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Dorset and Wiltshire 2018/19


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

Last updated 20/06/2019

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, Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its staff and their health and wellbeing, including those who have attended traumatic incidents. It is also good at communicating the service’s RESPECT values – responsibility, equality, support, professionalism, excellence, communication and transformation.

The service treats its workforce well and:

  • understands its workforce and their skills and capabilities;
  • monitors and records the training it delivers; and
  • ensures sufficient resilience when crewing shortfalls arise.

The staff are proud of the service, of its work and their own contribution.

Training is good. A special facility, the operational effectiveness database, allows the service to get an overview of all operational activity and feedback. Corporate staff are trained appropriately. The service needs to ensure its staff complete all their mandatory health and safety training.

The grievance policy is well understood by staff, although the service does not always meet the timescales it has set to deal with grievances. It is dealing with this problem by training more staff to handle grievance cases. 

The service has a range of support networks that are represented on its equality and diversity committee. The workforce does not yet reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, but a recent campaign, #BeOneOfUs, increased the number of applicants from under-represented communities.

The service is introducing a new leadership programme for supervisors, developed along with the RNLI. It is now being piloted. The aim is to extend it across the service. Another scheme, ‘role hopping’, allows staff to skip the next role or grade and apply for the one above it.

The service’s promotion process is seen as fair, clear and comprehensive.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?


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

Workforce wellbeing

The service has a number of schemes to support staff health and wellbeing. Staff have access to counselling, occupational health, a team of service chaplains and mental health champions. A facility called Trauma Risk Incident Management (TRiM) is designed to help staff who have attended a traumatic incident. It assesses the individual and directs them towards the extra support they need, if required.

Staff showed they understand and are aware of the TRiM process. They told us they felt that the service looks after them well in this area. But we also came across staff who said the process was not consistently applied in the north and south of the service area. The service is aware of this concern and plans to appoint a TRiM co-ordinator.

Staff have to undertake an annual fitness test. Health and fitness advisers run a rolling programme of fitness testing. If a member of staff does not meet the standard, they may be taken off operational duties and put on a fitness plan. Physical training advisers develop fitness improvement plans and station-based physical education instructors support staff who need to get fitter.

Health and safety

The service’s health and safety policy statement outlines how it manages health and safety, and it has been accredited to BSI 18001 for its health and safety management practices.

Staff have access to a range of health and safety information on the service’s intranet. The service’s policies, procedures and safety bulletins are all available and can be found easily using the search facility. Health and safety information is published in a number of formats and sent to individual email addresses. We saw information published on station notice boards. We also saw station staff being briefed about recently published safety information. According to our staff survey (please see the About the Data page for more details), to which 334 staff members (equating to 25 percent of the service’s workforce) responded, 98 percent of respondents know how to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences and 95 percent agree that they are encouraged to do so.

Culture and values

Staff showed an understanding of the service’s RESPECT values – responsibility, equality, support, professionalism, excellence, communication and transformation. The service communicates its values in various ways, and the values are clearly displayed around service workplaces, the intranet and on service documentation.

As part of our inspection, we carried out a survey of FRS staff to get their views of their service. Of the 334 respondents in Dorset & Wiltshire FRS, 19 percent reported feeling bullied and harassed and 13 percent reported feeling discriminated against at work in the previous 12 months. There are limitations to the staff survey which should be considered alongside the findings. We explain these on the About the Data page.

Staff said they saw the strategic leadership team as approachable and professional and spoke highly of them. We were given examples of where the senior leadership team had attended a recent PRIDE community event, and had invited all staff to join. Staff described access to the strategic leadership team as good. Senior leaders engage with staff using a number of forums, ranging from consultation days to leadership forums.

We spoke to a lot of staff across the whole organisation in prevention, protection, response, and to corporate staff. The way they felt about the service impressed us. They were proud of the service and of its work in the community, and spoke highly of their own work to contribute to the service’s vision.


How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?


Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills. 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 recording and monitoring health and safety training which is accurate and accessible.

