Skip to content
Promoting improvements
in policing and fire & rescue
services to make everyone safer

London 2021/22

Effectiveness

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.

London Fire Brigade required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

We found some areas have progressed since our inspection in 2019, but overall London Fire Brigade’s effectiveness hasn’t improved as we would have expected. We were disappointed to find the brigade hasn’t updated its integrated risk management plan (IRMP), which is called the London Safety Plan (LSP). The brigade has made good progress against the Grenfell Tower Inquiry findings but has been slow to complete some actions.

We were concerned to find that the brigade hasn’t developed a system to make sure its home fire safety visits (HFSVs) are prioritised by level of individual risk. The brigade is still not evaluating its prevention activity, so it doesn’t know how effective this work is.

We found the brigade has focused resources on inspecting high-risk, high-rise premises. However, this has been at the expense of maintaining its RBIP.

The brigade uses its enforcement powers well, but it can be slow to do this.

Not enough has been done to reduce unwanted fire signals, and more still needs to be done to improve the time the brigade takes to respond to statutory consultations.

The brigade is quick to respond to fires and has improved the way it manages casualty data from fire survival guidance calls. Also, firefighters’ access to up-to-date risk information for London has improved. But we found that since our last inspection progress in adopting national operational guidance has been slow. Incident commanders are still not recording risks at incidents in line with this guidance and learning from operational activity isn’t being shared quickly enough.

The brigade is prepared to respond to major incidents, but we found its response to terrorist incidents is limited, as it still hasn’t trained all its responding staff to respond to this incident type. The brigade needs to carry out more exercises, particularly with other services, to make sure it can work effectively with them and other partners.

Questions for Effectiveness

1

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

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at understanding risk.

London Fire Brigade 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 brigade should update and publish its IRMP, the London Safety Plan (LSP), so it can outline to the public current and future risks and how the brigade will mitigate them.
  • The brigade should make sure that the aims and objectives of prevention, protection and response activity are clearly outlined in its IRMP, the LSP.

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

Use of local level data needs to improve

The brigade has assessed an appropriate range of risks and threats to develop its IRMP 2017–21. This is called the London Safety Plan (LSP). But the information in the LSP is out of date and doesn’t clearly direct prevention, protection and response activity.

This is disappointing because when the brigade assesses risk, it considers relevant information collected from a broad range of internal and external sources and data sets. This includes the use of computer-based modelling, social data and information from operational incidents.

It uses borough plans to identify and manage local risk in each of the 32 London boroughs plus the City of London, but these plans are also not clearly linked to the LSP and data from them isn’t used to inform the brigade’s risk profile.

When appropriate, the brigade has consulted and undertaken constructive dialogue with communities and others such as MPs, Transport for London (TfL) and brigade staff to both understand the risk and explain how it intends to mitigate it. For example, the LSP proposes relocating Kingston fire station’s second fire engine. Following public consultation, the brigade delayed this move. In 2018, the brigade carried out a review which found response times had improved for the second fire engine, so it was kept at Kingston.

Strategic commitments to manage risk are out of date

In 2021, the LSP wasn’t refreshed as intended. Instead, it was extended to 2023. This means its underpinning assumptions and data are more than four years old, so the brigade’s plans and direction aren’t aligned with the LSP. For example:

  • commitments for a new training centre with high-rise training have been discontinued;
  • London Fire Brigade Enterprises is no longer trading; and
  • the brigade’s prevention and protection plans aren’t aligned to the LSP.

Information about the LSP and the reasons for its extension, isn’t communicated to the public well enough, so it is difficult for the public, brigade staff, and other interested parties to understand what the current risks are in London, and how the brigade is using its prevention, protection and response resources to mitigate risks, both now and in the future.

The brigade has started work on a new community risk management plan (CRMP), which will replace the LSP, but progress has been too slow.

Assessment of premises’ risk has improved

The brigade routinely collects and updates the information it has about the people, places and threats it has identified as being at greatest risk. This includes tall buildings that the brigade has assessed as high risk (for example, those with combustible cladding).

We are reassured to find the brigade has worked to improve its approach in identifying and assessing premises’ risk. It has identified 7,575 addresses (such as high-rise residential buildings) that meet the requirements for an electronic premises information plate (EPIP). The EPIP is a risk record containing important information such as building layout drawings and details of lift locations. The brigade told us that every high-rise building in London has an EPIP in place.

We found premises’ risk information is well-managed through a central team. When new building risks are identified, crews must assess the level of risk by completing a premises’ risk assessment. Operational crews have been trained to do these assessments.

