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East Sussex 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
Requires improvement

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. East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service understands local risks well. It communicates risk to the public through its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). It has used feedback from the public to inform changes to its ways of working. And it considers emerging and future risk.

The service needs to train its operational staff in site-specific risk information (SSRI). It also needs to make sure that firefighters have accurate, up-to-date risk information at all times. Currently, information held on mobile data terminals (MDTs) isn’t reliable and doesn’t always match paper records.

The service needs to improve its approach to preventing fires and other risks. It should make sure that staff complete home safety visits promptly.

The service needs to improve the ways in which it protects the public through fire regulation. While it updates its risk-based inspection programme (RBIP) every month, it needs to be clear how many high-risk premises it has, and should target them consistently. It also needs to inspect premises within set timescales.

The service works well with other enforcement agencies in relation to fire safety, and works proactively with other organisations to promote fire safety compliance. The service could do more to reduce the number of fire false alarms it attends, as these are a burden on its resources.

The service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies, but it struggles to have as many fire engines available as it needs. It should also make sure that its systems hold accurate information about the availability of fire engines at all times.

The service is good at responding to national risks and has several resources that it can deploy, either locally or nationally, in times of need.

Questions for Effectiveness


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

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and
    up-to-date risk information.
  • The service should ensure it shares risk information consistently across
    the service.

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

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service has a good understanding of its local risks. It communicates risk to the public through its IRMP. It uses information such as age, welfare and health-related data to identify households that are at greater risk of fire. It reviews this information annually to keep it updated.

The service’s plans are informed by the views of a wide range of organisations and people. The service effectively consulted with members of the public while producing its last IRMP in 2017, gaining 588 formal responses to this consultation through roadshows and social media. The IRMP contained a commitment to engage with the public about response standards, which it did in 2018. The service’s resulting changes included the addition of call handling in its response times, and support for a variable response based on local station duty type (depending on whether the station is wholetime/day crew or on call).

The service talks to, and works with, communities that are hard to reach. The assistant chief officer attends an interfaith group that includes people of different ethnicities. In 2018, the service consulted the public about the development of its Be Your Own Hero campaign, which focused on reducing accidental dwelling fires at home. In the year to 31 December 2018, the service attended 525 accidental dwelling fires.

The service gives good consideration to emerging and future risk. It is an active member of the Sussex local resilience forum (LRF). A member of staff from the service who sits on the LRF links risks that the LRF identifies (such as flooding and severe weather) through to the service’s risk register. The IRMP also includes the impact of some future risks, including population growth through 20,000 extra homes in East Sussex.

Having an effective risk management plan

All fire and rescue services must have an IRMP based on their assessment of risk.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s IRMP makes a series of commitments to:

  • deliver high-performing services;
  • develop a multi-skilled, safe and valued workforce;
  • educate communities; and
  • make effective use of resource (for example, premises and fleet).

The service acknowledges that it isn’t clear how its IRMP links to its operational work. The IRMP doesn’t clearly detail how it influences the service’s prevention, protection and response activity. However, the service does give greater detail of its activity through several operational strategies and plans that are linked to the IRMP.

For example, the IRMP commits to having operational firefighters carry out fire safety inspections of buildings where appropriate. And the service’s community safety strategy commits to training its operational crews with level 1 fire safety audits. The service has already started to implement this training.

The service also produces an annual assessment of risk, and aligns its resources against this. We are pleased to see the service using extensive data to improve its risk modelling approach. This will stand the service in good stead for its future work.

Maintaining risk information

SSRI gives firefighters information about buildings and hazards (such as chemicals) that may be present at sites. As of February 2019, the service had identified 2,550 risk sites. But at the time of our inspection, the service couldn’t give details of how many visits to these sites it had completed. But more recent data shows, as at 31 March 2019, that there were 2,557 risk sites and that between 1 January 2019 and 31 March 2019 the service had completed 222 SSRI visits.

The service categorises risk across five categories from level 1 (high risk) to level 4b (very low risk). The service is meant to visit high-risk premises annually, and to visit or provide updates about low-risk premises every four years. Wholetime and on call staff update SSRI for their station area. Across the operational staff we spoke to, there was a lack of training in SSRI.

