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Northamptonshire 2021/22

Effectiveness

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Good

Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

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

We are encouraged to see that the service has responded well to the areas for improvement we identified in our first inspection. Overall, we have seen a positive direction of travel.

The service has developed an effective integrated risk management plan (IRMP). It uses data and intelligence to identify a range of risks and it describes how it will mitigate them. It has effective processes in place to gather and disseminate risk information throughout the organisation.

Since our last inspection, the service has allocated more resources to its prevention function. This is now allowing it to mitigate the risks it has identified. It has evaluated its methodology for conducting home fire safety checks and adapted this to better target the highest risk in its communities. The service has effective relationships with a range of partner organisations. These allow it to safeguard vulnerable people and collaboratively reduce the number of fires and other emergencies.

In relation to protection, the service has undertaken a detailed review of its risk-based inspection programme (RBIP) to make sure this is more proportional. It now targets its activity at premises that present the highest risk. It has also responded to our last inspection by improving the way it engages informally with businesses to make sure they comply with fire safety legislation.

The service has taken appropriate action to address our cause of concern about its response capability. It now has sufficient resources available to give an emergency response in line with its own performance standards. It has extensively reviewed these standards to make sure available resources meet risk and demand.

We found improvements in the service’s capability to respond to major and multi‑agency incidents. It has established effective plans to respond to incidents and it tests these plans regularly with other agencies and fire and rescue services. Staff now have a better understanding of Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP) principles, although we still found that not all staff understand their role in responding to marauding terrorist attack incidents.

Questions for Effectiveness

1

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

Good

Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding risk.

Northamptonshire 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 ensure that consultation is meaningful in influencing its future plans and informing its risk profile.

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

The service uses a wide range of sources to identify risk

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. For example, we were encouraged to see that the service is taking account of significant future housing expansion to adjust its planning assumptions.

The service has also produced the Fire25 document, which sets out a range of other factors that will influence its operating model. This includes recent changes in the local authority structure and guidance produced by the National Fire Chiefs Council.

The service could improve the way it engages with communities to build its risk profile

The service carried out an extensive consultation before publishing its current IRMP, but it didn’t sufficiently use the outcomes of this when constructing its IRMP.

At the time of our inspection, the service was consulting on the next version of its IRMP, which it intended to publish in April 2022. We found that the primary consultation method was an online survey promoted through the service’s website and social media channels. The service has also conducted several online engagement events with parish councillors from across the county. These methods alone may not allow the service to capture the views of hard-to-reach sections of the community.

The service should ensure it fully considers the outcomes of the consultation in the next version of its IRMP or any subsequent action plans.

The service has an effective IRMP

After assessing relevant risks, the service has recorded its findings in an easily understood IRMP. This plan describes how prevention, protection and response activity is to be effectively resourced to mitigate or reduce the risks and threats the community faces, both now and in the future.

The latest version of the plan includes actions to:

  • revise its targeting methodology for home fire safety visits (HFSVs);
  • refine its RBIP; and
  • provide an emergency response against clearly defined standards and target attendance times.

Three departmental strategies for prevention, protection and response support the IRMP. They explain the service’s plans in more detail and include specific outcomes for measuring performance.

The service has good processes in place to share risk information across the organisation

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 information is readily available for the service’s prevention, protection and response staff, which enables it to identify, reduce and mitigate risk effectively. The service holds a twice-weekly ‘pacesetter’ call involving staff from all departments, where they agree any newly identified risks and plans to mitigate them. This helps ensure a common understanding of risk across the organisation.

The service also communicates information to staff through a range of methods, including email, mobile data terminals on fire engines and alerts in the service’s training software. Where appropriate, it passes risk information on to other organisations such as the police and local authorities.

The service uses local and national learning to inform its understanding of risk

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.

The service uses its operational assurance board to effectively assess the outcomes of internal debriefs and national learning. It has considered both the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry and the Manchester Arena inquiry and has developed actions to improve its own capability.

The service has responded proactively to the recommendations and learning from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry

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

Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service has responded positively and proactively to learning from this tragedy.

