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Hertfordshire 2018/19


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

Last updated 20/12/2018
Requires improvement

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

The service does not have an up-to-date integrated risk management plan (IRMP), which is the central planning document that sets out local risks and how the service plans to manage them, and to allocate its resources. All fire and rescue services (FRSs) are required to produce an IRMP which is available to the public. IRMPs must be at least three-year plans which should be regularly reviewed, to make sure the service can properly understand the risks and make sure it is well equipped to respond to those risks and protect the public. Since our inspection we note that the service has proceeded with developing an IRMP.

Leaders in the service and the council are aware they need a new IRMP and have recently put plans in place to address this. However, there have been delays as a result of uncertainty about the future governance model for the service. We remain concerned that, given the importance of this plan in ensuring the effective and efficient provision of fire and rescue services, they are not tackling the situation with sufficient urgency.

Having an out of date IRMP has a knock-on effect on planning and effectiveness right across Hertfordshire FRS. For example, the service has not engaged meaningfully with the public or other local services to understand the current and future risks in Hertfordshire – this engagement would usually happen as part of the IRMP consultation. Much of its planned development work is on hold. Local risk profiles are out of date, and due to problems with technology crews are not always able to access the information they need to keep the public safe.

The service’s prevention strategy is about to expire, and it has done some work to target the people most at risk of fire and other emergencies, however this could be improved. Although we found evidence of some innovative work on community safety, campaigns are inconsistent across the county. The service does not adequately evaluate its campaigns, so it is not possible to know what effect they are having.

We found some good work on enforcement, with the service taking a range of measures to make sure that businesses comply with fire regulations. More should be done to tackle false alarms, or ‘unwanted fire signals’. The service is generally good at responding to fires and other emergencies across the county. It is also well placed to respond to national incidents.

Due to problems with its software and pagers, the service does not always allocate resources efficiently. Control room staff cannot accurately assess how many on-call staff are available, and so they tend to allocate more resources than they 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 put in place an effective integrated risk management plan to ensure it keeps the public safe and secure from the risk of fire. This plan should be based on comprehensive use of data and accurate understanding of risk, including consistent use of operational data to test the risk profile.
  • The service needs to improve how it engages with the local community to build up a comprehensive profile of risk in the service area.
  • The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information.

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

All fire and rescue services are required to produce an integrated risk management plan (IRMP). This identifies the current and future risks to local communities and sets out the ways in which the service plans to manage those risks. However, Hertfordshire’s IRMP is out of date, having been published in 2014, based on risk information gathered between 2009 and 2013. Therefore, the service is planning services based on information that is in some instances ten years old.

This means that it cannot be sure it understands current and future risks, or that it is allocating resources appropriately to manage those risks. The service is aware of the gravity of this problem – the out of date IRMP appears as the highest risk on the corporate risk register – and yet we remain concerned that it is not tackling the situation with sufficient urgency.

The service had held off preparing a new plan, pending a decision on the future governance of the fire and rescue service. The police and crime commissioner for Hertfordshire had submitted a business case to the Home Office to transfer governance of the fire service. In the summer of 2018, the county council leadership acknowledged that it could no longer continue to delay the proper planning of these services and asked the service to draw up a new IRMP in time for setting the 2019/20 budget. The service plans to present its recommendations to the council by the autumn, with a view to finalising a new IRMP in time to inform the council’s financial planning for 2019/20 onwards. This will be a challenging timescale for such an important piece of work, which not only requires comprehensive risk analysis, it also requires sufficient time to properly consult the public of Hertfordshire as well as partner organisations.

Because the service has not kept its risk management planning up to date, it has had a knock-on effect on planning and engagement right across the service. Without this comprehensive understanding of current and future risk, the service can’t properly review and update its community protection directorate plan, or its prevention, protection and response strategies, which all expire during 2018.

We did find that the service has taken some limited measures to understand local risk. The senior leadership group (SLG) considers some risk information, such as local context, pattern and causes of emergency incidents. It also works with community safety partnerships – which include the council, the police and health services – to discuss and assess local risks. However, it is unclear how it uses this information to make improvements.

