line with its RBIP.

The service has an effective building risk review team

The service has been proactive in inspecting all high-rise buildings. It has set up a building risk review team that focuses primarily on high-rise premises in the service’s area. Audits have been carried out at all high-rise buildings the service has identified as using cladding that is similar to the cladding installed on Grenfell Tower.

We were pleased to see the service has added to the building risk review team an operational risk information officer and a prevention officer who will focus on their respective risks. This makes sure that a joined-up approach to prevention, protection and response is taken when visiting these premises. Information gathered during these audits is made available to response teams and control operators, enabling them to respond more effectively in an emergency.

At the time of our inspection, the service was on track to having revisited all the high‑rise, high-risk buildings in its area by the end of 2021. The service has told us it will continue to carry out this activity.

The fire safety audits sampled were completed to a consistently high standard

We were pleased to find that wholetime operational staff are aware of their requirement to conduct fire safety checks after receiving additional support. This was an area for improvement we identified in our previous inspection. Following the initial training course, the operational staff receive a two-yearly refresher. The wholetime operational staff we spoke to felt confident in completing fire safety checks.

We reviewed a range of audits of different premises across the service. This included audits as part of the service’s RBIP; after fires at premises where fire safety legislation applies; where enforcement action had been taken; and at high-rise, high‑risk buildings.

The audits we reviewed were completed to a high standard in a consistent, systematic way, and in line with the service’s policies. In most files we sampled, we found that the responsible person for the premises received the outcome of the audit either on the same day or within a two-week period.

We found that the service is carrying out far fewer audits per 100 known premises than the rate for England. However, we were pleased to see that, as of March 2021, 55 percent of fire safety audits result in an assessment that fire safety is unsatisfactory in the premises. This is much higher than the average for England of 25 percent. Encouragingly, this means that the service is consistently targeting the right premises. We are keen for services to focus as much on the quality of the audits as on the number of audits that are carried out.

Relevant information from the audits, such as the evacuation plans in high-rise premises, is made available to operational teams and control room operators. The service told us that a fire safety audit is carried out following a fire in commercial premises. However, not all the sampled post-fire records provided evidence that an audit had taken place.

The service is continuing to increase its resources in protection

The service has enough qualified protection staff to meet the requirements of the service’s RBIP. Wholetime operational staff complete fire safety checks and specialist fire safety staff complete fire safety audits. The service has recruited an additional 19 specialist fire safety staff to provide more resources in this function. 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 to appropriate accreditation. Most are working towards or have achieved their level 4 diploma in fire safety. The service is also investing in its operational crew managers. They complete a level 3 certificate in fire safety to enhance their skills.

Limited quality assurance is carried out

We found that limited quality assurance of its protection activity takes place. The service recognises this and has recently recruited a quality assurance officer. This will allow the service to assure the quality of the fire safety checks and audits that take place.

The service has a quality assurance process in place for enforcement notices. Managers check the contents of an enforcement notice before it is served. However, from the electronic files we sampled, we found limited evidence of this happening.

The service is good at using its full range of enforcement powers

The service consistently uses its full range of enforcement powers, and when appropriate, prosecutes those who don’t comply with fire safety regulations. For example, in February 2021, a property owner was given a suspended custodial sentence following a fire at a building of which they were landlord.

In the year to 31 March 2021, the service issued:

  • 2 alteration notices;
  • 13 enforcement notices; and
  • 11 prohibition notices.

It is encouraging to see that 17 prosecutions were completed between 2016 and 2021. The service can do this because it has built a good relationship with its legal counsel who provide support on enforcement and prosecution activities.

In our last inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should ensure it has effective arrangements for providing specialist protection advice out of hours. At the time of this inspection, the service introduced a new policy that allows fire safety staff (including those in non-operational roles) to respond to dangerous conditions out of hours.

The service works closely with partner agencies

The service works closely with other enforcement agencies to regulate fire safety and routinely exchanges risk information with them. The service has a protocol with some local authorities that provides clarification on which authority uses its powers in certain parts of a premises. The service has carried out joint inspections where necessary. For example, it inspected a high-rise residential building with Plymouth City Council that resulted in 42 flats being prohibited. The service worked closely with the housing teams to make sure the premises were safe.

The service regularly shares information with local housing providers, the police and the Care Quality Commission. It is currently working with Somerset Care, which is a care provider managing 27 care homes. It provides fire safety advice and carries out fire safety audits in these premises to make sure a consistent approach is taken.

The service responds to building and licensing consultations on time

The service responds to all building and licensing consultations on time, so consistently meets its statutory responsibility to comment on fire safety arrangements at new and altered buildings. The service has a general email address to which all building consultations are sent electronically. This results in the service being more efficient as it can allocate these consultations quickly to dedicated staff.

The service works well with businesses

The service proactively engages with local businesses and other organisations to promote compliance with fire safety legislation. We raised this as an area for improvement in our last inspection. During the early stages of the pandemic, the service contacted most care homes in its area. It provided fire safety guidance and support to the responsible person over the telephone.