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 within the service area.

The service has introduced new equipment specifically designed for evacuating people from high-rise fires. It has improved its procedures for providing fire survival guidance to 999 callers while communicating the information those callers give them to firefighters at the scene of an incident. It has also tested its high-rise procedures in several large, multi-agency exercises.

2

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

Good

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

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

Fire and rescue services must promote fire safety, including giving fire safety advice. To identify people at greatest risk from fire, services should work closely with other organisations in the public and voluntary sector, 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 ensure that the new ways of working to provide HFSVs are fully understood by staff to best support the targeting of 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’s prevention strategy is clearly linked to its IRMP

The service’s prevention strategy is clearly linked to the risks identified in its IRMP. It is based on internal and external data, which it uses to determine who is at the greatest risk in its communities and how it will target its activity towards them.

The service works well with relevant organisations on prevention and it passes on relevant information when needed. Information is used to adjust planning assumptions and direct activity between the service’s prevention, protection and response functions. For example, where prevention staff identify specific risks, such as hoarding or an immobile occupier, there is a process to update the mobilising system in fire control. This ensures those at the address receive an amended response in the event of a fire.

The service has allocated additional resources to its prevention function

During our previous inspection we found that to make savings, the service had reduced its prevention team to seven staff members. This meant it didn’t have enough capacity to address the risks it had identified. We are encouraged to find that the service has since taken steps to increase the size of its dedicated prevention team. This includes a post dedicated to supporting the highest-risk cases in liaison with partner organisations.

The effect of the pandemic on the service’s prevention activities

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

Since then, we are encouraged to find that the service resumed prevention activity on a risk-assessed basis and in accordance with national guidance. But at the time of our inspection the service had, based on the re-introduction of COVID-19 restrictions in December 2021, paused much of its prevention activity again. It was continuing to ensure it engaged with very high-risk cases and had a clear plan as to how it would resume activity once restrictions were lifted.

The service has reviewed its prevention activity to make sure it targets those most at risk

Prevention activity is clearly prioritised using a risk-based approach towards people most at risk from fire and other emergencies. We are pleased to see that since our last inspection, the service has developed a new approach to better target its HFSVs. This was introduced in July 2021 and is based on data from a range of sources. The information is presented in ‘risk maps’, which staff use to target activity in areas that present the greatest risk.

Between July and December 2021, the percentage of completed HFSVs scored to be in high or very high-risk dwellings had increased to 80 percent, compared with 60 percent in 2019/20. We are interested to see if this approach continues to result in effective targeting over a longer period.

The service should make sure staff know how to target risk

Staff told us they have the right skills and confidence to carry out HFSVs. This includes on-call firefighters, who we found in our last inspection were not engaged in carrying out prevention activity. These checks cover an appropriate range of hazards that can put vulnerable people at greater risk from fire and other emergencies.

But we were disappointed to find that not all operational staff know how to apply the newly introduced targeting methodology. The service should make sure staff understand this so it can fully realise the intended benefits.

Staff can confidently respond to safeguarding concerns

Staff we interviewed told us about occasions when they had identified safeguarding problems. They were familiar with how to identify vulnerable people and could explain the processes to make referrals to other organisations. Prevention staff responsible for the most complex cases complete joint training with the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Adults Board.

All member organisations of this board recently completed a self-assessment and assurance audit to verify independently if they were meeting the needs of vulnerable people. We heard from external partners that the service engaged fully in this process and achieved a good level of compliance.

The service works well with partner organisations

The service works with a wide range of other organisations such as Northamptonshire Police and local community safety partnerships to prevent fires and other emergencies. During our inspection we spoke to a range of partner organisations, who all talked positively of the relationship they have with the service.

We found good evidence that it routinely refers people at greatest risk to other organisations that may be better able to meet their needs. These organisations include social services and healthcare bodies. Arrangements are in place to receive referrals from others such as the East Midlands Ambulance Service. We found evidence that the service consistently acts appropriately on the referrals it receives, where appropriate giving enhanced support through its complex case officer.