The firefighters we interviewed have little confidence in the SSRI the service holds on MDTs. Moreover, SSRI kept on paper at stations didn’t always match the information on MDTs. One record we sampled showed four identified hazards on the MDT and ten on the paper version. The service acknowledges that it needs to improve the quality of its risk information. It is taking steps to do this.

The service uses core briefs to inform operational staff of risk-critical issues. Staff have to sign these briefs to acknowledge that they have read them. The service doesn’t communicate risk effectively across prevention, protection and response functions. But the service has developed new forums and training to improve communications across these functions.


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

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it carries out home safety visits in a timely manner.
  • 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

The service has a safer communities strategy, which covers the period 2018–2021. It explains and guides the service’s approach to keeping safe those who are at greatest risk of fire.

As part of the strategy, the service carries out home safety and safe and well visits. (In some services, these are also known as home fire safety checks or home safe visits.) These visits include fire safety activities such as identifying and reducing fire risks, fitting fire alarms, as well as welfare-related activities, such as advice on how to avoid slips, trips and falls.

The service isn’t targeting home safety visits as effectively as it could towards those who are at greatest risk of fire. A central team receives and categorises referrals. Operational crews carry out a home safety visit to lower risk referrals. A specialist team carries out a more in-depth safe and well visit to higher risk referrals. However, the process for assessing risk is based on individual judgment rather than staff applying a systematic process.

According to Home Office data, the number of safe and well visits that the service has paid to elderly people and people with disabilities has reduced in the year ending 31 March 2018 when compared with the previous year. In the year to 31 March 2017, the service carried out 67.4 percent of all safe and well visits to elderly people, and 54.3 percent to people with a disability. At the time of inspection, data shows that in the year to 31 March 2018, these figures fell to 21.5 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively. Average England figures for the same period were 54.1 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively. However, the service has since found this data to be incorrect. The corrected data shows in the year ending 31 March 2018, 61.7 percent of all safe and well visits were to elderly people, and 49.4 percent to people with a disability.

The service doesn’t complete visits quickly enough. Staff weren’t aware of set timescales for completing visits. Operational staff told us that the service’s focus was on achieving station targets, rather than concentrating on the people most at risk. There was no evidence of quality assurance checks on home safety or safe and well visits. The service should make sure it offers its home safety visits to the people at greatest risk of fire.

In its strategy, the service committed to carry out 12,000 home safety/safe and well visits. The service hasn’t met this target. In the year to 31 March 2018, it completed 11,019 home safety/safe and well checks. However, this is an increase from 9,240 over the same time period in 2017. This equates to 13.1 safe and well checks per 1,000 population, which is more than the average rate in England of 10.4.

Promoting community safety

The service works well with partners to reduce fires and other risks. We recognise the wide range of prevention work the service does, and the partnerships it has formed in order to do this. Recently, the service appointed an inclusion manager to improve its understanding of the needs of diverse communities and its work with them.

The service has information-sharing arrangements with some doctors’ surgeries. This helps the service identify vulnerable patients who would benefit from safe and well checks to reduce risks in their homes. The High Weald Lewes Havens Clinical Commissioning Group has evaluated this scheme.

The service’s chief fire officer leads nationally on drowning prevention. A water and road safety adviser promotes water safety. An example of the service’s water safety work is the Water Savvy, Water Safe! education package, which it has developed to educate children about staying safe near water.

Safety in Action events encourage children to recognise hazards and take action to keep themselves and others safe. The service co-ordinates this, working with emergency services and partner organisations that include the NHS and Southern Rail.

The service also has a dedicated fire education team. Its Firewise educational programme targets children who show fire-setting behaviour. Advisers work with them and educate them about the dangers and impact of fire.

The Be Your Own Hero campaign is a good example of the service’s targeted safety messaging. The service also targets safety messages through social media, videos and its public website.

The service has a comprehensive safeguarding policy in place. Central staff and operational crews are well trained and confident in making appropriate safeguarding referrals.

The service promotes national campaigns centrally through its communications team. But local crews don’t always co-ordinate their activity to support national campaigns. The service should make sure all its operational stations support central campaigns.

