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Cumbria 2018/19


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

Last updated 17/12/2019

An effective fire and rescue service will identify and assess the full range of foreseeable fire and rescue risks its community faces. It will target its fire prevention and protection activities to those who are at greatest risk from fire. It will make sure businesses comply with fire safety legislation. When the public calls for help, the fire and rescue service should respond promptly with the right skills and equipment to deal with the incident effectively. Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

The service has a good understanding of local and community risk. Its integrated risk management plan (IRMP) identifies the key risks and sets out the service’s strategic priorities. This is based on a wide range of data about risk, which is regularly updated.

The service is particularly strong on prevention work. It delivers a wide range of activities, and effectively targets those most at risk from fire.

The protection team is also well resourced and highly experienced. A new approach to risk-based inspection means that the service will inspect a much wider range of buildings to make sure that they meet fire regulations.

In terms of response, the service bases its provision on a thorough assessment of risk. Its allocation of resources corresponds clearly with the priorities set out in the IRMP. Fire stations are appropriately located, and staffing models support the service’s objectives. It could do more, however, to share lessons learned from incidents with staff in a consistent way.

The service has a strong track record of responding to national incidents and collaborating with other services to manage major incidents.

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 has a good understanding of local and community risk. It has a current IRMP, which sets out the key risks and the measures the service has put in place to manage them. It clearly communicates this information to the public.

The IRMP covers the period from 2019 to 2023. The service did some public engagement prior to publishing a draft IRMP, and then provided a variety of platforms – including by post, online and in public meetings – for members of the public to feed back their views.

The IRMP is based on a comprehensive risk-based evidence profile (RBEP), broken down to cover each community in Cumbria. The RBEP considers historic emergency demand and existing risks, and takes account of anticipated infrastructure changes. The IRMP also draws on a variety of other suitable data sources. These include health data, which it uses to profile those most at risk from fire in the home, and land registry data, which it uses to identify the highest-risk public buildings. The service has used mapping tools to find the best locations for its fire stations.

Cumbria is the second largest county in England and is predominantly rural. To provide emergency cover across what is a uniquely challenging landscape, the service has six wholetime stations and two day-crewed stations, all of which also have on-call staff (firefighters employed on a part-time basis). It has a further 30 stand-alone, on-call stations. The wholetime and day-crewed stations are located where demand is highest.

Demand is low at several on-call fire stations. For example, Patterdale only responded to nine incidents in the nine months from 1 April to 31 December 2018. Nevertheless, we are satisfied that the service has a robust business case to maintain these stations, because many of the communities they serve are isolated and frequently become cut off or difficult to access during bad weather.

Having an effective risk management plan

The service’s IRMP meets the requirements of nationally recognised guidance. It explains to the public what emergency cover the service provides and identifies evidence-based strategic priorities: primary fires, road traffic collisions, water-based incidents and wildfires. These priorities are reflected in the service’s decisions regarding equipment, training and the location of resources.

The IRMP also takes account of the most serious emergencies likely to take place in Cumbria, which are detailed in a community risk register. This register is maintained by the local resilience forum (LRF), which is chaired by the chief fire officer.

The plan also sets out the service’s prevention activity, with the primary focus being the annual delivery of around 10,000 safe and well visits to people’s homes. It explains how it audits the premises it considers to present the highest risk from fire to the public. In both prevention and protection, the service has maintained the right mix of staff to deliver an ambitious programme of activity.

Maintaining risk information

The service has a good strategy in place to record and maintain risk information.

All fire engines in Cumbria are equipped with computers, so firefighters have access to risk information. They hold appropriate information about higher-risk premises, as well as guidance on vehicle hazards and chemical incidents. The computers work, and firefighters at the stations we visited were able to access and retrieve risk information quickly and confidently.

The service visits high-risk premises on a regular basis, so that firefighters are familiar with those near their fire station. The firefighters we spoke to have a good knowledge of the key risks in their station areas and could explain how they tailored their visits and training to match these risks. In the year to 31 March 2019, the service completed 84 percent of planned familiarisation visits within the target date.

Staff gather and share relevant risk information effectively for temporary events such as the Appleby Fair. The service also has a system by which fire control informs firefighters attending emergency incidents of risk information that may only be relevant for a brief time: for example, if a property is temporarily without a sprinkler system.

Risk information is disseminated across the service in a variety of ways, including face-to-face briefings, individual emails, e-bulletins and an e-training platform. Information is shared well between internal departments – for example, when prevention staff collect information about domestic oxygen users, they share this with operational staff.


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


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

Areas for improvement

  • The service should evaluate its prevention work, so it understands the benefits better.
  • The service should ensure staff understand how to identify vulnerability and safeguard vulnerable people.

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

Prevention strategy

The service does a broad range of prevention work. It has set ambitious targets and is achieving them. It is meeting its statutory duties and effectively targeting the people who are most at risk from fire. The staff who deliver the prevention strategy are confident that it benefits the public.