In addition, the service set up a central fire safety help desk to give advice and support to premises’ responsible persons and/or business owners. The service has continued to run this help desk, which is staffed by two competent protection staff. Although the effectiveness of the fire safety help desk hasn’t been formally evaluated, the service told us that it received over 100 calls a month at the peak of activity with a similar number of emails. Any interactions with the responsible person or business owner are recorded on the relevant system to show that support has been provided.

We found that the service has a clear process for responding to fire safety complaints from the public. All complaints are received by the fire safety help desk and staff use their discretion on the type of response that is required.

The service has reduced its attendance to automatic fire alarms

A risk-based approach is in place to manage the number of automatic fire alarms. The service has a four-stage process following an automatic fire alarm activation. This ranges from first leaving an information leaflet at the premises to finally carrying out a fire safety audit. But some operational staff were unsure of what was required of them. The service can recover the cost of attendance to automatic fire alarms.

The service gets fewer unwanted automatic fire alarm activations because of this work. For the year to 31 March 2021, the number of automatic fire alarm activations decreased to 18 percent of all emergency calls received from 22 percent in the 12 months before. Fewer calls mean that fire engines are available to respond to a genuine incident rather than responding to a false one. It also reduces the risk to the public if fewer fire engines travel at high speed on the roads.

4

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

Good

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

Devon and Somerset 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 in their area.

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

The Safer Together programme is addressing the risks identified

The service’s Safer Together programme addresses how the risks identified in its IRMP will be mitigated. Its fire engines 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. For example, the service has created response plans against all incident types to make sure the right number of fire engines are attending incidents at the time of a call. It has also introduced a new service delivery model to better match its resources to risk in a Pay for Availability scheme for its on-call firefighters.

The service has improved its understanding of its response standard

There are no national response standards of performance for the public. But the service has set out its own response standards. In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should improve its performance against the response standards. The service has now set itself a 75 percent target of responding to dwelling fires within 10 minutes and RTCs within 15 minutes.

The service is now close to meeting all its standards. Home Office data shows that in the year to 31 March 2021, the service reached:

  • 71 percent of dwelling fires within the 10-minute target; and
  • 76 percent of RTCs within the 15-minute target.

The average response time to dwelling fires in the year to 31 March 2021 was 8 minutes 53 seconds, which is faster than the average for the predominantly rural service group of 9 minutes 11 seconds. The service has continually seen its call‑handling times decrease. It should update this performance standard in its IRMP.

Fire engine availability has been high

To support its response plan, the service aims to have:

  • 98 percent of 56 risk-critical fire engines available; and
  • 85 percent of the remaining 66 fire engines available at all times.

In 2020/21 the overall availability (wholetime and on-call combined) was 89 percent.

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should improve the availability of its on-call fire engines. The service has the highest number of on-call fire stations in England. In 2020/21 the availability of on-call fire engines was 88 percent, an encouraging improvement of 7 percent points compared to the previous year (it was 81 percent in 2019/20). We are pleased to see the availability of its on-call fire engines is improving.

Staff have a good understanding of how to command incidents safely

The service has trained incident commanders who are assessed regularly and properly. 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.

The service has an incident command vehicle, which can be sent to fire stations for training. This makes it easier for command assessments to take place. We found that incident commanders trained to levels 3 and 4 receive CPD. However, this is not always the case for some incident commanders trained to levels 1 and 2. The service should make sure all incident commanders receive CPD in between their two-yearly command assessments.

As part of our inspection, we interviewed incident commanders from across the service. The incident commanders we interviewed are 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).

The service has completed a gap analysis following adoption of national operational guidance. It is working with other fire and rescue services to implement the guidance and to make sure a consistent approach is applied.

Risk information is easily accessible to staff

We sampled a range of risk information for those premises the service considers highest risk, for example hospitals and a prison. Information included 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 up to date and detailed. It could be easily accessed and understood by staff. Encouragingly, it had been completed with input from the service’s prevention, protection and response functions when appropriate.

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. As part of the Network Fire Services Partnership (NFSP), the service has access to Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue service risk information. However, some operational staff, including fire control, were not aware of the risk information available to them from other 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.

There are good arrangements to keep the public informed about incidents

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 its website, which provides details about incidents on an interactive map. The service also uses social media to provide live incident information and to alert the public of disruption to local roads caused by incidents. The communications team have an out-of-hours contact rota, which can be accessed through fire control.

The service should test its ability to provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously

The service has an effective partnership with Dorset & Wiltshire and Hampshire & Isle of Wight fire and rescue services through the NFSP. All three services share the same mobilising system, which means that, when necessary, they can take emergency calls for each other and mobilise resources.

During our inspection, the service supported Hampshire & Isle of Wight FRS with that service’s ability to provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously. But the service hasn’t reviewed its own 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.

Control has good systems in place, for example Airwave radio, to exchange real-time risk information with incident commanders, other responding partner organisations and other supporting fire and rescue services. It has taken steps to review its high-rise procedures. Maintaining good situational awareness enables the service to communicate effectively with the public, providing them with accurate and tailored advice.