Road safety

The service is an active partner of the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership and contributes to its road safety plan. The service’s road and water safety co-ordinator provides the Safe Drive Stay Alive initiative in partnership with other emergency services. According to data provided by the service, over the past four years, it has brought this initiative to more than 11,000 students. The initiative aims to reduce road casualties by educating teenagers about road safety.

The service also carries out several activities to encourage safer motorcycle riding. The Biker Down campaign educates bikers about what to do if they see or come across an accident. New rider awareness courses give further information and advice to those who have recently started to ride motorcycles. The service advertises the dates of these monthly courses on its website.


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

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure that its risk-based inspection programme targets its highest-risk premises.
  • The service should ensure it addresses effectively the burden of fire false alarms (termed ‘unwanted signals’).
  • The service should ensure it has effective arrangements for providing specialist protection advice out of hours.

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 (RBIP). It identifies high-risk premises using historical data and fire service emergency cover toolkit codes such as care homes and hospitals. The service refreshes the RBIP every month, adding new premises that are due for inspection.

The RBIP doesn’t target high-risk premises effectively. Every month, the service identifies premises for inspection. But if, for some reason, the service doesn’t carry out an inspection that month, rather than keeping the premises on the list to be inspected the following month, it prioritises new premises instead. As a result, it may not be auditing uninspected premises within set timescales.

The service can’t accurately identify how many high-risk premises it has. This means it can’t assure itself that all high-risk premises are inspected, or that it has targeted its resources appropriately. As at 31 December 2018, the service had identified 52 high-risk premises. But between 1 July and 31 December 2018, it stated that it had carried out 294 high-risk visits. The service puts this discrepancy down to reactive inspection work following incidents. At the same time, the service recognises that it needs to improve its data systems. It is investing accordingly.

As at December 2018, the service had 14 dedicated competent fire inspection officers, with none in development. This means that the service has no staff in training to fill any potential gaps in inspection officer roles in the future. But more recent data (as at 31 March 2019) shows the service has three staff in development who are dedicated to protection. At the time of the inspection, the service couldn’t guarantee 24-hour cover for business safety problems.

The overall number of audits in the year to 31 March 2018 has increased to 499, compared with 299 the previous year. This equates to 1.8 fire safety audits per 100 known premises in the year to 31 March 2018, which is below the England rate of 3.1 over the same period. We welcome the work that the service is doing to upskill operational crews so that they can carry out business safety inspections. Once this becomes common practice across the organisation, the service will have more staff who can carry out low-risk inspections.

The service acknowledges that quality assurance checks of audits need to improve. In the year to 31 March 2018, 75 percent of audits were found to be satisfactory. This compares with the England rate of 68 percent. The service needs to assure itself that it is targeting the right premises.

Generally, the service responds to statutory building regulation consultation within set timescales. Between 1 April and 31 December 2018, the service received 526 consultations. It responded to 88.6 percent of those within the required timeframes. However, more recent data shows a slight increase: between 1 January and 31 March 2019, the service received 183 consultations and responded to 95.6 percent of them within the required timeframes.


The service uses a full range of enforcement options. A manager is dedicated to overseeing fire safety investigations.

In the year to 31 March 2018, the service issued 117 informal notifications, seven enforcement notices, 17 prohibition notices, one alteration notice and brought two prosecutions. In March 2018, the service successfully prosecuted St Michael’s Hospice (Hastings and Rother). The prosecution resulted in a £250,000 fine in relation to offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

The service works well with other enforcement agencies in relation to fire safety, for example, by carrying out joint visits with care and immigration services. The service also has an agreement in place with Sussex Police to work together to enforce fire safety legislation.

Working with others

The service is taking proactive steps to work with others to promote fire safety compliance. It promotes business safety information through its website, and holds seminars for business owners.

The service works with local authority partners, such as Brighton and Hove Council, to promote the use of sprinklers. It has introduced primary authority schemes with partners including Eastbourne Hospitality Association and the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association. These schemes advise businesses about meeting fire regulation requirements.

The service has acknowledged that it needs to do more to reduce the burden of false alarms on its resources. Also, the service hasn’t reviewed its policy on unwanted fire signals since 2015. In the year to 31 December 2018, 47.3 percent of all incidents that the service attended were fire false alarms. This is higher than the England average of 40.1 percent.