The service targets individuals and households using an appropriate range of data sources and referral pathways. We spoke to a range of organisations, including public health, adult and children’s services departments within Cumbria County Council, and Cumbria Constabulary, all of which have engaged with the service to identify individuals at greater risk from fire.

The bulk of prevention activity is directed towards the ambitious target of offering a safe and well visit to every household in Cumbria that has a resident over 65. These visits include identifying and taking action to reduce fire risks, ensuring working smoke alarms are fitted, advice on social welfare, health screening/detection, health prevention and advice on slips, trips and falls.

It is commendable that in the year to 31 March 2018 the service carried out 10,070 safe and well visits, equating to 20.2 visits per 1,000 population, which is almost twice the English rate of 10.4 visits; 52.1 percent of those visited were elderly and 37.3 percent declared a disability.

To deliver these visits, the service has set and monitors minimum targets for each fire station that has full-time firefighters. It also employs safe and well technicians to work in remote rural areas. In addition, a home accident reduction team does safe and well checks while visiting individuals with mobility issues.

Promoting community safety

While the service is clearly focused on fire and road safety, it is also working in partnership to deliver a range of other relevant community safety activities. As part of Cumbria County Council, it contributes to a broad range of shared objectives including tackling social isolation and supporting vulnerable people to live in their own homes.

The service informed us that it made over 400 onward referrals in the year to 31 March 2018 because of non-fire-related concerns it became aware of during safe and well visits. These included issues relating to heightened risks of falls, smoking cessation, alcohol reduction, social isolation and irregular heartbeats. However, we found that the knowledge prevention staff had of how to spot and action safeguarding issues varied across the service.

The service informed us that it had delivered over 300 ‘heart start’ courses in the year to 31 March 2018 and it has supported a variety of national safety campaigns such as ‘water safety week’. Heart start courses are aimed at people in communities where defibrillators have been fitted, and give them the skills to use this equipment with confidence if a member of the public suffers a heart attack. The service also provides training to younger people showing an unhealthy interest in fire or who have been involved in fire setting.

The service’s prevention campaigns are well promoted using social media, and a central team provides publicity materials to firefighters who deliver these initiatives. However, the consistency of the non-statutory campaigns such as those on water safety varies across the service.

Road safety

The service is an active member of the Cumbria Road Safety Partnership, which includes partner agencies such as the Highways Agency, Cumbria Constabulary, the North West Ambulance Service and IAM RoadSmart (formerly the Institute of Advanced Motorists). This provides it with strategic direction when planning road safety prevention activity. The partnership’s main objective is to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on Cumbrian roads.

As part of the partnership’s joint education, enforcement and engineering activity, the service has prioritised the education of young drivers between the ages of 18 and 25. Its firefighters deliver road awareness training courses at sixth form colleges and higher education establishments. The service informed us that it delivered 82 of these courses in the year to 31 March 2018.

While we were impressed with the range and volume of the service’s fire prevention activity, it is disappointing that it has done only very limited evaluation of its impact and effectiveness.


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


Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it has effective arrangements for providing specialist protection advice out of hours.
  • The service should ensure it works with local businesses and large organisations to share information and expectations on compliance with fire safety regulations.

All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in 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.

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

The service has a risk-based inspection programme that meets the requirements of national guidance.

It has refreshed its risk-based inspection programme during the past year, and now plans to routinely inspect only the highest-risk premises. Previously, a selection of high, medium and low-risk premises would have been inspected every year. The service has now ranked in order of relative risk every building in Cumbria that is covered by fire safety legislation. It calculates this risk rating using a range of appropriate data drawing on social, economic and environmental factors.

The service has categorised 2,444 premises as high risk but anticipates this will fall to around 1,900 once it updates its risk-based inspection database. It plans to inspect each high-risk building every three years. Under the previous system, the service only had 44 premises categorised as high risk and had inspected all of them in the previous three years. The increase in the number of high-risk premises reflects a big increase in the number of premises on the risk database.

Based on recent performance, we are satisfied that the service has the capacity to complete this more ambitious programme. It has an appropriately trained and experienced team of ten specialist inspecting officers, and has retained this capability throughout the period of austerity. During the past year, the service has provided firefighters with some protection training, which means that they can now make fire safety visits at lower-risk premises.

In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 14.2 fire safety audits per 100 known premises (which equates to 1,056 audits). This is over four times the English rate. Of these audits, 64.6 percent were satisfactory, which is relatively in line with the English rate (68.4 percent satisfactory). However, we noted that the percentage of satisfactory audits has steadily increased from a low of 50 percent in the year to 31 March 2013 to a peak of 79 percent in the year to 31 March 2016. This data supports the service’s decision to subsequently refresh its risk-based inspection programme to ensure that it does not just continue re-inspecting the same premises that are managing risk satisfactorily.