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

Workforce planning

The service understands its current workforce, skills and capabilities. An electronic system that supervisory managers and staff can access records and monitors operational staff training. Training centre staff allocate operational staff to the risk-critical courses that they need to attend, to remain competent and available to respond.

The service has a cross-cutting people delivery team. Workforce and succession planning comprise two distinct groups; the strategic workforce planning group which deals with succession planning and the postings group which oversees the postings to stations, attrition and retirements. This means workforce planning is consistent, and that any vacancies are identified and planned for early on.

Training records are subject to performance management. This is to make sure lack of competence in staff does not affect the availability of appliances. Training records are scrutinised at station, group and area level within the service. The community safety delivery group has overall oversight of training and competence levels across the service. A member of this group is responsible for training delivery, so that any issues of competence across the service can be dealt with immediately.

The service has a policy to deal with crewing shortfalls. This provides resilience and allows the service to maintain crewing if there is a shortage due to illness, for example. The service contacts personnel who wish to be available to cover a crewing shortfall by text. The policy contains strict guidance about when this can be applied, and on restrictions concerning the hours that may be worked.

Learning and improvement

During our inspection, we found that risk-critical training, such as breathing apparatus and incident command, was up to date. Records were accurate. But we could not be sure that health and safety training was being completed – manual handling training especially. This means the service cannot be certain its staff are completing mandatory health and safety training. We are aware that the service currently uses three systems to record training and competence. This is a legacy issue, left over from the time before the two services were combined. The service has a plan to resolve how it records competence, and integrate the data on to one system.

Both on-call and wholetime staff told us their training was good and had prepared them for their roles. They felt well trained. Staff have equal access to training, which is the same for wholetime or on-call firefighters. Our staff survey shows that 80 percent of the 334 respondents agree that they have received sufficient training to enable them to do what is asked of them. 

The service can tailor its training to meet current and future needs. Station training plans are sent out centrally to all stations. The training planner covers the mandatory quarterly training that staff must complete. The following factors have informed it:

  • Emerging risks and threats as identified by the strategic leadership team.
  • Operational requirements as set by Response Support.
  • Operational and training observations from across the service.
  • RESPECT behaviours identified as in need of refreshing across the service.
  • Structured feedback, including operational effectiveness.

Officers who respond to larger or more complex incidents take part in ongoing rota group training. Each rota group holds monthly sessions, which officers are required to attend. They cover a range of subjects, such as incident command and learning from national incidents.

The service has designed and developed a system that allows it to see the results of operational activity, staff feedback and operational assurance alongside national learning. The operational effectiveness database captures this information. The service uses it to inform operational procedures, equipment, resourcing and training needs, ensuring the safety of firefighters and reducing risk to the community. All staff have access to the database and can review the progress of any action that has been entered.

Corporate staff are appropriately trained. The service ensures that they get the right skills and training through role-specific development. Corporate-based eLearning is also available to staff, some of which is mandatory. The system sends automated reminders to staff to complete whatever training is required and records when the training has been completed.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?


Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures.

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

Seeking and acting on staff feedback

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service covers a large area and over half of all firefighters are on-call firefighters (53.5 percent of full-time equivalent firefighters are on-call). This makes it challenging for strategic managers to engage with the workforce, especially those in more rural areas. To address this, the service has put a number of innovative solutions into practice. The chief fire officer publishes regular podcasts, and conference calls are held that all staff can access and dial into. At any meeting, an open seat is always held free for a member of staff to participate. The service also has a staff suggestion scheme and an operational effectiveness database. We were given examples of where senior managers had responded to feedback and resolved local issues.

Despite using these proactive methods to engage staff, we still found that, on occasions across the service, on-call staff were not fully aware of the current position of a project that changed how they would be paid to respond to incidents.

We found that staff were aware of the grievance policy and were confident that grievances would be resolved. When we conducted a review of grievances, we found that the documentation and outcome had all been recorded in line with the service’s policy in all cases. However, although few formal grievances were recorded in the year ending 31 March 2018, we noted also that the service did not always meet the allocated timescales to deal with a grievance. The service is taking to steps to resolve this problem by increasing the number of trained staff who can support grievance cases.

