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Cambridgeshire 2018/19


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

Last updated 20/12/2018

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

The service understands the risk of fire and other emergencies in its area. It learns about risk using various methods. It uses what it finds out to produce an effective integrated risk management plan (IRMP). The fire service writes its plan for the public, the service’s staff and its partners.

The service is good at preventing fires and at protecting the community from other risks. Its prevention strategy includes some innovative schemes to promote community and road safety. But it needs to evaluate its schemes better, and to work better with others to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on the roads.

Cambridgeshire FRS uses fire regulation to protect the public. It uses an effective risk-based audit programme to decide which properties to check. It uses an appropriate mix of approaches to enforce fire regulations, providing support to businesses and informal action, but issuing formal notices when needed, often jointly with other organisations.

The service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. But it needs to improve the consistency of its 999-call handling. It should also make better use of its structured debrief process after complex incidents.

The service is good at responding to national risks. But it needs to work with all its neighbours, not just some of them. It should make cross-border risk information easy for staff to access. And it should conduct cross-border exercises with all its neighbours.

Questions for Effectiveness


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


All fire and rescue services should identify and assess all foreseeable fire and rescue-related risks. They should also prevent and mitigate these risks.

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

Understanding local and community risk

The service engages well with its community. It uses focus groups to get to know the people it serves. The service maintains regular contact with community organisations such as women’s groups, faith groups and community cohesion groups. It makes effective use of social media and its easy-to-use interactive website. The service has appointed a community engagement and positive action officer. This has improved its engagement with people whom it has found harder to reach in the past.

We found the service makes effective use of a wide range of data to produce an accurate and clear risk profile across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. It uses general social and demographic data, alongside local data from other organisations. These include adults social care and other local authority services, and medical oxygen providers. The service uses this data to build a clear picture of areas and even households at most risk.

The service plays a leading role in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough local resilience forum. Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service works closely with community safety partnerships and the multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASHs). This leads to a common understanding of local risk and vulnerability.

The service uses information collected, during incidents and home fire risk checks for example, to verify that the risk and vulnerabilities it is seeing on the ground match its understanding of local risk and inform its integrated risk management plan (IRMP).

This all means that the service has a well-developed understanding of changes in the environment and its communities. The service’s Understanding risk in Cambridgeshire document brings this together, steering its strategic direction and the IRMP. This ensures it provides an effective service to the community, both now and in the future.

Having an effective risk management plan

The IRMP focuses on risk and opportunities. Cambridgeshire’s plan has clear links to both the national risk register and local community risk register.

The service has identified core areas as opportunities for future focus. These include:

  • the ageing population;
  • resilience of its on-call service;
  • workforce reform;
  • employee engagement; and
  • collaboration.

The plan sets out the service’s vision and strategic aims under the following headings:

  • community safety excellence;
  • operational excellence;
  • value for money; and
  • people.

The IRMP provides a clear link to the service’s prevention, protection and response activities.

The service has recently simplified the way it creates its IRMP so that it is easier to understand for staff, the public and partners. For example, it has simplified how it publishes its attendance times, now focusing on one rural and one urban target.

To further enhance this approach, the service should consider including clear and challenging targets for all performance within the plan.

Maintaining risk information

The service has a programme of regular visits to sites that have a higher risk of incidents. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service identified 609 premises as high-risk. The service audited 445 of these premises, which is 73 percent of the total. Fire crews familiarise themselves with these sites and collect site-specific risk information (SSRI). This is then added to a database, which crews can access via mobile data terminals during an incident. The service spends a considerable amount of time quality-assuring this risk information and amending it to make sure it is accurate. The service could reduce the burden of this work by improving the quality of information that is initially collected and input onto the database.

The service has robust systems to communicate risk information. We saw it passed on using a variety of methods. These included face-to-face handovers between watches; briefings at the start of shifts and drill sessions; and use of handover boards. The service also circulates risk information in service action notes and urgent information bulletins.


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


Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires and other risks. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should evaluate its prevention work, so it understands the benefits better.

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

Prevention strategy

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service’s good understanding of local risk informs its clear prevention strategy. The strategy is set out in risk and resource methodology which provides links between prevention, protection and response activity. An up-to-date prevention action plan supports the strategy, which is in line with statutory guidelines.

We found evidence that the service targets home fire risk checks and wider prevention activity to people most at risk from fire. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service performed 3,399 home fire risk checks for elderly people (age 65 and over). In the same period, it carried out 2,104 home fire risk checks targeted at those registered as disabled.