During the inspection, we examined several audit files from risk-based inspections that had been completed from across the county and found them to be of a consistently high quality. The service is quality assuring these audits to make sure that they are in line with the service’s policy and procedures.

The service received 436 building regulation consultations in the nine months from April to December 2018. Of these, 99.3 percent were completed within the required time frame. This level has remained constant over the past three years. We would expect the service to have a specialist available 24 hours a day to advise on protection problems – for example, entertainment venues breaking fire regulations. There are some gaps in the rota in this area, which is a matter of concern.


The service is regularly using the full range of enforcement and prosecution powers. In the year to 31 March 2018, it issued no alteration notices, 28 enforcement notices, 7 prohibition notices and undertook 1 successful prosecution.

We found specialist fire safety staff to be confident and well trained in using their enforcement powers. The service does training and continuing professional development with fire service partners in the north-west region, which is efficient and minimises any duplication of work.

Working with others

We found good evidence that the service is sharing information and working effectively with other partners to keep the public safe from the risk of fire in premises covered by fire safety legislation. For example, we saw evidence of effective joint working with police, local authority licensing, environmental health and housing to prohibit the use of an unsafe building for sleeping in Carlisle.

The service could do more to work with others in preventing false fire alarms. In the year to 31 December 2018, 37.5 percent of the incidents attended by the service were false alarms, mostly from automatic fire alarms. This is below the average English rate of 40.1 percent. The service has reduced the number of false alarms it responds to from 1,819 in the year to 31 December 2017 to 1,428 in the year to 31 December 2018. This was achieved through a robust call challenge procedure, which meant it did not respond to 65.3 percent of automatic false alarm calls received that year.

The service does not, however, prioritise engaging with premises that are repeat false alarm offenders. Similarly, it does only limited proactive engagement with local businesses and other organisations to increase fire safety awareness and encourage compliance outside its core inspection programme. It is aware of these gaps and is in the process of introducing business safety advisers, who will focus on these activities as well as supporting operational firefighters doing lower-level risk visits.


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


Cumbria 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 improve the way it evaluates and shares learning from operational performance.

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

The service makes sure that its response times match risk and demand using a range of working patterns. It has a broad range of fire engines, including small off-road-style vehicles, fire engines with reduced water capacity, standard fire engines and engines that also carry enhanced rescue equipment. This means that the service can vary its response depending on localised risk and terrain.

These fire engines have computers that firefighters can use to access risk information, and we found that they did so confidently. This includes information on higher-risk premises, hazardous chemical information, crash data for vehicles and operational plans.

Fire engines are staffed with a minimum of four firefighters. The service is currently trialling responding with three firefighters on a standard fire appliance at some locations and using two smaller rapid response fire engines that are staffed by three firefighters. This should help it to respond more efficiently in lower-risk areas, and to maximise the use of on-call staff in areas where it is difficult to recruit sufficient numbers.

The service has plans in place to deal with more than one large incident at a time and to manage the deployment of supporting resources.

Although this is a predominantly on-call, part-time service, the operational training of these staff is maintained to a high standard. It is commendable that, in the nine months from 1 April 2018 to 31 December 2018, on-call staff kept the appliances’ average monthly availability ranging between 81.2 and 86.8 percent. However, the service did inform us that the long-term trend of on-call availability is reducing.


The service has based its response strategy on a thorough assessment of risk to the community. In the year to 31 December 2018, the service attended 7.6 incidents (3,810) per 1,000 population. This compares with the England rate of 10.4 over the same period.

The service has made a commitment in its IRMP to two response standards. First, to respond to all primary building fires within ten minutes on 80 percent of occasions. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service was meeting that standard on 74 percent of occasions. Second, to respond to all other incidents within 15 minutes. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service was meeting this standard on 87 percent of occasions.

During the same period, the service’s average response time to all primary fires calls was 10 minutes and 50 seconds. This is in line with the national average for remote rural services (10 minutes 32 seconds) and is an improvement of 16 seconds for the same period over the previous year.

The service is transparent with the public when standards are not met, because it publishes incident details on its website. On occasions when an on-call fire engine fails to respond to an emergency, the service reports this on its website and investigates why it has happened. It is making efforts to reduce call handling and response times by introducing enhanced software that better pinpoints the location of mobile callers from remote rural areas.

The operational policies we reviewed were in line with national guidance. For example, we found evidence of staff being encouraged to apply operational discretion when appropriate, meaning that they have the confidence to diverge from the standard response and use their initiative. On one occasion, this led to the rescue and successful resuscitation of a person who had fallen into water.


The service has suitably trained incident commanders. The training records we viewed were up to date, and commanders are subject to regular assessments. Those we spoke to have a good understanding of the incident command procedures that the service has in place. Incident commanders at all levels have undertaken nationally recognised command qualifications.