The service has a range of staff support groups and networks. These include Mind Blue Light, Pride Support Network, Straight Allies and Women in the Fire Service. These groups send a representative to sit on the service’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee meetings. These are held regularly and provide all the networks with an opportunity to come together.

The service’s relationships with representative bodies are good. Representatives of these bodies spoke positively about their relationship with the service’s managers. They said they engage regularly with the strategic leadership team. This is done through the regular quarterly meetings, or informally, when required.


The service’s workforce does not fully reflect the diversity of the communities it serves. As at 31 March 2018, 4.5 percent of firefighters in Dorset & Wiltshire FRS were female and 1.6 percent of firefighters in Dorset & Wiltshire FRS were from black, Asian, or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds (compared to a BAME population of 4.7 percent in the service area). The service is aware of this disparity. It is taking action to overcome some of the barriers preventing the recruitment of under-represented groups. In the meantime, the service has carried out a survey of every site to ensure that the facilities are gender-friendly. It has also introduced diversity champions to provide a contact point for staff who wish to discuss diversity issues more informally. 

The service’s most recent recruitment campaign used a positive action programme called #BeOneOfUs. This has increased the number of applicants from under-represented groups. The service is also using community profiling to better understand diversity at station level and better target recruitment activity towards members of the community from a BAME background.

The service has recently created an on-call support officer role. Their role is to provide support to on-call stations within their allocated area. Their remit is broad. It can range from planning training events to providing managerial support to the station management team. Their task is also to support recruitment within the station area and to identify members of the community who may be able to join the service.


How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?


Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at managing performance and developing leaders. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.

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

Managing performance

The service’s performance review procedure requires managers to review individual performance each year. As part of the review, line managers agree individual aims and expectations and decide a joint action plan. The service uses an eLearning platform to record meeting notes and action plans. We found that corporate staff understood the review process well but operational staff felt it was more of a tick-box exercise. According to our staff survey, 73 percent of the 334 respondents agreed that they are satisfied with their current level of learning and development.

Development pathways have been created for staff in the service. The pathway provides information on what learning and development staff must, should or could undertake. The pathways are aligned to the roles of staff and are linked to relevant learning packages in the eLearning system.

The service is in the early stages of introducing a new leadership training programme for supervisors. This forms part of its three-year leadership delivery plan. This programme is being developed along with the RNLI and has been jointly designed by staff. Two pilot courses have been run in April and September 2018. The course covers generic corporate leadership training and command training for operational staff. The aim is to extend this across the service. In 2019, the service is also holding a programme of management courses on issues such as managing performance, sickness management and grievances.

The service has a 90-second target for mobilising appliances to incidents. The fire control room produces weekly reports on whether this target has been met. Fire control operators listen to calls that did not meet the target to find out why, and whether there is a performance or a development need.

Developing leaders

The service doesn’t have a system in place to identify, develop and support high-potential staff. However, it does have an innovative scheme in place to develop leaders both in operational and management roles.

The service has introduced a scheme called ‘role hopping’. It allows staff to move past, or hop over, the next role or grade and apply for the next one above it. Line managers identify staff who have shown potential and enable them to move to a more challenging or different role – or to the next role above. For example, a watch manager could apply to become a group manager without having been a station manager. Role hopping is available for both operational and corporate staff.

The promotion process for operational and corporate staff is fair and open. The process and the supporting information within the policy are clear and comprehensive. An assessment against the RESPECT framework forms part of the promotion process. The process also allows on-call staff to apply for wholetime positions.

The service acknowledges that the recent process for crew and watch managers could have been handled better, and that it drew much criticism from staff. The main problem was the logistics and administration of the process, due to the high number of applicants; the service was also slow to respond to questions and give feedback to unsuccessful applicants. As a result of this, it commissioned an independent company in October 2018 to review the promotion process. This looked closely at promotion policy, the process and candidate’s experience. The company advised the service to build on the existing approach, which it considered pragmatic. But it also concluded that the service had misunderstood and underestimated the impact of the process’s logistical and administrative failings on the candidates. The service has taken these recommendations on board as part of its review of the promotion process.