The service and its partners, which include adults social care, other council services and the police, agree local areas of risk. Examples of these are slips, trips and falls; missing light bulbs; hoarding; and vulnerability to crime. The extended fire prevention visits address these agreed areas of risk as well as including a home fire risk check.

We saw evidence of a wide variety of approaches to preventing fire and promoting community safety, some of which were innovative. But we saw limited evidence of the service evaluating its impact. The service should improve the way it evaluates prevention activity to ensure that it has a better understanding of the impact it is having on reducing fires and other risks.

This evaluation would also allow the service to share some of its innovative approaches to prevention more widely, and influence prevention work nationally.

Promoting community safety

The service works well with a variety of other organisations to prevent fires and keep people safe. This includes the Cambridgeshire Bobby Scheme, housing providers, local schools, probation service and local authority MASH.

The service’s data shows that the Cambridgeshire Bobby Scheme delivers approximately 1,000 home fire risk checks each year on behalf of the service.

The service has installed misting systems in the homes of ten people who are extremely vulnerable to fire. This group includes those with limited mobility who may have difficulty in leaving the property in an emergency. These portable sprinklers detect and apply water mist in the event of a fire. One of the systems recently operated and prevented injury and minimised the damage caused. This highlighted the benefits of misting systems. The service is now encouraging social housing providers to fit similar systems within their properties.

The service delivers water safety education within schools, through its own Remember Rony initiative. This scheme started in 2015 after local teenager Rony John tragically died while playing with friends in the River Ouse.

Working with Essex Fire and Rescue Service, Cambridgeshire delivers Firebreak courses to teenagers in local schools. The programme develops team working skills and increases self-esteem in students with confidence, performance and behavioural issues. The course is a mix of classroom workshops and practical drill yard sessions.

The service is at the forefront of activity to tackle arson and fire-setting behaviour.

It has worked with a forensic psychologist to develop a one-to-one arson intervention programme (Project Icarus). This programme was the first of its kind in the country. Fire service staff deliver the programme to prisoners and probationers, under the supervision of the forensic psychologist. HM Prisons and Probation Service has acknowledged Project Icarus as best practice and is considering it for national expansion.

A second programme, called ‘Firesetters’, targets children and young people who play with fire or have been through the criminal justice system because of fire-related crime.

The service has recently appointed a campaigns and engagement officer to further improve how it tells the public about its work, about fire prevention and about community safety.

A dedicated member of staff (navigator) works in the MASH. The navigator’s role is to ensure that FRS staff have a good understanding of safeguarding and to ensure that appropriate referrals are made. We saw examples of staff identifying vulnerabilities and making safeguarding referrals during prevention, protection and response activities.

Road safety

We found evidence that the service promotes road safety through initiatives such as ‘For my girlfriend’. Working with colleges the service targets new and inexperienced drivers, educating them on the dangers they face on the roads.

The service told us about another example. Homeless people living in camps near a busy A-road were being hit by vehicles when crossing the road at night. The service’s innovative solution to reduce the number of casualties was to provide people in the camps with hi-vis jackets.

We saw small pockets of similar localised good practice. However, there was little evidence of the service having a clear strategy of working with partners to promote road safety and reduce the numbers of people being killed and seriously injured on the roads. The service has recently taken on a leading role within the local road safety partnership. We hope that this will provide the catalyst for the improvement required.


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


All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in buildings and, where 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.

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

Risk-based approach

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service has an effective risk-based audit programme (RBAP) and enforcement plan. The service uses this to prioritise its activities based on risk. The RBAP uses Experian data and modelling to predict where a fire is most likely to happen. The service also prioritises premises with a sleeping risk. A property is said to have a sleeping risk if multiple people sleep there. Examples are care homes, hotels, hostels; and flats above commercial premises are also included. For example, one local heritage site had a large sleeping risk. We saw evidence that the service had advised the owners on the fitting of smoke detection.

Specialist, qualified staff carry out risk-based audits that support the RBAP. To increase capacity, operational firefighters receive training to carry out compliance checks at lower risk, less complex premises. This helps the service identify any further areas of non-compliance and include them in the programme of audits.

As well as its proactive risk-based programme, the service also carries out reactive work. It helps businesses after a fire and responds to reports of fire safety breaches from other organisations and the public.