At an individual fire station level, the service has produced station risk profiles, which set out the particular risks in each locality. However again these only include information up to March 2016. They do not include 2017/18 incident data and are limited in scope. They have not yet been shared with FRS managers, so they are not being used to inform decision making or resource allocation. 

Partner organisations, such as the local authority and public health, share risk information with the service. This data helps identify people who are particularly at risk from fires. It includes census data, demographics, health and wellbeing information, deprivation indices and district profiles. This data is seven years old but is about to be updated. The service could not show us how it is currently using this information.

The service has commissioned research on accidental fatal fires within homes in Hertfordshire, between 1 January 2000 and 31 March 2017. But it could not show us how the findings from this research have been used in policy and practice.

Having an effective risk management plan

The fact that the IRMP is out of date means that the service does not have a strong basis for making decisions. There has been little progress in assessing current, emerging and future changes in the county-wide risk profile. The 2014–18 IRMP set out 30 different areas in which the service would look at making improvements; currently much of this development is on hold.

The service has access to a broad range of data, including local forecasts in economic growth and infrastructure, but it was not able to show us how this will inform the future IRMP. Although it has specialist geographical information and mapping software, managers lack awareness of its capability.

Another area of concern is the service’s attendance standards, which set targets for the response times for fire engines attending emergencies. The service is planning simply to reaffirm its existing standards without review, but these will be based on data that is ten years old. There may have been significant changes to local risks over that time – the service should be reviewing attendance standards based on up-to-date research.

Maintaining risk information

Wholetime firefighters work with fire safety specialists to gather and understand risk information about individual premises. Information about high-risk premises is recorded on an ‘operational risk information management’ form. This process improves the quality of risk information collected, increases firefighters’ knowledge of risks in their areas and checks that premises visited comply with fire safety standards.

Wholetime firefighters systematically inspect and update the site-specific risk information (SSRI). They check that businesses in their station areas – such as factories, shops or buildings with sleeping accommodation – meet fire regulations, and they make sure they are ready to respond in an emergency. However, we found that not all on-call staff were as familiar with local risks.

The service also has access to basic risk information for sites that are not covered by the SSRI process. It identifies emerging and temporary risks with partners, such as the police, the local authority and trading standards. They prepare temporary local tactical plans and share short-term changes using the mobile computers installed on fire engines. But while the service is good at gathering risk information, it does not have an effective IT system to make this information available to all operational staff. 

The service is aware of the community risk register, which sets out main risks in the county, through its leadership of the local resilience forum (LRF). It uses this information with partners to guide and test response planning for major incidents.


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

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should review and update its prevention strategy to take account of risks.
  • The service should assure itself it allocates the right resources and does enough of the right type of prevention work.
  • The service should ensure it targets its prevention work at people most at risk.
  • 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’s prevention strategy is derived from the IRMP and has not been updated to take account of current and future risks. Without current county-wide risk information, staff adapt their work based on what they know of locally emerging risks. This means the service cannot be assured it is targeting prevention activity at the areas where it could have the greatest positive effect.

Hertfordshire FRS works well with other county council departments, particularly the public health service. This has had some effect: for example, the service has increased the scope of home fire safety checks and put in place protocols to guide how to handle people who are hoarding possessions in their homes. We found that staff could identify potential vulnerability and safeguarding issues and refer them on to the right organisation to deal with them.

However, it could do more to ensure that prevention work is better targeted at those most at risk of fire and other emergencies. The service offers free home fire safety checks for all and advertises these at local events which are not targeted at particularly vulnerable people. It does assess online applications and prioritise from them people who are likely to be at greater risk. Stations also receive a list of higher-risk addresses to visit in their area, but they do not prioritise these over other home fire safety checks. The information they are given is often out of date and inaccurate.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service conducted 3,512 home fire safety checks. This represents a rate of 3.0 visits per 1,000 population, which is lower than the England rate of 10.4 visits per 1,000 population. The number of checks conducted has also decreased when compared with the same period in 2017. Additionally, in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, a smaller percentage of checks were to people with disabilities when compared with other services. The number of checks on the elderly has had a slight increase in the 12 months to 31 March 2018 when compared to the same time period in 2017.Staff are frustrated that their time is not better spent on helping those most in need.