The brigade uses the risk score from a premise’s previous visit to establish when it should be reassessed. However, we found some of these reassessment visits aren’t always completed within the set timescales. Some staff we spoke to said they struggle to maintain their schedules due to the high number of high-risk premises in their area. We do not underestimate the significant work required to maintain these scheduled visits. Figures provided by the brigade state that approximately 8,500 of the country’s 12,000 residential high-rises are located in the brigade’s operating area.

Risk information is quickly updated

The brigade has made good progress in the area for improvement we identified in our previous inspection in 2019, which was to make sure all its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information.

After a fire safety audit, the fire safety audit software automatically updates stations on any changes to risk information. Changes in premises’ risk information can also be immediately updated on the brigade’s mobile data terminals and the quality of the information is checked by station commanders. Firefighters we spoke to told us that most mobile data terminals have now been upgraded, although connectivity is sometimes a problem.

We reviewed some risk files as part of our inspection. Firefighters can access these through the mobile data terminals. We found files were up to date and completed to a good standard. This means firefighters have access to accurate risk information to keep the public and themselves safe.

Routine sharing of risk information needs to improve

The brigade has some processes for sharing risk information, including station notification forms and monthly operational news bulletins. Despite these processes more work is needed so staff in prevention, protection and response roles can access the information they need.

For example, we found that information shared through station notification forms isn’t routinely shared with prevention staff. Relevant information relating to HFSVs isn’t always shared with the protection team. Some staff told us that the distribution of risk information relies on ad-hoc email and verbal updates.

The brigade is developing an IT system that will make all of its premises’ risk information accessible in one place. But this isn’t due to be in place until 2024, and currently risk information is stored on several separate systems. The brigade should update its processes to improve the routine sharing of risk information between staff in prevention, protection and response roles.

The brigade needs to share learning from incidents more quickly

We found some evidence that the brigade learns and acts on feedback from either local or national operational activity. For example, the brigade identified lithium-ion battery storage as an increasing area of risk. It worked with TfL and, as a result, e‑scooters have been banned from TfL’s buses and trains.

During our inspection we inspected incident debrief records. Among the files we reviewed, we found significant learning was recorded for a major high-rise incident that happened six months ago. Worryingly, we found this learning had still not been shared with firefighters.

The brigade has made good progress on Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations

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.

London Fire Brigade has responded positively and proactively to learning from this tragedy. At the time of our inspection, the brigade had assessed the risk of every high-rise building in its area.

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 that have cladding similar to the cladding installed on Grenfell Tower.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report made 46 recommendations, with 29 of them aimed solely at the brigade or other fire and emergency services. The brigade put together a comprehensive action plan to address these recommendations.

In February 2021, we published our report into the progress the brigade had made against these 29 recommendations. We found the brigade had completed action on only four of the 29 recommendations. This has now progressed and at the end of our inspection the brigade reported it had completed 26 out of 29 actions.

The brigade has been slow to make progress on some of the actions identified in our 2021 report. For example, a programme of large-scale high-rise exercises was due to start in April 2021, but we found they hadn’t begun until September 2021.

At the time of this inspection, three of five planned high-rise exercises were cancelled due to increased risk from the COVID-19 Omicron variant. The brigade should make sure it prioritises this work for completion.

2

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

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at preventing fires and other risks.

London Fire Brigade 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.

Cause of concern

The brigade doesn’t adequately prioritise HFSVs on the basis of risk. It doesn’t have a system in place that allows for the consistent assessment of risk levels among those people it has already identified as being at greatest risk from fire.

Recommendations

By 31 May 2022, the brigade should develop an action plan to:

  • develop a prevention strategy that clearly details how it will implement its prevention activity;
  • develop an effective system that assesses levels of risk among those people it has already identified as being at greatest risk from fire;
  • make sure it prioritises HFSVs for those people it has identified as being at greatest risk from fire; and
  • develop a plan that addresses the HFSV backlog in a way that is both timely and prioritised on the basis of risk.

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should better evaluate its prevention work, so it fully understands how effective it is at reducing the risk of fires and other emergencies.
  • The brigade should make sure it quality assures its prevention activity, so staff carry out HFSVs to an appropriate standard.
  • The brigade should improve its use of communications to provide fire prevention information and to promote community safety.
  • The brigade should ensure safeguarding training is undertaken by 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 prevention plan is out of date

At the time of our inspection, the brigade had no prevention plan in place for 2021/22. Because of this we couldn’t see how prevention resources were being used to support the objectives in its LSP.

The brigade has identified factors relating to people, such as age and mobility, and place, such as living in a deprived area, that put individuals at greater risk from fire and other emergencies. However, apart from setting targets for how many HFSVs should be completed, we found little evidence of meaningful evaluation to show how successful the brigade’s activity is at targeting activity and reducing risk.