The service 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 service works with Northamptonshire Police to share with each other information about domestic abuse and incidents of arson (these risks being linked in some cases).

The service has increased its focus on road safety

Since our last inspection, the service has improved its focus on road safety through enhanced co-operation with the Northamptonshire Safer Roads Alliance. Several other members of the alliance told us the service now proactively engages with partners, and that data is used to develop collaborative strategies to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on the county’s roads.

The service works well with partners to tackle fire-setting

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. It is integrated into the Northamptonshire Arson Task Force, a joint body that employs staff from both the service and Northamptonshire Police. They jointly carry out a range of interventions, including bespoke arson risk visits and a juvenile fire-setter programme.

The service is a leading partner in the tri-service Emergency Services Cadets scheme, where 25 percent of places are reserved for young people from under-privileged backgrounds. This is intended to give young people activities that divert them from anti-social behaviour and contribute to the reduction of arson.

The service is good at evaluating its prevention activity

In our last inspection we identified that the service wasn’t effectively evaluating its prevention activities. We are pleased to find that the service has since developed a tool for evaluating its prevention work, both internally and with partners. It measures how effective its work is so it knows what works, and so its communities get prevention activity that meets their needs.

We saw evidence of the service effectively evaluating relationships with its partners to make sure they achieve the desired outcomes. It has used this process well to improve outcomes for the public. It also evaluates its engagement with specific individuals who present complex needs. It shares this learning with its safeguarding management group to identify any areas for improvement.

3

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

Good

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

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

All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in certain buildings and, when necessary, require building owners to comply with fire safety legislation. Each service decides how many assessments it does each year. But it must have a locally determined, risk-based inspection programme for enforcing the legislation.

Areas for improvement

The service should ensure its RBIP uses a systemised methodology that can be applied consistently in the future.

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

The service has a protection strategy that is linked to its IRMP

The service’s protection strategy is clearly linked to the risk it has identified in its IRMP. It outlines several ways in which it will address risk in its communities. This includes both a RBIP that proactively targets risk, and a broad range of other activity to respond to public concerns and emerging risks.

Staff across the service are involved in this activity, with information effectively exchanged as needed. For example, the service has recently piloted a new approach to using operational crews to inspect houses of multiple occupation. Information is in turn used to adjust planning assumptions and to direct activity between the service’s protection, prevention and response functions. This means resources are properly aligned to risk.

The effect of the pandemic on the service’s protection activities

We considered how the service had adapted its protection activity during our COVID‑19 specific inspection in September 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its protection work well. The revised approach of using remote audits to inspect premises has let the service carry out more audits than it would usually be able to. It has continued to re-introduce face-to-face protection activity on a risk‑assessed basis and in accordance with national guidance.

The service has reviewed its strategy to better align activity to risk

In our last inspection we found that the service’s RBIP was not proportionate. The service could also not undertake it with the resources it had available. We are pleased to find that the service has since completed a detailed review of its RBIP to make sure it focuses on the highest-risk buildings.

Its new approach has reduced the number of high-risk premises from more than 5,000 premises to 1,721. It reviews a range of internal and external data to determine which premises should be included, and it reviews this regularly.

But we do have some concerns that the arrangements in place to determine the inclusion of premises are over-reliant on the professional judgment of a small number of experienced protection officers. The service should make sure it designs systems to ensure the current arrangements can continue consistently in the future.

The service has the required resources to provide protection activity

The service has enough qualified protection staff to meet the requirements of the service’s RBIP. It has the capacity to audit all premises in its RBIP on a three-yearly basis and undertake all other activity identified in its IRMP. 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. Protection officers complete a Level 4 fire safety diploma, which meets the requirements in National Fire Chiefs Council guidelines.

The service has carried out audits at all high-rise buildings

The service doesn’t have any buildings in its area that use the type of cladding found on Grenfell Tower. It has, however, audited all high-rise buildings in the county as part of its response to the tragedy. It makes information it gathers during these audits available to response teams and control operators, helping them respond more effectively in an emergency.