In recent years, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service has taken a supportive approach based on informal action to fire safety legislation compliance. It uses prosecution only when absolutely necessary. It has an established business support seminar programme and a range of primary authority partnerships. These support businesses, to help them manage safety, reduce risk and improve compliance. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service issued:

  • 219 informal notices; and
  • two enforcement notices (under Article 30 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RR(FS)O).

We saw evidence of successful use of informal action to bring a complex building back in line with legislation. The service worked closely with building managers to make sure they carried out remedial action to address fire safety breaches.

The service works closely with enforcement partners, including local authority planners, housing and environmental health officers. They carry out joint visits and enforcement action and share risk information.

A joint operation between the service, police, housing and immigration targeted fire safety breaches. It also identified vulnerable people who may have been victims of modern-day slavery or people trafficking.

Working with others

The service has a robust call-challenge and non-attendance policy to automatic fire alarms (AFAs). This policy is in line with national guidance. When AFA calls are received by fire control, additional information is gathered to determine whether the alarm is the result of a fire or other cause. If a fire cannot be confirmed, depending on the time of day and the type of premises, attendance may be amended. This can result in: no attendance by the fire service, a reduced attendance of one fire engine, or the full pre-determined attendance. The service will, of course, attend if it receives confirmation of a fire.

Through its business support seminars, the service is working closely with local businesses to reduce unwanted fire signals from AFAs. As well as raising awareness among building managers, the service also encourages them to introduce a two- or three-minute delay. The delay allows investigation of the cause of the alarm, before the fire service is called.

In addition, the service works with the ‘top ten repeat offenders’, those premises having the most unwanted fire signals, to reduce unnecessary call-outs.

The service would benefit from carrying out evaluation of its protection and enforcement activity. This would ensure that it understands what works best and what has the greatest impact on keeping people safe and secure from fire. This will also promote continuous improvement and translate into better service to the public.


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


Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it has an effective system for staff to use learning and debriefs to improve operational response and incident command.

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

Managing assets and resources

A good understanding of local risk informs the service’s response strategy. It is set out in its risk and resource methodology which provides links between prevention, protection and response activity. An up-to-date response action plan supports the service’s response strategy.

The response strategy includes a clear rationale for maintaining a minimum fire engine availability of 14. The location of its resources, including nine key stations, aligns with risks listed in its IRMP.

The service has time-based emergency response standards set out in its IRMP:

  • Most serious incidents in urban areas: First pumping appliance in nine minutes.
  • Most serious incidents in rural areas: First pumping appliance in 12 minutes.

While data provided by the service highlights a small increase in the attendance time to the most serious incidents, in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, it also shows that it is consistently meeting its targets.

The service has a combined fire control with Suffolk FRS. One fire control, based in Cambridgeshire FRS headquarters in Huntingdon, handles all 999 calls for both services. Staff are well trained and knowledgeable.

The service uses dynamic mobilising. This mobilising system identifies the closest resource available to send to incidents. There is an effective system to update mobilisation times. It uses information about closed roads and other factors affecting response times to make sure that dynamic mobilising is accurate.

Current differences in mobilising procedures across the two services affect call-handling times. Cambridgeshire FRS should improve the consistency of its 999-call handling to ensure that it meets its mobilisation targets.


We found that most of the service’s operational policy aligns with national operational guidance (NOG). The service plays a leading role in the regional NOG group. There is a plan in place to fully adopt NOG across the region, by 2020.

We visited 14 operational fire stations during our inspection. The staff of these stations were wholetime, on-call and volunteer firefighters. They were well-trained, well-equipped and knowledgeable about the high-risk sites in their station areas. They demonstrated accessing SSRI in a timely manner using mobile data terminals on fire engines.

Incident commanders told us they had the support of senior leaders to use operational discretion and step outside guidance at incidents where appropriate.

The use of a combined area commander rota with Bedfordshire FRS provides increased capacity. It also improves resilience in mobilising that level of incident commander.

Since the service has reduced the number of operational principal officers it should check that it has capacity and resilience at that level.

The combined fire control has an effective system to update responding crews on short-term risk. During our visit, we saw an example of a premises with its sprinkler system off-line for maintenance. Control staff recorded this information and passed it on to crews.


At incidents, managers at all levels can command fire service assets assertively, effectively and safely. We saw evidence of detailed knowledge of national operational guidance along with effective decision-making, using the decision control process.