Fire control staff are not always included in major exercises

The service’s fire control staff are integrated into the service’s command, training, debrief and assurance activity. Fire control staff provided examples where they had been involved in a debrief following a fatality and the lessons learned were communicated to them.

But fire control staff aren’t always involved in major exercises that are arranged internally. This means that they don’t have the opportunity to learn from others or contribute to the exercises.

Effective operational debriefs are carried out

We identified an area for improvement in our last inspection that the service should assure itself that the learning from lower-level incidents is routinely being captured. We are pleased that the service has addressed this. The service has good arrangements to share and receive operational learning locally and nationally. This is managed by the operational assurance team, which acts as a single point of contact for receiving and sharing information.

As part of the inspection, we reviewed a range of emergency incidents and training events. These include fires that resulted in fatalities and exercises at the Devonport dockyard. The operational debriefs that we sampled had taken place within the timescales set out in policy. The service manages and identifies any trends and has responded to learning from incidents to improve its service for the public.

Of the respondents to our staff survey, 28 percent (114 of 413) said they weren’t confident the service listens to feedback after operational incidents. We found that some staff have problems with their breathing apparatus as the Bluetooth connectivity is not always reliable, but they aren’t provided with the resolution.

5

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

Good

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

Devon and Somerset 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. It has tactical and multi-agency plans for all its high-risk premises such as the Hinkley Point power station and Exeter Airport. The service also considers community risks such as wide-area flooding.

It is also familiar with some of the significant risks that could be faced by neighbouring fire and rescue services, which it might reasonably be asked to respond to in an emergency. The service was working with blue light and local authority partner organisations to support the planning for the G7 summit. But it has more to do. As previously mentioned, the service has access to risk information in some areas, but staff were not aware of all the significant risks faced by neighbouring fire and rescue services.

There are effective arrangements in place to respond to major and multi-agency incidents

We reviewed the arrangements the service has in place to respond to different major incidents, including marauding terrorist attacks (MTA). The service has good arrangements in place, which are well understood by staff. For example, fire control staff were familiar with what to do when a major incident is declared. And they knew how to request national resilience assets. To support them, a tactical advisor is assigned to fire control who acts as the liaison between fire control and the scene of the incident. The incident commanders we spoke to were confident in their ability to manage multi-agency incidents and work with partner organisations.

The service has its own MTA teams. It has trained all the service’s operational staff in MTA and aligned its staff to the latest joint operating principles. This was identified as an area for improvement in our last inspection. All station-based staff are required to undertake four MTA training exercises per year. To support a major incident, the service has resources such as:

There was a high-profile incident in Plymouth involving an active shooter who tragically killed five people. The incident was dealt with by the police, but the service was ready to deploy its resources. Ultimately, they were not needed.

It works effectively with its neighbouring fire and rescue services

The service supports other fire and rescue services responding to emergency incidents. In May 2020, the service supported Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service at the major fire in Wareham Forest. It used some of its national assets such as the high-volume pump. The service also supported Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service at the G7 summit, which involved national leaders from across the world. The service has formal agreements for providing support to its neighbouring services. It is intraoperable with these services and can form part of a multi-agency response.

Cross-border exercises take place

In our last inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should make sure it has effective arrangements in place to monitor service-wide and cross‑border exercises. The service has an organisational exercises procedure document, which sets out how exercises are carried out, including cross-border exercises. The service has worked with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and provided its operational staff with risk familiarisation and training on national assets.

The document also sets out how external organisations will be involved, such as Devon & Cornwall Police, local authorities and the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT). This enables them to work more effectively together to keep the public safe. We were encouraged to see that feedback from these exercises is used to inform risk information and service plans.

There is a good understanding of 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:

  • staff knowledge and use of the joint decision-making model; and
  • use of nationally recognised messaging (that is, messages that all emergency services and related agencies understand).

The service works well with its partner organisations

The service has good arrangements in place to respond to emergencies with other partners that make up the two local resilience forums (LRFs): Avon and Somerset; and Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly. These arrangements include working with the service’s partners to prepare multi-agency response plans for high-risk sites.

The service is a valued partner and is represented in the LRFs’ strategic and tactical co-ordinating groups and subgroups. During the initial stages of the pandemic, the service co-ordinated ambulance driving with the SWASFT for the south-west region, and shared information (such as the number of incidents it responded to). In addition, the service delivered essential items to vulnerable persons and trained NHS and clinical care staff who work with COVID-19 patients in the fitting of face masks. We were pleased to see the service continued to support SWASFT by providing staff to drive ambulances.

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. The service took part in regional exercises with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service in preparation for the G7 summit. It also carried out submarine and ship fire exercises.

The service keeps up to date with national learning

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

The service had attended an unexploded ordnance device in Exeter. The service mobilised its urban search and rescue team, among other resources, who assisted with the evacuation of residents. An internal command debrief was held and all learning was shared with the LRF multi-agency debrief group.

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