The service completes audits in a systematic and consistent way

We reviewed a range of audits of different premises across the service. This includes audits:

  • as part of the service’s RBIP;
  • after fires at premises where fire safety legislation applied; and
  • where enforcement action had been taken.

The audits we reviewed were completed to a high standard in a consistent, systematic way, and in line with the service’s policies. Relevant information from the audits is made available to operational teams and control room operators.

The service quality assures protection activities in a proportionate way. It reviews staff activities to make sure they meet the required standard.

The service evaluates its protection activity

We found evidence of the service continually evaluating its RBIP to ensure it continues to inspect the highest-risk premises. It also evaluates specific activities. For example, in 2020/21 the service trialled using operational staff to inspect houses of multiple occupation. At the end of a trial period, we found evidence of the service evaluating its approach and identifying learning that would improve the way it provides services in the future.

The service should ensure it has the capability to prosecute

We are encouraged to find that the service consistently uses a range of enforcement powers, but we are concerned that they haven’t undertaken any recorded prosecutions. This may result in staff not having the knowledge and skills they need to successfully prosecute in the future. In the year to 31 March 2021, the service issued 15 informal notifications, 18 enforcement notices and 6 prohibition notices.

During our inspection we reviewed data and files for several enforcement and prohibition cases. We found that the service completes subsequent visits to ensure premises are taking sufficient action to improve compliance. Protection officers give 24/7 cover to support any out-of-hours enforcement requirements.

The service works closely with other organisations to regulate fire safety

The service works closely with other organisations to regulate fire safety and routinely exchanges risk information with them. Examples we found during our inspection include:

  • a joined-up approach with Northamptonshire Police to inspect and manage compliance in licensed premises;
  • effective relationships with local authority housing teams to inspect the large number of houses of multiple occupation in the county; and
  • work with the Health and Safety Executive to undertake enforcement action at a construction site that was illegally being used for sleeping purposes.

The service responds to building consultations on time

The service responds to all building consultations on time, so consistently meets its statutory responsibility to comment on fire safety arrangements at new and altered buildings. In the year to 31 March 2021, it responded to 99.6 percent of consultations within the required timescales.

The service has improved the way it engages with businesses

In our last inspection we found that the service didn’t engage effectively with local businesses on an informal level. We are pleased to find that the service has taken action to improve this.

It has developed a range of accessible self-help tools for landlords and business owners to help them comply with relevant legislation. These are published on the service’s website, with contact details for the protection team. The service may wish to think about expanding the reach of this content through social media channels or engaging with businesses in person.

The service takes action to reduce unwanted fire signals

An effective risk-based approach is in place to manage the number of unwanted fire signals. The service has robust procedures to challenge calls in its control room before it mobilises a fire engine. And it has clear policies for working with premises that repeatedly generate false alarms. It gets fewer calls because of this work.

In the year ending 31 March 2021, the service didn’t attend 63 percent of all alarm activations it was notified of. This is significantly higher than the England average of 37 percent. Fewer unwanted calls means 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

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

Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service was inadequate in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services must be able to respond to a range of incidents such as fires, road traffic collisions and other emergencies in their area.

Areas for improvement

The service should make sure its mobile data terminals are reliable so firefighters can readily access up-to-date risk information.

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

Response resources are in the right places to meet risk and demand

The service’s response strategy is linked to the risks identified in its IRMP. 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. The service completed a detailed fire cover review in 2019. This has allowed it to better understand how many fire engines it needs and assure itself they are in the right places to best respond to emergencies.

The service has improved the availability of its fire engines

In our inspection of 2018, we identified a cause of concern that the service consistently didn’t have available its minimum number of fire engines. There was also a lack of oversight as senior managers were not routinely told when this happened.

We are pleased to find the service has taken significant action to address this. It has increased the number of wholetime firefighters to give additional support to on-call stations. And it uses overtime where necessary to maintain the optimum number of fire engines. The service holds a twice-weekly ‘pacesetter’ call, where senior managers review resource availability and agree actions to make sure the service maintains coverage.