Those most at risk aren’t always prioritised

The brigade relies on referrals from other organisations to identify people and premises that would benefit from HFSVs. Factors such as age, mobility and whether a person uses oxygen are used to identify people who are at greater risk from fire.

However, we are concerned to find that there is no system in place to establish which individuals are at greatest need among those classed as high risk. Prevention staff told us there is no risk scoring process to determine how high-risk referrals are prioritised. Staff in the brigade’s four separate call centres are prioritising referrals based on their judgment, rather than following a systematic prioritisation process. This means the highest-risk individuals aren’t getting the fastest response.

We are also concerned that there are no set risk-based timescales to make sure those most at risk are seen the quickest. This was evident among the HFSVs files we reviewed as part of our inspection. For example, an elderly person with hearing problems and without good smoke detection in their home was referred for an HFSV, but the visit took five weeks to complete.

The pandemic has had a negative effect on the brigade’s prevention activity

We considered how the brigade had adapted its prevention work during our COVID-19 specific inspection between September and October 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its public prevention work appropriately.

In 2019/20 the brigade carried out 76,846 HFSVs. This decreased to 23,339 HFSVs in 2020/21. Fewer HFSVs have been completed because the brigade’s working practices changed during lockdown to focus on the most vulnerable people, who needed urgent visits. But firefighters told us that some people didn’t want to see the brigade due to COVID-19 concerns. Some firefighters told us that competing demands on their time also meant they were struggling to achieve HFSV targets.

As of 31 March 2021, the brigade had a backlog of 6,724 HFSVs. The brigade is aware of this and is putting a plan in place to reduce this. However, we have concerns about how these visits will be prioritised. We found the brigade doesn’t have a robust system in place to identify individual risk level and make sure those at highest risk will receive the fastest response.

The brigade still carries out some HFSVs by phone. It has also developed a home fire safety check app. The brigade should continue to develop alternative methods to support its HFSV work.

Staff training and quality checks need improvement

Most staff told us they have the right skills and confidence to make HFSVs. These checks cover an appropriate range of hazards that can put vulnerable people at greater risk from fire and other emergencies.

Not all staff who carry out HFSVs have had training. Some firefighters told us they learned by watching others. This means HFSVs could be being carried out to different standards. The brigade should make sure all staff who carry out HFSVs receive appropriate training.

The brigade doesn’t routinely check the quality of its HFSV work. Most staff we spoke to weren’t aware of any quality assurance of HFSVs. This means the brigade can’t assure itself that HFSVs are being completed to a consistent standard. Learning opportunities which could improve the brigade’s services to the public are being missed.

In our first inspection, we were told that the brigade were piloting safe and well visits in five London boroughs. We were disappointed to find that, despite the success of the trials, the brigade has decided not to offer this enhanced service to the public.

All staff should receive safeguarding training

Staff we interviewed told us about occasions when they had identified safeguarding problems. They told us they feel confident to act appropriately and promptly. Some staff we spoke to had received safeguarding training.

We found safeguarding training is made available to staff, including operational crews. However, in our review of staff competence files, we found that some staff with responsibility for safeguarding issues had no record of any safeguarding training.

The brigade collaborates effectively with other organisations and volunteers

The brigade works well with a range of other organisations such as other emergency services and TfL to prevent fires and other emergencies. For example, a major supplier of oxygen cylinders sends the brigade a monthly list of its oxygen users. This means the brigade can update its risk database to show which premises may have oxygen cylinders.

We were pleased to see the brigade’s cadets programme is available in all 32 London boroughs plus the City of London. The programme is run by brigade staff and a team of trained volunteers. The brigade collects feedback from those who attend the programme. We found this feedback to be extremely positive.

The brigade routinely exchanges information with other public sector organisations about people and groups at greatest risk. It uses the information to challenge planning assumptions and target prevention activity. For example, the brigade is working with Thames Water Safety Partnership to install more throwlines at waterside locations where greater risk of drowning has been identified.

The service is good at tackling fire-setting behaviour

The brigade has effective interventions to target and educate people of different ages who show signs of fire-setting behaviour. This includes a fire setters’ intervention scheme, in which a small team gives tailored support to young people on a one-to-one basis, to address fire-setting behaviour.

We found the brigade does prioritise HFSV referrals where there is an arson risk. Staff aim to carry out visits within 24 hours of receiving arson-risk referrals, and fit equipment such as arson-proof letter boxes. The brigade also has arson prevention information available on its website.

Improved evaluation of prevention activity is needed

We found little evidence that the brigade evaluates how effective its activity is or makes sure all its communities get equal access to prevention activity that meets their needs. The brigade has worked with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to improve its evaluation, but the results of this work had not yet been applied at the time of this inspection. Prevention staff told us that evaluation is still not part of most prevention activity.

