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Cornwall 2018/19

Read more about Cornwall

This is HMICFRS’s first annual assessment of fire and rescue services. This assessment examines the service’s effectiveness, efficiency and how well it looks after its people. It is designed to give the public information about how their local fire and rescue service is performing in several important areas, in a way that is comparable with other services across England.

The extent to which the service is effective at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks requires improvement.

The extent to which the service is efficient at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks requires improvement.

The extent to which the service looks after its people is good.

Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services

HM Inspector's summary

We have concerns about the performance of Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service in keeping the public safe and secure. In particular, we have serious concerns about the service’s effectiveness. In view of these findings, we have been in regular contact with the chief fire officer, as we do not underestimate how much improvement is needed.

The service needs to be more effective. In particular, its response to fires and emergencies is inadequate. And it should improve its understanding of risks and the way it uses fire regulation to protect the public. But we found its prevention work is good, and it is ready to respond to national risks.

The service’s efficiency requires improvement, particularly in the way it uses its resources. It does, though, provide an affordable service.

The service is good at looking after its people, although it should do better at managing performance and developing leaders. It is good at:

  • promoting the right values and culture;
  • getting the right people with the right skills; and
  • ensuring fairness and promoting gender diversity.

Overall, there are improvements we expect the service to make. We will be monitoring progress.


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

Last updated 20/12/2018
Requires improvement

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

The service uses a wide range of data to plan. This includes partners’ data. It updates station plans every year. This helps it identify people who are most at risk. But it doesn’t collect enough risk information about buildings. Firefighters attending incidents aren’t routinely accessing risk information on mobile data terminals and they often rely on paper records.

The service uses analysis well to prioritise its prevention work. It plans to increase its home fire safety checks. It doesn’t do these consistently in more remote areas.

As part of Cornwall Council, the service has greater focus on community safety. It works well with partners (like the police). It uses campaigns to support the priorities. But we found limited evaluation of its prevention activities.

The service knows it needs to appoint and train more staff to do fire safety audits. It should supervise these audits better. It should also do them more consistently in remote areas. But it must be sure that staff use their powers when needed.

The service has set a challenging 100 percent target for a ten-minute response time for fire engines across Cornwall. Data provided by the service shows that it fails to meet this target on one in four occasions, particularly in rural areas. On-call fire engine availability averages 80–85 percent which means not all fire engines are available across Cornwall at any one time. The service should improve the information control room staff use to send fire engines to incidents. Also, not all staff know enough about safeguarding and how to refer vulnerable people for more support.

The service doesn’t yet follow some important national guidance on recording decisions at incidents. It needs to improve how it monitors incident commanders and gives them feedback. It doesn’t debrief often enough, and it has no effective process for sharing learning.

The service prepares well with partners for major incidents. Incidents like the flooding in Coverack show that the service can respond effectively. Staff know procedures well. But the service should co-ordinate better its testing and exercising at high-risk premises.

View the five questions for effectiveness


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

Last updated 20/12/2018
Requires improvement

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

The service’s budget is set as part of Cornwall Council’s overall budget-setting process. This budget is based on realistic plans. The service uses council reserves for extra activities like those after the Coverack flooding. It has a good record of making savings. It plans more savings by updating its fleet, technology and buildings.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service is inconsistent in areas that on-call staff cover. Recruitment and retention of on-call firefighters is difficult. Staff shortages and poorly managed contracts mean it doesn’t always have enough fire engines. Positively, the service has taken steps to address these problems. For example, by a seasonal crewing model in Newquay and a daytime crewing pilot project in Liskeard. But it still doesn’t always have enough resources available.

The service is integrated into the council’s neighbourhood directorate. This means it works on wider community matters. Its control room monitors CCTV as part of the Safer Towns scheme. This brings it income.

The service works closely with other emergency services. The proposed increase in jointly funded tri-service safety officers is positive, with evaluation showing how useful this way of working together can be. But the service could do more to evaluate and achieve benefits like these when working in collaboration.

View the two questions for efficiency


How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?

Last updated 20/12/2018

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

The service prioritises the wellbeing and fitness of its staff. It works hard to promote mental health awareness and support. Staff appreciate the support the occupational health team gives. We found effective help for staff handling traumatic incidents. But some staff are unaware of the service’s values, or how these should inform their daily work.

The service analyses training needs each year. Quarterly training plans help operational staff keep their skills up to date. But the service needs to improve its workforce planning. Some important responsibilities are being carried out by staff who have other main roles. On-call firefighter recruitment and retention are problems. However, the planned increase in tri-service safety officers should help.

The service conducts a staff survey every two years. But some staff are not confident to raise a grievance. Training for managers in this area is inconsistent. Leaders recognise they need to do more to recruit a workforce that reflects the community. But recent firefighter recruitment was more successful in relation to gender diversity.

Staff see the promotion process as fair and open. Support staff view the appraisal system positively. But many operational staff see this as an administrative exercise. Also, the service has no process for talent management or identifying high-potential staff.

View the four questions for people

Key facts – 2020/2021

Service Area

1,370 square miles


0.57m people
up4% local 5 yr change


32% wholetime firefighters
68% on-call firefighters
1.00 per 1000 population local
0.56 national level
down9% local 5 yr change
down5% national 5 yr change


31 stations
43 fire engines


2.0 fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
2.8 non-fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
3.7 fire false alarms per 1000 population local
3.8 national


£28.46 firefighter cost per person per year
£25.22 firefighter cost per person per year (national)

Judgment criteria