Incident commanders are familiar with decision-making models, risk-assessing and recording decisions in line with national guidance.

While visiting fire control, we found that staff had the confidence to vary the response to incidents depending on circumstances. For example, there were occasions when they sent extra resources to incidents in remote areas, in order to minimise the risk of subsequent delays.

Keeping the public informed

The service has embraced social media and makes good use of its website to keep the public informed about incidents. It has a close working relationship with the police to issue joint safety and information messages at larger incidents. Fire stations are active on a variety of online platforms.

Control and operational staff are aware of how to report significant safeguarding issues they identify in the course of their work. They have recently been provided with credit card-sized prompt cards setting out what action to take and whom to contact. Control staff are well trained in how to give a range of fire survival advice to callers who are trapped by fire. They gave us examples of when they had successfully advised people in these circumstances.

Evaluating operational performance

The service uses emails, safety flashes, electronic training platforms and bulletins to evaluate and share lessons learned from emergency incidents. It does not have a proper structure for using these methods consistently, however, which means that staff don’t always know where to look for this information.

For all incidents of significant risk, the service sends officers to carry out quality assurance. Depending on their findings, they can initiate either an action plan or a more involved debrief. We reviewed a sample of these assurance audits and found that the outcomes are not being consistently communicated to the rest of the service. Informal debriefs are carried out following almost all incidents, and supervisory managers can record the outcomes on an e-learning platform. But, while the debriefs do take place, outcomes are not recorded in sufficient detail, and there is little evidence that the service monitors trends regularly.

More structured debriefs are carried out following larger and more complex incidents but this does not always happen promptly enough. However, we did find evidence that service improvements had been made following these debriefs – for example, the introduction of search procedures around road traffic collisions.

The service had communicated lessons learned from national incidents over the 12 months prior to the inspection. However, we did not find evidence that it had shared any local learning nationally.


How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?


Cumbria 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 is well-prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to an incident. Staff should know how to apply Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP).
  • The service should ensure its operational staff have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information. This should include cross-border risk information.

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 established and tested arrangements to effectively supplement its resources during major incidents. For example, during storm Desmond in 2015/16, the service set up a strategic holding area (SHA) to accept and deploy resources from 27 other fire services. A SHA is a pre-identified location with facilities to accommodate large numbers of emergency responders with their equipment. It provides a base for them to rest and be deployed to emergency incidents.

Staff in the control room are familiar with the processes for requesting additional specialist resources through the national resilience fire control. Strategic commanders have good knowledge and experience of setting up a strategic co-ordination group as part of a multi-agency response to major incidents.

The service has a close working relationship with high-risk sites located in Cumbria. These include the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site at Seascale and the British Aerospace Systems shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness. We saw evidence of joint training and exercising in support of plans that are in place covering these sites.

Working with other services

In addition to receiving resources to manage major incidents in Cumbria, the service has deployed resources to aid other fire services. It has a high-volume pump and powered rescue boat, both of which have been deployed nationally. During our inspection, the service deployed assets to assist with wildfires that had broken out in Lancashire, as it did on multiple occasions during the summer of 2018.

The service has learned lessons from debriefing staff after large multi-agency incidents such as fires and floods, and has invested in additional equipment and training as a result. It does some exercises with surrounding services but faces some unique challenges in implementing joint working across large and sparsely populated rural areas. We were satisfied that the exercises it has undertaken show that it is suitably interoperable with surrounding services. It holds risk information relevant to its neighbouring fire services but the records we viewed were not always up to date.

Working with other agencies

The LRF is chaired by the chief fire officer, and the resilience forum manager also works for the service. This has led to the service having a leading role in multi-agency preparedness arrangements. Local partners we interviewed including the Environment Agency, police and local authority, all recognised the willingness of the service to engage and contribute to LRF activities.

The service leads a robust training and exercise programme through the LRF. It is based on a thorough assessment of relevant risks and threats identified from risk registers. The service takes part in a broad range of exercises as a result, such as a recent practical exercise that focused on transporting nuclear materials through Cumbria. In the nine months from 1 April to 31 December 2018, the service completed 11 multi-agency joint training exercises.

In addition to exercising, the service regularly works with partners including the military, mountain rescue, police, ambulance and other voluntary agencies. For example, during the winter of 2018, the service worked as part of a multi-agency response to the ‘beast from the east’ storm, which caused many communities in Cumbria to be cut off by road and from power for over a week. This incident also involved the service engaging with an independently commissioned multi-agency debrief. As a result, it is well-prepared to respond to foreseeable risks such as wide area flooding and marauding terrorist attacks.

However, the first level of incident commanders do not have a sufficient awareness of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles, although they are well understood at a more senior level. These principles are in place to help incident commanders from the blue light services to work well together.