To support its response strategy, the service aims to have 18 fire engines available on 100 percent of occasions. The service consistently meets this standard and uses its fire cover model to make sure these fire engines are in the most suitable locations. In the year to 31 March 2021, the service maintained overall availability for its fire engines of 76.6 percent. This results in an average of 21 appliances being available.

Improved availability is resulting in better response times

There are no national response standards of performance for the public. But the service has set out its own response standards in its IRMP. It aims to respond to all incidents within 10 minutes of receiving a 999 call.

In the year to 31 March 2021, the service’s average response time was 10 minutes and 17 seconds, so not meeting its own target by a small margin. But Home Office data shows that in the same period, the service’s average response time to primary fires was 9 minutes and 39 seconds. This is in line with the average for significantly rural services. Since 2018/19, when we identified our cause of concern about fire engine availability, response times have continued to improve.

Staff have a good understanding of how to command incidents safely

The service has trained incident commanders, who are assessed regularly and properly. It has an effective system to ensure they have regular training and it re‑assesses their command competence 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.

As part of our inspection, we interviewed incident commanders from across the service. Those we interviewed are familiar with risk assessing, decision-making and recording information at incidents in line with national best practice, as well as the JESIP. Some staff told us that although they had received training on the subject, they were unsure how to apply operational discretion at an incident. The service should consider how it can give more guidance in this area.

The service is making good progress to ensure its operational procedures are aligned to national operational guidance.

Fire control is involved in the service’s command, exercise and assurance activity, as well as debriefing

We are pleased to see the service’s control staff are integrated into the service’s command, training and exercise programme. Control staff follow a continuous training programme, which is in line with national competencies. They are regularly involved in multi-agency exercises. Following exercises or larger incidents, control staff can contribute to operational learning through the service’s debriefing system.

Fire control can give fire survival guidance to multiple callers

The control room staff we interviewed are confident they could provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously. This was identified as learning for fire services after the Grenfell Tower fire. A recent high-rise exercise tested their ability to manage multiple fire survival calls and share information with incident commanders. Staff told us they were confident in using this process.

Control has good systems in place to exchange real-time risk information with incident commanders, other responding partners and other supporting fire and rescue services. Maintaining good situational awareness enables the service to communicate effectively with the public, providing them with accurate and tailored advice. Information on the specific evacuation policy for each high-rise building in the county is clearly displayed in the mobilising system.

The service’s mobilising software is fully integrated with the control room of Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service. This allows the Warwickshire service to seamlessly handle an increase in call volume with no delay to mobilising or to communicating information.

The quality of risk information is good but it is not always easily accessible

We sampled a range of risk information, including what is in place for firefighters responding to incidents at high-risk, high-rise buildings and what information is held by fire control.

The information we reviewed was up to date, detailed and in a format that is easy to access and understand. But staff told us the hardware used to provide this information on mobile data terminals in fire engines is often unreliable. On occasions during our inspection, we also found difficulties in accessing risk information. The service must make sure mobile data terminals are reliable.

The risk information viewed by inspectors was subject to input from the service’s prevention, protection and response functions when appropriate.

The service has improved the way it evaluates operational performance

During our inspection in 2018, we identified that the service should make sure it has an effective system to help staff use learning and debriefing to improve operational response. This was an area for improvement. We are pleased to find that the service has taken action to address this. It has consulted with other fire and rescue services to identify best practice and implement a new system for debriefing.

As part of this inspection, we reviewed a range of emergency incidents and training events. These included large fires, exercises and a case of wide-area flooding, which was declared a major incident. We are pleased to see the service routinely follows its policies to make sure staff command incidents in line with operational guidance. We found extensive evidence of actions being identified in debriefs and the service responding to improve the way it serves the public.

Encouragingly, most staff spoke positively of the new system and told us they usually receive a timely response acknowledging any suggested improvements or learning they submit.