Promoting community safety

The service works well with the county council, police, probation and trading standards to prevent fire and other emergencies and protect the public. Through the joint protective services team, these organisations work effectively together to tackle arson, fire-setting, domestic abuse, anti-social behaviour and alcohol and drug abuse.

The service shares information with the police about deliberate fires and does targeted street patrols aimed at reducing arson. Firefighters visit local businesses to advise them on how to reduce the risk of fire – for example, safe storage and timely clearance of waste. Community safety staff identify trends in arson-related incidents, and voluntary and staff counsellors support those who have a history of fire-setting. According to evaluation data supplied by the service, 92 percent of those who received counselling in 2016/17 and 85 percent in 2017/18 did not reoffend.

We found evidence of some innovative community safety work. A good example is Boxcleva, which provides boxing training to educate and divert young people from anti-social behaviour including arson. The programme was originally developed by a firefighter in Borehamwood. It was evaluated thoroughly by the Hertfordshire sports partnership and has now secured £420,000 to expand to ten targeted Hertfordshire locations. According to data supplied by the service, Crucial Crew information days will provide 10,395 children in 2018 with fire safety and other essential safety advice. However, the lack of central planning means that the service’s campaigns are often inconsistent. For example, individual stations choose how to provide information about corporate community safety, and their methods vary widely across the county.

The service’s approach to evaluation of campaigns is inconsistent and could not consistently provide us with evidence to show what effect they have had. This means it is not able to fully understand what works and share good practice. 

Road safety

The service is good at road safety prevention activity and is an active member of the road safety partnership. It offers a ‘learn to live’ session to all sixth form students, and according to data supplied by the service approximately 4,000 students attend every year. The service also delivers the Prince’s Trust programme, which includes a road safety day. The service supports the national fire chiefs’ council road safety week and there is a ‘driving home for Christmas’ campaign, which promotes messages around winter driving and tyre safety. Volunteers provide road safety measures for motorcyclists, including Biker Down sessions and assessed rides. An emerging focus is maintaining older drivers’ road safety, to support their independence. The service does monitor these campaigns but has inconsistent quality assurance and evaluation.


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


Hertfordshire FRS is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it addresses effectively the burden of false alarms (termed ‘unwanted fire signals’).

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 is good at risk-based inspection. It uses a risk-based approach to target its enforcement work, which means that its resources are targeted on the areas of highest risk. Specialist fire safety staff carry out audits of complex premises, using the nationally recommended shortened audit process to reduce the burden on business. They carry out full audits of properties where they have found serious breaches of fire regulations in a post-incident inspection. The service has a fire safety enforcement strategy, although this is based on the out-of-date IRMP. It has a proportionate and robust approach to managing safety in public buildings that are considered high risk.

The service systematically and routinely shares relevant information on fire safety risk with staff. Station liaison officers support local stations in undertaking fire safety work on specific types of risks, such as sleeping accommodation. Officers notify control room staff when a building is subject to an enforcement notice, so it appears on the mobile computers installed in fire engines. 

Senior leaders set proactive annual priorities for enforcing fire regulations, based on national, regional and local patterns of fires, injuries and/or deaths and enforcement action taken. For example, following the Grenfell Tower fire, the service prioritised auditing and inspecting high-rise properties. It also prioritised residential care and sheltered accommodation, following local significant incidents.


Hertfordshire FRS uses enforcement powers to protect the public. It works with other organisations including the Care Quality Commission, local authority trading standards and licensing to uphold fire regulations and bring prosecutions where necessary.

The service works effectively with businesses to ensure they comply with the law. Where it finds breaches of fire regulations it applies appropriate sanctions and takes enforcement action. It uses a good range of enforcement methods, from informal escalation to enforcement notices, to formal legal proceedings.

Data supplied by the service shows that from 1 April 2018 to the time of inspection, it had undertaken three prosecutions. This compares with only one prosecution in the five years prior to this.

Working with others

The service is good at working in partnership to target local businesses and large organisations in Hertfordshire through the national ‘better business for all’ initiative. This provides education and support to businesses regarding fire risks and other kinds of compliance. It sends monthly surveys to organisations it has been in contact with, and 90 percent of respondents reported they had a good experience in 2017/18 according to data the service provided.