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


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

Areas for improvement

  • The service should improve the availability of its on-call fire engines to respond to incidents.
  • The service should ensure firefighters have good access to relevant and
    up-to-date risk information.

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 uses historical data and information from its annual assessment of risk to determine response standards. The service is reviewing how it uses response resources for the upcoming IRMP as part of its operational response review. 

The service uses a mix of wholetime and on-call staff to crew fire engines. Between April and December 2018, the monthly average for fire engine availability ranged from 72.2 percent in December 2018 to 80.4 percent in April 2018. In December 2018, the service stated that the optimum number of fire engines between 5.00pm and 6.00pm is 33. In December 2018, the service achieved an average of 21.2 fire engines at that time.

The service has identified a minimum of 13 strategically located stations that it aims to always have available. Service figures from January to March 2019 show that the service is effectively achieving this aim.

The service has 12 on-call stations. In December 2018, nine stations were available, on average, less than 50 percent of the time. Some of these stations were available for much less than 50 percent of the time. For example, in December 2018, one on-call fire engine was available 15.5 percent of the time. Because of this challenge, control operators mobilise two fire engines to make sure the service responds effectively.

The service recognises its difficulties in maintaining on-call availability of fire engines. It has on-call support officers in place to manage on-call resources in a given area, with the aim of improving availability. It is also reviewing fire cover through its operational response review.


The service has consulted the public on its current response standards. It has committed to the first wholetime fire engine being at an incident within 10 minutes for 70 percent of the time, and the first on-call fire engine being at an incident within 15 minutes for 70 percent of the time. Between 1 April and 31 December 2018, the service met these targets. The service seeks to have 14 fire engines available during the day, and eight at night when there is less demand.

The Home Office collects and publishes data on response times by measuring the time between a call being made and the first fire engine arriving at a scene. This measuring gives consistent data across all 45 services. However, services measure their own response times in a range of different ways.

In the year to 31 March 2018, the service’s average response time to primary fires was 8 minutes 22 seconds. This is the fastest service in the significantly rural service category, but is an increase from 8 minutes 3 seconds in the year to 31 March 2016.

Control operators can dispatch fire engines effectively. In the year to 31 December 2018, the service attended 11.2 incidents per 1,000 population. The England rate was 10.4 over the same period.

Operators use their discretion to send more or fewer fire engines to an incident if necessary. However, the computer system that the service uses to manage data about crew availability isn’t linked to the mobilising system. Control operators have to manually update information about fire engine availability on the mobilising system. If they didn’t do this, the system could show fire engines as available when the service doesn’t have enough crew to respond. The service should make sure its systems give accurate information about fire engine availability at all times.

During our inspection, staff were able to access risk, vehicle and chemical data on MDTs. However, the staff we spoke to told us that the information held on MDTs wasn’t always reliable. They said that some risk information held on the MDTs lacks quality and isn’t accurate. Also, MDTs don’t give firefighters cross-border risk information. As part of our inspection, we carried out a survey of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service staff to gather their views of their service (please see Annex A for more details). Of the 88 firefighters and specialist support staff who responded to our survey, only 39.8 percent agreed that the service is fully interoperable with neighbouring fire and rescue services and 12.5 percent did not know.

The service has made good progress to make sure that operational practice is in line with national operational guidance (NOG). It has a clear plan in place to be sure of the continued implementation of NOG.


We interviewed wholetime and on-call commanders at different levels, and found a good level of understanding of command principles that reflected NOG.

Commanders felt prepared and trained to deal with a range of incidents. The control operators we spoke to were confident in adjusting resource if required, based on incident type and risk. But incident commanders didn’t consistently understand the use of operational discretion. And some commanders felt the organisation wouldn’t support them if they used it.

The service assesses its commanders every two years. A senior officer is mobilised to any incident to support incident commanders with identified development needs. In this way, the service gives appropriate support to command development.

Keeping the public informed

The service communicates incident information well to the public. It does this through its communications team, which also supports its campaigns. The communications team supports commanders at incidents by giving relevant information to the public.

The service uses social media and its website to promote safety messages and share information. Some fire stations have their own Twitter accounts. The service gives social media training to those who manage the accounts. We saw examples of the service promoting station activity and on-call recruitment through social media.