Without evaluation, the brigade can’t be sure its prevention resources are being used in the best ways to reduce risk and make people safer. As a result, the brigade is missing opportunities to improve what it provides the public.

The brigade has made limited progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should better evaluate its prevention work, so it fully understands how effective it is at reducing the risk of fires and other emergencies.

The brigade’s safety campaigns need better co-ordination

We saw examples of London-wide campaigns which the brigade has run to raise awareness of safety issues. A recent example is the Balcony Barbecue Campaign. This was introduced in response to increased barbecues on balconies during COVID‑19 lockdowns.

Information about these campaigns isn’t communicated well enough with staff. When we spoke to staff who attend community events, they told us that they had stopped receiving updates about which campaigns are running. This means they couldn’t co-ordinate campaign messages with the communities they work with.

There is also limited tailoring of campaign communication towards vulnerable groups. The brigade should make sure that its campaign messages are accessible, and that they meet the diverse needs of its communities.

3

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

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at protecting the public through fire regulation.

London Fire Brigade 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 brigade needs to be able to measure that it is meeting the targets set out in its RBIP to be assured it is effectively protecting the public from fires.
  • The brigade should make sure it addresses effectively the burden of false alarms.
  • The brigade should make sure it responds in time to building regulation consultations.
  • The brigade should develop a protection strategy that demonstrates how protection resource will be used to protect the public from fire both now and in the future.
  • The brigade should make sure it allocates enough resources to a prioritised RBIP.
  • The brigade should make sure it puts in place measures so it can meet its planned schedule of fire safety audits.
  • The brigade should make sure it works with local businesses and large organisations to share information and expectations on compliance with fire safety regulations.

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

Protection plans are not effectively managed

We were disappointed to find the brigade doesn’t have an up-to-date protection plan. This means we couldn’t tell how its fire safety work is aligned to its LSP objectives. We found the protection team’s work plan was last reviewed in 2018.

The LSP is based on information from 2017. This is when the brigade outlined its main fire safety risks. Even if its fire safety work was aligned to its LSP objectives, the brigade can’t assure itself that the fire safety risks identified in the LSP accurately reflect London’s current risks.

The brigade has focused on inspecting high-risk, high-rise buildings

The Building Risk Review (BRR) identified 8,517 high-rise addresses in London, which is significantly more than any other fire and rescue service in England. The brigade had to inspect each one. The purpose of this inspection was to identify high-rise buildings that have aluminium composite material cladding, and to assess how the buildings are managed and what fire safety measures they have in place.

We were impressed to find the brigade has carried out audits at all 8,517 addresses. This includes high-rise buildings the brigade had identified as using cladding that is similar to the cladding installed on Grenfell Tower. The brigade told us it had completed this work by the end of October 2021, ahead of the December 2021 target set by government.

Information gathered during these audits is made available to response teams and control operators, enabling them to respond more effectively in an emergency. Brigade resources are committed to regularly monitoring its highest-risk high-rise buildings.

The brigade isn’t maintaining its RBIP

The brigade has an RBIP. It uses several methods to decide how high risk a building is, and how often to visit. Premises with sleeping risk, such as care homes, are classed as high risk.

We are concerned the brigade isn’t maintaining its RBIP. We found a backlog of audits among the files we inspected. Many premises, including those classed as high risk, were overdue for inspection. Some staff told us they don’t routinely carry out audits on premises identified by the RBIP. Some of the files we reviewed supported this.

Protection staff told us that they were focused on completing BRR work. We heard that the volume and scale of this work, combined with a lack of competent staff, were the main reasons why the RBIP hadn’t been maintained. We were told that the database used to manage the RBIP wasn’t fit for purpose. The brigade plans to replace this system.

Due to prioritising its BRR work, the brigade has made limited progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade needs to be able to check it is meeting the targets set out in its RBIP, to make sure it is effectively protecting the public from fires.

The brigade carries out good quality audits

We reviewed a range of audits of different premises across the brigade. This included audits as part of the brigade’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 brigade’s policies. Relevant information from the audits is made available to operational teams and control room operators.

The quality assurance of the brigade’s audits is good

Quality assurance of protection activity takes place in a proportionate way. The brigade has a team that quality assures its protection work, including making annual quality assurance visits to protection teams. Protection managers told us they check the quality of the audits completed by their inspecting officers. Among the audit files we reviewed as part of our inspection we found clear examples of quality assurance.

The brigade makes good use of enforcement powers

The brigade consistently uses most of its enforcement powers, and when appropriate, prosecutes those who don’t comply with fire safety regulations. The brigade has a comprehensive enforcement policy and a dedicated enforcement team.

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

  • 2 alteration notices;
  • 1,654 informal notifications;
  • 276 enforcement notices; and
  • 57 prohibition notices.