For large businesses with multiple sites across the county, the service operates primary authority schemes. This means that the service provides the company with a single point of contact in the fire and rescue service – this person can provide advice about all the company’s sites nationwide.

The service also works closely with partners such as the police, border force, immigration control and the council to identify and report breaches of legislation, including a case of modern slavery and human trafficking.

It could do more, however, to work with the owners or occupiers of premises in order to reduce the false alarms known as ‘unwanted fire signals’. At present, it is responding to too many false alarms. This could mean a delay in responding to a genuine emergency. It has issued information on the subject, and call handlers in the control room do challenge callers. But while the service’s policy allows it to charge for unwanted fire signals, it has yet to put this into practice.


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


Hertfordshire FRS 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 ensure it can handle calls in a timely and consistent way to ensure public safety.
  • The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information.
  • The service should ensure it has effective systems in place to reliably understand resource availability, call handling and alerting of on-call resources to respond to incidents.

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 does what it needs to do to protect the public, but it does not review its resourcing policies regularly enough. For example, its stated policy is to have 40 fire engines available at all times. In reality, it is meeting its attendance targets despite the fact that far fewer fire engines are usually available. This calls into question why the policy has not been reviewed and adjusted.

Control room staff use their professional judgment to deal with emerging risks and adjust the pre-planned levels of response where necessary, for example, for incidents of false alarms in buildings that are known to have people sleeping in them. However, due to unreliable software, they are not always able to access accurate information about the number of on-call firefighters available. The pagers that alert on-call staff to respond to incidents are also unreliable. As a result, control room staff often allocate more firefighters to an area than is necessary.

The service has joined an East Coast control room consortium with Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Humberside FRSs. The aim was to jointly procure and install an IT system that would improve the response to emergency calls and the deployment of emergency response resources. However, the original completion date was 2014, and the system is still not fully up and running.

The new system is currently only operating in Hertfordshire, and the service has experienced a number of problems, mainly with the telephone system. It has managed to meet its target response times, but it no longer has a secondary control to fall back to, which is a risk. The other services in the consortium have been advised not to move over to the new system yet.


The service is able to respond effectively to emergencies. In some areas, such as performing rescues and commanding incidents, its policies and procedures already reflect best practice and national operational guidance. It is currently reviewing its procedures in other areas.

National occupational standards are in place to give a consistent level of training and maintenance of competence for operational firefighters.

The health and safety policy addresses national guidance, with targets set and monitoring arrangements in place.

The service does collect local risk information, but it needs to make sure that this is consistently communicated to operational commanders to help effective command at incidents. There are significant problems with the mobile computers installed in fire engines, which means that this is not always the case. The service has systems in place to allow fire control to access risk information, but staff do not always understand how to do this.


Staff in Hertfordshire FRS are effectively trained, assessed and monitored to be able to command emergency incidents assertively and effectively. Incident commanders are assessed annually and are stopped from commanding emergency incidents if they fail.

The service has policies and training for commanding incidents that reflects national operational guidance. It generally makes good use of national operational terminology, which improves communication at the incident through the use of standard messages. However, we were concerned to find an example in which this wasn’t the case, and outdated terminology had been used on an incident command control board.

In accordance with national guidance, incident commanders are allowed to use their discretion to override service policy when they deem it is safe and more appropriate to do so. Such decisions should be appropriately recorded and monitored.

The service has an operational debrief process to learn from actions taken at emergency incidents. There are plans to improve the recording arrangements for the of use of operational discretion, as it is currently not always easy to identify and review where an incident commander has used their discretion.

The service has procedures in place to risk assess operational incidents as they unfold. The risk assessment should be signed by the incident commander and reviewed every 30 minutes to support the management of health and safety at an incident. However, a review of FRS records shows these procedures are applied inconsistently.

Keeping the public informed

The service has good policies and training in place to support its staff in dealing with vulnerable people and making safeguarding referrals. We looked at training records and found that staff who need to be competent in safeguarding have received the necessary training.