Incident commanders make good use of support materials available to them. These include checklists, command support packs, analytical risk assessments and decision logs.

The service has an effective system to ensure that incident commanders undergo regular training and reassessment of their command competence. The service has identified that command experience is reducing as the number of incidents attended goes down and as officers retire. The service is addressing this gap through a variety of measures. These include a regular exercise programme, no-notice exercises and simulated incidents at the fire service college.

Keeping the public informed

The service makes good use of its website to communicate information about incidents to the public. Staff update the website during office hours. The service also makes use of social media to supplement and complement the information available. This ensures that information is also available outside normal office hours. We saw evidence of live updates from ongoing incidents being shared via social media including Twitter and Facebook. We saw evidence of updates from incidents using the live facility from both platforms.

The service works closely with the MASHs so that any safeguarding issues identified by crews are appropriately referred on. A robust system ensures that urgent safeguarding issues identified at incidents are referred on immediately via fire control.

Evaluating operational performance

The service has an effective system for carrying out hot debriefs of small-scale incidents. We saw evidence that crews carry out debriefs immediately following an incident. Crews can then feed learning back to the operational support group.

This learning is collated and shared with the rest of the organisation through a monthly ‘closing the loop’ report.

However, we saw limited evidence of structured debriefs after more complex incidents. Only two had taken place over the last 12 months. In the evidence we did see, there were inconsistencies in debrief information.

The service should improve the use of its structured debrief process. These need to happen consistently and more often. This will improve the sharing of learning from larger and more complex incidents. It should check that its policy of carrying out structured debriefs ‘as required’ is not causing it to miss learning opportunities.

The service has an ‘ops hub’ intranet site where staff can access debriefs and learning from national incidents. We also saw examples of the service sharing learning from a water rescue incident and a chemical incident through the national operational learning process.


How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?


Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to national risks. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it understands national and cross-border risks and is well prepared to meet such risks.
  • The service should ensure operational staff have good access to cross-border risk information.
  • The service should arrange a programme of over-the-border exercises, sharing the learning from these exercises.

All fire and rescue services must be able to respond effectively to multi-agency and cross-border incidents. This means working with other fire and rescue services (known as intraoperability) and emergency services (known as interoperability).

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


The service has good arrangements to supplement resources in the event of a major incident or other extraordinary need. Staff demonstrated a good understanding of what would constitute a major incident. They understand their responsibilities and how to request additional resources, including national assets, if required.

The service also has effective arrangements to support the response to a regional or national incident. They maintain and staff a high-volume pump. They have specialist national inter-agency liaison officers providing 24/7 cover, to support a response to a marauding terrorist attack. They also provide specialist hazardous material officers to carry out, with Essex FRS, detection, identification and monitoring at chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents.

The service has well established response plans for high-risk premises, including top tier control of major accident hazards (COMAH) sites. The service has a dedicated emergency planning officer responsible for driving the quality and quantity of risk information available.

Working with other services

The service shares a single area commander operational rota with Bedfordshire FRS. Area commanders from both services are part of the rota to increase resilience across both service areas. There are plans for other alignments that will further support response to cross-border incidents.

The service has arrangements to undertake cross-border exercises with neighbouring FRSs. We observed that these arrangements were more effective in some areas than others. The service should make sure it conducts cross-border exercises with all of its neighbours. It should also share the learning from these exercises.

Staff were unable to access cross-border risk information on mobile data terminals. They were unaware that they could, as a back-up, access this information via fire control. The service should ensure that cross-border risk information is available and accessible by operational staff.

The service’s fire ground radios are analogue while those used by neighbouring services are digital, resulting in operational incompatibilities. The services are aware of the impact this has on their ability to work together and have addressed it with a short-term fix (switching all radios to analogue). The services are exploring a longer-term solution.

Working with other agencies

The chief fire officer chairs the local resilience forum and other officers chair a variety of working groups. This has resulted in close working with multi-agency partners. It also ensures that the service plays a leading role in the planning and organising of joint training and exercises.

We saw evidence of a variety of multi-agency exercises taking place. These included both table-top and physical exercises and covered the emergency and recovery phases of incidents. They have also tested the setting up and running of strategic and tactical co-ordination groups and communication plan.

Incident commanders demonstrated good knowledge and understanding of Joint Emergency Service Interoperability Principles (JESIP).

The service is well prepared to form part of a regional response to a marauding terrorist attack. It has carried out several exercises and provided training to staff including fire control.