The brigade completed 19 prosecutions from 2016/17 to 2019/20. However, we were surprised to see it hadn’t completed any in 2020/21. Protection staff told us that COVID-19 delays had caused a backlog in the court system which may have affected a number of prosecutions carried out in 2020/21.

We were encouraged to see evidence of 5 prosecutions completed in 2021/22. This included prosecuting a major care services provider for failing in its fire safety duties. As a result, the provider was fined £937,500.

The brigade is slow to carry out enforcement action

The brigade isn’t always effectively managing its enforcement action. We were told that the enforcement team should check and authorise enforcement notices within 28 days. However, some notices were still waiting authorisation after five weeks. We reviewed two files that showed it had taken three months to issue enforcement notices after the initial inspection.

Some inspecting officers we spoke to told us that the enforcement process was slow, because of a lack of resource in the enforcement team. The brigade should make sure enforcement action is carried out within the timescales it has set itself, and that it is efficiently managed.

The brigade hasn’t had enough staff to carry out all its planned work

The brigade doesn’t have enough qualified protection staff to support its audit and enforcement activity.

Protection staff told us they couldn’t maintain the RBIP due to lack of competent protection staff and the significant demands of its BRR work. We reviewed files from the brigade’s RBIP which showed audit backlogs and reinspection deadlines being missed. The brigade has also cancelled its primary authority work due to lack of resource.

The brigade is taking steps to increase levels of competent protection staff. Its competent protection staff numbers grew from 118 in 2019/20 to 135 in 2020/21 (an increase of 17). However, over the same time, there were fewer staff in development, with 24 in development in 2020/21 compared to 28 in 2019/20.

The brigade has now set up a dedicated training facility to increase the amount of qualified protection staff. It is investing in its station commanders by training them to a Level 3 certificate in fire safety. We were encouraged to find operational crews were being trained to complete fire safety checks on low and medium-risk premises.

The brigade could work more with other organisations

The brigade works closely with other enforcement bodies to regulate fire safety. It routinely exchanges risk information with them.

During inspection we saw evidence of the brigade working with other organisations, such as building control and local councils. However, some of the organisations it works with told us they felt the brigade could support their work better.

The brigade needs to do more to respond to building consultations on time

The brigade doesn’t always respond to building consultations on time, so doesn’t consistently meet its statutory responsibility to comment on fire safety arrangements at new and altered buildings. In 2020/21 the brigade responded to 61.9 percent of all building regulation consultations and 52.0 percent of all licencing consultations in the expected time.

To improve its response to statutory consultations, the brigade has set up a centralised building control hub. This takes consultation work away from area fire safety teams and makes it the responsibility of a specialist central team. At the time of this inspection the hub was completing statutory consultations for 14 London boroughs.

Figures from the brigade show that as of October 2021 the hub had returned all 360 consultations it received on time. The brigade plans to increase resource in the hub so it can cover more London boroughs. We look forward to seeing how this work progresses.

While the brigade has made some progress, the following area for improvement identified in 2019 remains. The brigade should make sure it responds in time to building regulation consultations.

The brigade does limited engagement with businesses

The brigade could do more to engage with local businesses and other organisations to promote compliance with fire safety legislation. During our inspection we found the brigade had suspended its primary authority relationships with other organisations.

Other than publishing fire safety information for businesses on its website, we found little evidence of direct work with businesses. This means the brigade is missing opportunities to promote to businesses the benefits of compliance with fire safety legislation.

The brigade needs to do more to reduce unwanted fire signals

The brigade hasn’t done enough to reduce the number of unwanted fire signals. In 2020/21, the brigade attended 96,702 incidents, of which 46,919 (48.5 percent) were false alarms. Out of the 46,919 false alarms attended, 34,597 (73.7 percent) were automated fire alarms.

Brigade figures show an increase in the number of false alarms and automated fire alarms in 2021 compared to 2020. This means that engines may be unavailable to respond to genuine incidents because they are attending false alarms. It also creates a risk to the public if more fire engines travel at high speed on roads to respond to these incidents.

The brigade established an unwanted fire signal team to improve brigade policy on false alarm management. At the time of our inspection, we found much of the team’s work had yet to be put into practice. The brigade should quickly introduce any improvements that will effectively reduce false alarms.

The brigade has made little progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should make sure it addresses effectively the burden of false alarms.

4

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

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at responding to fires and other emergencies.

London Fire Brigade 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.

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should make sure it puts in place and delivers a plan to adopt national operational guidance.
  • The brigade should make sure staff accurately record risk assessments and control measures implemented at an incident, to alert commanders to workplace risks and help put safety control measures in place at the incident ground.
  • The brigade should make sure its system for learning from operational debriefs is effective and that staff understand how to record learning from operational incidents.
  • The brigade should make sure its response strategy provides the most appropriate response for the public in line with its IRMP, the LSP.
  • The brigade should make sure its operational staff have good access to relevant and up-to-date cross-border risk information.