The service is effective at keeping 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. It uses various social media channels to issue live updates about significant incidents. A 24/7 arrangement through Northamptonshire Police means communications continue out of hours.

The service has additional processes in place with the local resilience forum (LRF) to share information about major incidents. It also gives senior operational commanders bespoke training on media liaison.

5

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

Good

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

Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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 service should make sure it is well prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to a terrorist incident, and its procedures for responding are understood by all staff and are well tested.

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

The service has assessed community risks likely to need a multi-agency response

The service has effectively anticipated and considered the reasonably foreseeable risks and threats it may face. These risks are listed in both local and national risk registers as part of its IRMP planning. Examples include wide-scale flooding, major fires and flu pandemics.

Firefighters have access to risk information from neighbouring services. This is provided through mobile data terminals on fire engines and now includes premises up to 10 kilometres from the county borders. This addresses an area for improvement we identified in our 2018 inspection.

The service has plans in place to respond to multi-agency incidents

We reviewed the arrangements the service has in place to respond to different major incidents. The service is integrated into a joint operations team, which also employs staff from Northamptonshire Police. Together, they prepare plans for both agencies to respond to major incidents and risks in the service area.

The service has good arrangements in place, including a comprehensive major incident procedure, which staff understand well. We found they know their responsibilities, including how to request specialist resources and national assets if needed.

We saw evidence of the service using its major incident procedures effectively during a wide-scale flooding incident in December 2020. The service worked well with other agencies to put in place an effective command structure and facilitated a multi-agency debrief to identify learning.

Not all staff understand how to respond to marauding terrorist attacks

Since our last inspection, the service has revised its procedures to respond to a marauding terrorist attack. These reflect revised national guidance. But we found that not all staff understand their responsibilities in relation to the procedures. The service should ensure all operational staff are prepared and trained well enough for this type of incident.

The service works effectively with other fire services

The service supports other fire and rescue services responding to emergency incidents. Its joint fire control system with Warwickshire allows seamless cross-border mobilising in this area of the county, making sure incidents receive the quickest response. It is intraoperable with these services and can form part of a multi-agency response.

The service has established processes in place to resource and deploy national assets in the event of a major incident elsewhere in the country. We found evidence of the service robustly testing the deployment procedures for its mass decontamination unit as part of a national resilience assurance team visit.

The service has a structured cross-border exercise plan

In our last inspection, we identified that the service needed to arrange a programme of cross-border exercises. We are encouraged to see this is now in place and the service has an exercise plan with neighbouring fire and rescue services. This means they can work together effectively to keep the public safe. The plan includes the risks of major events, when the service could foreseeably give support or ask for help from neighbouring services.

Between April 2021 and January 2022, the service completed 21 multi-agency exercises, ten of which involved staff from neighbouring fire and rescue services.

Although we have seen evidence of the service using a structured plan to co-ordinate this programme, it should consider how to make sure the staff involved in these exercises are those who are most likely to respond to incidents with other fire services. Some staff who work close to county borders, particularly at on-call stations, told us they have little or no experience of exercising with other services.

Incident commanders have been trained in and understand JESIP

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

The service gave us strong evidence that it consistently follows these principles. Examples include:

  • using national inter-agency liaison officers to support commanders with tactical advice during multi-agency incidents;
  • communication procedures that can be adopted during major incidents, for example, joint airwave channels; and
  • using nationally recognised messaging protocols (that is, messages that all emergency services and partner agencies understand).

The service is an active member of the LRF

The service has good arrangements in place to respond to emergencies with other partners that make up the Northamptonshire LRF.

The service is a valued partner. The chief fire officer is the chair of the LRF and leads both the strategic and tactical sub-groups. These sub-groups have had frequent meetings during the pandemic to support an effective county-wide response. 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 uses national learning to inform planning

The service keeps itself up to date with national operational learning updates from other fire services and joint operational learning from other blue light partners, such as the police service and ambulance trusts. The service has an operational assurance board, which oversees this process. The board makes sure the service uses learning to inform planning assumptions both internally and with other partner agencies.

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