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Devon and Somerset 2018/19

Read more about Devon and Somerset

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 is good.

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 requires improvement.

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


HM Inspector's summary

We are satisfied with some aspects of the performance of Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service (FRS). But there are several areas where it needs to make improvements.

Devon & Somerset FRS is good at providing an effective service to the public. It is good at:

  • understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies;
  • preventing fires and other risks;
  • protecting the public through fire regulation; and
  • responding to national risks.

It does, however, require improvement in how it responds to fires and other emergencies.

The service’s efficiency requires improvement. We judged the way it uses its resources to require improvement. But the FRS is good at making its services affordable now and in future.

The way that Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service looks after its people requires improvement. In particular it requires improvement at:

  • promoting the right values and culture;
  • ensuring fairness and promoting diversity; and
  • managing performance and developing leaders.

But it is good at getting the right people with the right skills. Overall, we would like to see improvements in the year ahead.


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. Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

The service has a good understanding of local risk. It uses a wide range of information to determine risk, including population data and incident data. It uses the fire service emergency cover (FSEC) toolkit to identify highest risk areas and to predict the likely demand on the service. The service uses its operational risk information system (ORIS) to manage site-specific risk information. The management and oversight of the system is good, and most risk information is within its review date.

The service has an effective approach to prevention. Both its community safety strategy and delivery plan are clear about where the greatest risks are and the priority the service should give each risk. Community safety technicians carry out prevention activity in people’s homes. The technicians complete comprehensive safe and well visits and are trained to deal with a range of problems. But we found little evidence of any quality assurance to understand whether visits are consistent and done in line with staff training.

The service protects the public effectively through fire regulation. Specialist staff and trained operational crews carry out fire safety audits. Some operational staff, however, were unclear about their role. The service should also improve its arrangements for providing specialist protection advice out of hours. It is on target to inspect its identified high-risk premises within three years.

How the service responds to emergencies should be improved. Crews and incident commanders are well trained and the service has effective systems in place to review and manage fire engine availability. But, despite these systems, matching staff availability to resource requirements remains a challenge and on-call engine availability is a problem. Nor is the service meeting its response standard.

More positively, the service has a joint mobilising function with Hampshire and Dorset & Wiltshire fire and rescue services. This makes sure there is an effective and efficient cross-border response as the quickest resource will be mobilised. Control room operators all follow the same training programme and operational procedures across the services have been aligned.

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 17/12/2019
Requires improvement

An efficient fire and rescue service will manage its budget and spend money properly and appropriately. It will align its resources to its risk. It should try to keep costs down without compromising public safety. Future budgets should be based on robust and realistic assumptions. Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.

The service covers both urban and very rural areas. The stations are located based on historic levels of fire cover, despite the changing level of risk. For example, there are stations that attend fewer than two incidents a week. The service has recently launched its Safer Together programme to match resources to risk.

The service recognises it needs more resource for prevention. So, it is recruiting another ten members as home fire safety technicians. This will enable the service to offer more targeted resources. The service has been more flexible in the way it deploys staff to prevention, protection and response activities – such as using advocates. Advocates are staff members trained in prevention and protection.

Capacity at wholetime stations was not utilised efficiently. Crews must reach set targets in protection activities, but many weren’t aware of them. Managers recognised that wholetime fire station staff could be more productive.

The service collaborates with Hampshire and Dorset & Wiltshire fire and rescue services. This means it can mobilise the quickest responders across county borders, faster responses to emergency calls and greater resilience and business continuity if systems fail.

The service has shown sound financial management and governance of procurement and tendering processes. All spending over £20,000 must go through an approval process. It has achieved savings to avoid budget pressures. Since 2013, it has reduced the number of wholetime firefighters (FTE) from 670 to 556.

The service has moved to smaller, lighter vehicles, which still hold a significant amount of equipment to ensure an effective response. The service calculates these vehicles hold about 90 percent of the equipment carried in a normal engine. Light response vehicles (LRVs) and rapid intervention vehicles (RIVs) cost approximately half of a standard fire engine and their lifetime running costs are more efficient. The service makes good use of national procurement frameworks to get value for money.

View the two questions for efficiency


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

Last updated 17/12/2019
Requires improvement

A fire and rescue service that looks after its people should be able to provide an effective service to its community. It should offer a range of services to make its communities safer. This will include developing and maintaining a workforce that is professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse. The service’s leaders should be positive role models, and this should be reflected in the behaviour of the workforce. Overall, Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

The service has schemes to support staff health and wellbeing. These include an incident diffusing process to support staff after traumatic incidents held soon after they happen. Staff were positive about this process.

The service’s health and safety policy outlines its commitment to staff. However, the service can’t assure itself that staff are working to policies and procedures. For example, some staff work extra hours, sometimes on a casual contract. The service doesn’t oversee arrangements to make sure these staff meet working time regulations, or that staff are well rested and safe to work.

Some staff are required to work alone, sometimes in very rural areas. The service has a lone working policy, but staff have a very limited awareness of it. The service currently has no effective process to monitor staff working alone.

The service has not done fitness tests for operational staff for over three years. We are concerned that the service cannot assure itself that all members of operational staff can meet the minimum fitness levels required to perform the role of a firefighter.

Some staff described managers as approachable and supportive, but others as being unwilling to be challenged or given an alternative view. We also heard of occasions when some operational managers would only talk to operational staff rather than corporate staff, and others where they only listened to uniformed staff of a certain rank. Of the 363 respondents to our staff survey, 27.3 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed. Also, 27 percent felt discriminated against at work in the last 12 months.

Inspectors were given examples where managers had told staff not to submit a grievance as it may impact on their career. This contradicts the service’s values.

View the four questions for people

Key facts – 2020/2021

Service Area

3,923 square miles


1.77m people
up3% local 5 yr change


44% wholetime firefighters
56% on-call firefighters
0.69 per 1000 population local
0.56 national level
down4% local 5 yr change
down5% national 5 yr change


83 stations
115 fire engines


2.1 fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
2.8 non-fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
3.3 fire false alarms per 1000 population local
3.8 national


£27.09 firefighter cost per person per year
£25.22 firefighter cost per person per year (national)

Judgment criteria