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

The brigade responds quickly to fires

There are no national response standards of performance for the public. Home Office data on response times measures the time as being between a call being made and the first fire engine arriving at the scene. In the year to 31 March 2021, the brigade’s average response time to primary fires by Home Office standards was 6 minutes and 24 seconds. This is faster than the average for predominantly urban services, and the second fastest response time compared to other fire and rescue services in England.

Some services measure their own response standards in different ways to the Home Office. The brigade has set its response standards in the LSP. These are:

  • first fire engine anywhere in London within an average time of 6 minutes;
  • second fire engine anywhere in London within an average time of 8 minutes;
  • a fire engine anywhere in London within 10 minutes on 90 percent of occasions; and
  • a fire engine anywhere in London within 12 minutes on 95 percent of occasions.

The brigade consistently exceeds its own standards. For the year 2020/21 the average attendance time of its first fire engine was 4 minutes and 59 seconds. The average attendance time of its second fire engine was 6 minutes and 11 seconds. A fire engine attended anywhere in London within 10 minutes 97.8 percent of the time, and within 12 minutes 99.0 percent of the time.

The brigade’s response standards are based on equal entitlement

The brigade’s response standards are based on a guiding principle of equal access. This means that according to the principle, even if someone lives in an area where the likelihood of a fire is lower, they should not have a slower response time. These standards are based on historical data and haven’t changed since 2005. The brigade should review its response standards to make sure they are proportionate to current and future risks.

To maintain this principle, there has been little change to fire station locations and working patterns. In the LSP, the brigade committed to exploring alternative working patterns so that it can offer a more flexible response using appropriate resources. Despite this, crews continue to work the same shift patterns.

We found that the brigade’s average response times are significantly quicker than the ones it has set under its guiding principle. Some staff told us the brigade keeps more operational staff than it would ordinarily need, in case it has to respond to large-scale incidents such as flooding. The brigade should review how it allocates its resources, to make sure it can respond to incidents in an efficient and effective way.

The brigade has high levels of fire engine availability but doesn’t meet its own target

To support its response model, the brigade has set itself a challenging target of having 100 percent of fire engines available on 100 percent of occasions. This is because all of the brigade’s 102 fire stations are covered by.

Although fire engine availability is high, the brigade doesn’t meet this standard. In 2020/21, overall fire engine availability was 95.1 percent, compared to 96.9 percent in 2019/20. Despite fire engines being available over 90 percent of the time throughout all stations, none of them met the brigade’s target of 100 percent availability.

The brigade has been slow to implement national operational guidance

National operational guidance is guidance for all fire and rescue services on developing policies, procedures and training based on nationally recognised standards.

The brigade has a dedicated resource to apply national operational guidance to its policies, procedures and training. However, progress has been slow. We were told this was due to the large number of policies that need to be reviewed and consulted on with representative bodies.

While the brigade has made some progress, the following area for improvement identified in 2019 remains. The brigade should make sure it puts in place and delivers a plan to adopt national operational guidance.

Incident commanders are trained and assessed in the management of incidents

In our first inspection in 2019 we had concerns that the brigade wasn’t training and assessing the competence of its incident commanders in line with national guidance.

Since our previous inspection, we were pleased to find that the brigade has developed a process to train and re-assess its incident commanders at all levels. Each incident commander, once they have received their incident command training, is reassessed every two years. This follows national operational guidance and will enable the brigade 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. This is an improvement from our previous inspection.

Incident commanders don’t always follow national guidance

As part of this inspection, we interviewed incident commanders throughout the brigade. We were disappointed to find that not all of them were confident explaining how they complete risk assessments, make decisions and record information at incidents in line with national guidance.

The brigade has been slow to adopt national operational guidance, including the use of analytical risk assessments and decision-making models. This means that its systems work in different ways to surrounding services. We also found some Level 1 commanders were unfamiliar with the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP).

The incident commanders we spoke to understand the use of operational discretion. Of the respondents to our staff survey, 63 percent (303 out of 478) felt they would be supported by the brigade in the use of operational discretion. At the time of our inspection, we were surprised to be told that use of operational discretion by the brigade had only been recorded 5 times since 2019/20.

The brigade has made no progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should make sure staff accurately record risk assessments and control measures implemented at an incident, to alert commanders to workplace risks and help put safety control measures in place at the incident ground.

Control staff should have more opportunities to be involved in major exercises

Control staff are integrated into the brigade’s command, training, exercise, debrief and assurance activity. For example, a member of fire control staff told us they acted as an observer at an exercise, to give feedback on fire survival guidance.