We found good examples of the service making safeguarding referrals. For example, a crew member identified and referred a victim of domestic abuse to the police and social services following a house fire. In another case, a crew made a safeguarding referral after finding somebody unconscious on the floor of their home, and a social worker was assigned as a result.

The service uses Twitter and Facebook to tell the public about ongoing incidents. It also uses social media to publicise campaign information and monitors the number of retweets to gauge the level of engagement with the public. It co-ordinates with other organisations including the police and local authority to provide consistent information in the event of large, multi-agency incidents.

In debriefs after each incident staff evaluate their communication with the public. They are aware that their work can cause damage to property, and they try to minimise this, for example by closing doors and limiting the level of water damage. Following a fire, firefighters can call the Red Cross fire emergency service support vehicle to support businesses and home owners or call in fire service volunteers to help with salvage and recovery.

The service has a public complaints procedure. There are monitoring arrangements in place for complaints and in respect of what has been done to address them. However not all staff know about this.

Evaluating operational performance

The service operations and training board (SOTB) evaluates operational performance well. Depending on the severity of the incident, the service can choose to conduct an informal debrief, a formal recorded debrief, or a multi-agency debrief. The last two are assessed by central monitoring officers, who report important points to the SOTB.

The SOTB then decides what action should be taken and how to share any findings. For example, after a care home fire, the service provided fire risk training to care agency staff and changed its risk-based inspection programme. Corporate actions are built into a corporate action plan. However, the SOTB does not have an effective process to make sure that the necessary actions are carried out in a timely manner.

The service shares the findings from its debriefs internally, and externally through the national operational learning platform. It also assesses operational learning from the wider sector through the SOTB.


How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?


Hertfordshire FRS is good at responding to national risks. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it understands national and cross-border risks and is well prepared to meet such risks. It should ensure operational staff and control room operators have access to 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.


Hertfordshire FRS broadly complies with and supports the national co-ordination and advisory framework. It gives support to major incidents outside the county when required through national planning arrangements and gives regular support to incidents in neighbouring areas. The operations strategy explains how the service responds to major incidents.

The service co-ordinates emergency planning and business continuity arrangements for the council. This is to make sure it can respond to a range of incidents and emergencies, while continuing to provide critical services during times of disruption.

‘Hertfordshire resilience’ is an emergency planning forum that involves the emergency services, local authorities, government agencies and the voluntary sector to provide an integrated response to emergencies. The forum offers opportunities to jointly assess risks, plan the emergency response, train and exercise together with a view to achieving an improved response. The chief fire officer is the chair of the forum with other senior officers also holding lead roles.

Hertfordshire resilience regularly reviews the community risk register against local information and national guidance. The community risk register is a multi-agency publication that highlights the risks that are most likely to have a significant negative effect, causing disruption to people in specific areas across the county. It assesses sites that are critical to the national infrastructure and the operational risks these sites may pose and puts emergency plans in place to respond.

Working with other services

The service is in a good position to support a national response to a large-scale incident. It has access to specialist equipment and expertise in important areas. High-volume pumps are available to pump higher than normal quantities of water to a fire or away from a flood zone. It has equipment to rescue people from water, and to protect firefighters working in an area where there is a marauding terrorist firearms attack.

Although the service has risk information about some sites in neighbouring FRS areas – to which it may be called to support an emergency response – this is not readily available to control room operators or firefighters.

Working with other agencies

The service works well with other agencies. Its staff understand how they can support the police, local authority, ambulance service and others in emergency response. The organisations train and exercise together to prepare for dealing with incidents that happen over county borders or involve multiple agencies. External partners are invited to multi-agency debriefs. The partners we spoke to told us that they valued the involvement of Hertfordshire FRS.

The service has put in a bid to the county council to redevelop the existing training and development site into a multi-agency emergency services academy, working with the police. The service has national inter-agency liaison officers in place to give advice and support at major incidents.

The service has a clear policy for responding to a marauding terrorist firearms attack. It carries out tests and exercises and has the resources to respond to prolonged incidents having a mix of wholetime and on-call firefighters available. The control room staff are prepared to deal with a multi-agency response, including terrorist attacks. They have regular training and comprehensive briefing materials.