Operational crews can identify safeguarding concerns. The service has a dedicated safeguarding member of staff. The workforce can report concerns to them.

Operators in fire control showed a clear understanding of fire survival guidance. However, there is a lack of awareness about arrangements for dealing with non-English speakers. The service should make sure that its operators are aware of procedures for communicating with non-English speakers. 

Evaluating operational performance

The service has good processes in place to evaluate and improve operational practice.

At stations, the service uses post-incident briefings (known as hot debriefs). This process was well established across the stations we visited. The service uses post-incident report forms to record any learning. The operational assurance group reviews the forms.

The service’s debrief process varies depending on the size and complexity of incidents. Formal debriefs are triggered by matters relating to fires and firefighting, as well as effecting rescue, operational discretion, hazardous material or incidents of significance.

The service uses an active monitoring system to gather information about training, operational assurance and debriefs. This enables the service to identify emerging themes or trends. The operational assurance group monitors any actions or learning.

The service provides good examples of shared learning, both internally and externally. For example, medical staff who attend road traffic collisions sometimes tend to patients while kneeling in glass. The service shared this learning so that greater consideration is given to medical staff and glass management at road traffic collisions.

The service publishes significant learning through core briefs or the intranet. We were particularly impressed with the service’s publication Assurance in Action. This shares information about operational incidents and the learnings taken from them.

The service leads a regional operational assurance group with Kent, West Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire fire and rescue services. Through this group, all members share learning from operational practice across neighbouring regions.

The service doesn’t routinely mobilise an assurance officer to attend incidents and assess staff, although it mobilises a tactical adviser to attend larger incidents. It also mobilises a more senior officer to incidents to support incident commanders in development. 


How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?


East Sussex 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

  • he service should ensure firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information including cross-border risks.
  • The service should ensure it is well-prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to a terrorist-related incident and that its procedures for responding are understood by all staff and are well tested.

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 several resources that it can deploy locally or nationally in times of need. This includes a marauding terrorist attack (MTA) team composed of staff from East and West Sussex.

Control operators and incident commanders were clear about how to ask for, and mobilise, national assets. The service has plans for control of major accident and hazards (COMAH) sites in East Sussex. It shares these plans with LRF partner organisations and through Resilience Direct, a national web-based platform that emergency responders use to share information securely. The service carries out exercises with neighbouring services at high-risk sites, such as Dungeness nuclear power station in Kent.

Of the 88 responses from firefighters and specialist support staff to our survey, only 43.2 percent agreed their service had undertaken enough training to respond effectively to major non-fire incidents. Eight percent said they didn’t know, and 48.9 percent disagreed. The service should make sure that firefighters can maintain the skills they need to be competent when responding to major non-fire incidents. This includes using national resilience assets such as high-volume pumps. 

Working with other services

The service has good exercise plans in place, and carries out exercises at high-risk sites. However, some staff we spoke to would like more exercises. Of the 88 firefighters and specialist support staff who responded to our staff survey, 65.9 percent felt that the service didn’t train regularly with other services and 15.9 percent didn’t know.

Control and operational staff told us that they didn’t have access to cross-border risk information. This lack of information could increase the risks to operational staff who respond to cross-border incidents.

The service has several mutual aid agreements in place, including a joint fire control function with West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (although this agreement is due to end in 2020). The service has contingency plans in place for its control room.

Working with other agencies

The service is an active partner in the Sussex Resilience Forum and East Sussex Resilience and Emergencies Partnership. It has clear plans in place for COMAH sites in both East and West Sussex.

The service is involved in the live and tactical co-ordination of exercises. To this end, it works with other agencies, such as ambulance services and police forces. The service also shares learning from major incidents. For example, shared joint learning took place after the unidentified gas cloud incident at Birling Gap in 2017.

The service offers a response to MTAs and has an MTA team made up of staff from East and West Sussex.

However, some staff we spoke to, who were not members of the specialist response team, couldn’t recall any recent MTA training.

Recently, commanders had received Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles training, with the aim of enabling emergency services to work more effectively together. The service organises quarterly borough exercises, which involve other emergency services.