But some control staff we spoke to said they hadn’t been involved in major exercises due to lack of staff to cover control. The brigade should make sure that control staff have the opportunity to contribute to brigade exercises.

The brigade has improved how fire survival calls are handled

The control room staff we interviewed are confident they could provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously. We found control staff were well-trained to deal with fire survival guidance. This was confirmed by the training files we reviewed as part of our inspection. Control operators must take part in a regular programme of fire survival training to maintain their operational competence.

We were encouraged to find the brigade has taken steps to revise and update its fire survival guidance policy. A new evacuation and rescue policy has been introduced. This was identified as learning for fire services after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Fire control has developed a system to exchange real-time risk information with incident commanders, responding partners and other supporting fire and rescue services. A single point of contact at the incident ground and a single point of contact in control relay information, including fire survival guidance, using a dedicated radio channel.

Existing control software has been adapted to allow the recording of fire survival information, such as if a person has been evacuated or still needs rescuing. This information can then be relayed to the incident ground. Maintaining good situational awareness helps the brigade to communicate effectively with the public, providing them with accurate and tailored advice.

Another positive development is that the brigade has developed a fire survival guidance app to improve fire survival communications.

Arrangements are in place with North West Fire Control, which will take calls for the brigade if needed. However, some control staff we spoke to aren’t confident in the process for taking calls from other services.

Risk information for London is good

We were pleased to find the brigade has carried out significant work to improve its approach to assessing premises’ risk. EPIPs are created for the highest-risk buildings. Changes in risk can be immediately updated by firefighters through mobile data terminals carried on fire engines.

We sampled a range of risk information from the brigade’s operational risk database and from fire stations. This included information about high-rise premises and a hospital. The information we reviewed was up to date and detailed. It could be easily accessed and understood by staff. 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.

But we were disappointed to find the brigade doesn’t hold cross-border risk information on its computer systems. We found operational and control staff couldn’t access cross-border risk information when asked.

We found good arrangements in place to manage temporary risks. Control staff can put temporary risk information onto the computer system. This will then show on a station’s information sheet, should a crew be called to an incident. Control use technology that allows callers to securely send incident footage from mobile phones.

The brigade needs to share operational learning more quickly

The brigade has taken steps to improve its debriefing process. We found that it is recording learning from incidents in more detail, including identifying individual and organisational learning. We found the size of debrief depends on the number of fire appliances involved at the incident. Learning is distributed to operational staff through a newsletter.

We were disappointed to find that the new process wasn’t yet fully introduced throughout the brigade. Consultations about the new debrief policy with representative bodies weren’t finished, and operational staff we spoke to still referred to the old debrief system. We were told that hot debriefs weren’t being recorded. This isn’t consistent with the brigade’s new debrief process. This means opportunities for learning are being missed.

As part of the inspection, we reviewed a range of emergency incidents and training events. These include fires at commercial premises and high-rise buildings.

We were concerned to find the brigade doesn’t always act on learning it has, or should have, identified from incidents. This means it isn’t routinely improving its service to the public. For example, on 7 May 2021, a fire took place at New Providence Wharf, which is a high-rise building. This was declared as a major incident. We found learning from this incident had still not been shared six months after the fire. The brigade needs to take immediate action to address this.

The brigade contributes to and acts on learning from other fire and rescue services, or operational learning gathered from other emergency service partners. This includes a review of operational guidance after a fire appliance was used to transport a casualty to hospital when an ambulance wasn’t available.

While the brigade has made some progress, the following area for improvement identified in 2019 remains. The brigade should make sure its system for learning from operational debriefs is effective and that staff understand how to record learning from operational incidents.

The brigade has good arrangements for keeping the public informed

The brigade has good systems in place to inform the public about continuing incidents and help keep them safe during and after incidents. Systems include the brigade’s website and social media.

We found brigade communications staff were part of the London Resilience Forum (LRF) communication group. This makes sure communication about significant multi‑agency incidents is co-ordinated effectively between agencies.

5

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

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at responding to major and multi‑agency incidents.

London Fire Brigade 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).

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should make sure cross-border risks are made known to crews. It should run a programme of over the border exercises, passing on the lessons learned from these exercises.
  • The brigade should make sure all frontline staff, and not just specialist response teams, are well protected and well prepared for being part of a multi‑agency response to a community risk identified by the local resilience forum, including a marauding terrorist attack. It should make sure that all staff understand its procedures for responding to terrorist-related incidents.
  • The brigade should make sure it is well-prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to an incident and all relevant staff know how to apply JESIP.

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

The brigade is well prepared for major and multi-agency incidents in London

The brigade has effectively anticipated and considered the reasonably foreseeable risks and threats it may face. This includes dealing with the pandemic and wide-area flooding.

All responses are informed by the London Risk Assessment, which details protocols, so all agencies understand their role when responding to major incidents. Each of the 32 London boroughs plus the City of London has a resilience group, and each group has an emergency planning function.

The brigade is familiar with some of the significant risks in neighbouring fire and rescue services, which it might reasonably be asked to respond to in an emergency. However, the brigade’s computer system doesn’t hold information for cross-border risks. This means control operators and responding crews are reliant on information being provided by neighbouring services. The brigade should act quickly to address this.

Good understanding of major incident procedures

We reviewed the arrangements the brigade has in place to respond to different major incidents, including responding to terrorist attacks and fires in high-risk, high‑rise buildings.

The brigade has good arrangements in place, which are well understood by staff. It has a range of specialist resources available to respond to major incidents. These include high-volume pumps, and urban search and rescue teams.

Control staff we spoke to knew how to respond to a major incident and how to request national resilience assets if needed. Incident commanders knew what to do when faced with a major incident. One example of this knowledge was the brigade’s response to a high-rise fire at New Providence Wharf.

The brigade has limited resource to respond to terrorist incidents

The brigade has a well-trained specialist team who respond to terrorist incidents. But we were concerned that, at the time of inspection, the brigade hadn’t trained its non-specialist firefighters to respond to marauding terrorist attacks. This could affect how its firefighters work alongside other blue light responders. If they aren’t following the same procedures, public safety could be compromised. This means the brigade has a limited response to terrorist incidents.

The brigade has made no progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should make sure all frontline staff, and not just specialist response teams, are well protected and well prepared for being part of a multi-agency response to a community risk identified by the local resilience forum, including a marauding terrorist attack. It should make sure that all staff understand its procedures for responding to terrorist‑related incidents.

The way the brigade works with other fire services could be improved

The brigade supports other fire and rescue services responding to emergency incidents. For example, it deployed assets, including national incident liaison officers, to a terrorist-related incident in West Sussex. It has mutual aid agreements in place with bordering services such as Kent and Essex.

It could do more to improve the way it works with other services and forms part of a multi-agency response. For example, we found incident commanders aren’t using the nationally recognised processes for decision-making and recording risk that all other services use. However, the brigade uses cross-border liaison officers to help maintain safe systems of work with other services.

The brigade needs to do more cross-border exercises

The brigade has cross-border exercise plans with neighbouring fire and rescue services. This enables them to work more effectively together to keep the public safe. However, we found the level of detail in the plans for each of the four geographic areas to be inconsistent.

In 2020/21, the brigade carried out 1.9 exercises with neighbouring services per 1,000 firefighters. This is below the England rate of 7.2 exercises. Fifty-eight percent (413 out of 707) of respondents to our survey hadn’t participated in exercising or training with neighbouring services in the past 12 months. The pandemic has restricted the number of cross-border exercises.

Operational crews can’t access cross-border risk information. Some firefighters we spoke to said learning from these exercises wasn’t always shared. The brigade has acknowledged it has more work to do to improve its cross-border work.

The brigade has made limited progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should make sure cross-border risks are made known to crews. It should run a programme of over-the-border exercises and pass on the lessons learned from these exercises.

The brigade needs to do more work to improve interoperability

The brigade has a comprehensive strategic response plan to respond to major incidents. The plan clearly outlines structures, roles and the main response actions. It also details the need for all officers to understand the JESIP. These principles make sure other emergency services and partners work together effectively during emergencies.

Not all of the incident commanders we interviewed as part of our inspection had been trained in or were familiar with JESIP. We were concerned to be told by some that they chose to use the brigade decision-making model or relied on their own experience, rather than apply JESIP.

The brigade works well with resilience forum partners

The brigade has good arrangements in place to respond to emergencies with other partners that make up the LRF. These arrangements include hosting the LRF secretariat.

The brigade is a valued partner and either chairs or is represented at all strategic or tactical LRF groups. The brigade 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.

For example, the brigade has led the development of multi-agency, high-rise exercises. This development involved borough council emergency planning teams, who added elements of their major incident response, such as structural risk, to the exercises.

During the pandemic, the brigade formed part of a pandemic multi-agency response team. This was to help with transporting the deceased. The brigade supported London Ambulance Service by driving ambulances.

The brigade is good at sharing learning among blue light partners

The brigade keeps itself up to date with national operational learning updates from other fire services and joint organisational learning from other emergency service organisations such as the police service and ambulance trusts. This learning is used to inform planning assumptions that have been made with other partners. During our inspection, the brigade gave examples of where it had contributed to national and joint organisational learning, such as one occasion when it had to transport a casualty on a fire appliance when an ambulance wasn’t available.

English Cymraeg