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Isles of Scilly 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

Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

An effective fire and rescue service will identity 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. Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

The service understands the risks in its community. It uses its own data and data from other organisations to learn about risk. It shares risk knowledge with the local authority. Its staff contribute to the service’s strong local knowledge. Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service commissions services from Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service.

The service is updating its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). The plan focuses on community risk and meets national standards.

There are few incidents on the Isles of Scilly. The service’s paper-based risk information management system is therefore good enough. The service focuses prevention activity on those most at need, with firefighters using local knowledge along with help from other interested parties. However, the process needs to be more robust when receiving referral information.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 54 home fire safety checks. The service receives referrals from local agencies which are targeted at the most vulnerable. The service promotes its activities to the public, particularly young people. It does not evaluate its community safety activity.

The service must improve the way it uses fire regulation to protect the public. The service has recently contracted Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service to carry out its statutory protection duties. There is currently no risk-based inspection programme although work is underway to address this. The service should monitor how it implements this arrangement to make sure it complies with its statutory duties.

The service is good at responding to fires and emergencies through its control room which is shared with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. It can support an incident as it becomes more serious. It has an appropriate but informal system for recording staff availability. The work with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service should improve the service’s understanding of national operational guidance. The service relies on its close links with the community to share news. Safeguarding training is patchy, but staff are aware of procedures. The service does debrief after incidents. But, we found formally sharing learning with all staff is not part of routine practice.

Questions for Effectiveness


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


All fire and rescue services should identify and assess all foreseeable fire and rescue-related risks. They should also prevent and mitigate these risks.

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

Understanding local and community risk

The largest and most populated island in the Isles of Scilly is St Mary’s. It has an airport and the Isles’ only secondary school. There are four smaller populated islands, referred to as the ‘off-islands’. These are St Agnes, St Martin’s, Bryher and Tresco.

The service has a one-year interim annual integrated risk management plan (IRMP) to cover 2018. It is based on 2012 data with limited updates. The service is developing a new 2019–22 IRMP with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service.

The service aims to work with others to ensure it has the resources and funding for its main functions. The service combines its resources with the Council of the Isles of Scilly and with the airport run by the council. It shares all its facilities with the other emergency services on the islands.

The service uses data about specific islands gathered from all departments of the local authority. Data from the police, ambulance service, coastguard and RNLI supplement this. These data are not refreshed consistently.

Incident numbers for the Isles of Scilly are very low. This makes it difficult to test data against operational activity for planning purposes.

The service covers a remote and geographically small area. It employs approximately 40 on-call staff. The staff are all locally based. This gives the service a thorough understanding of its risks.

When the service identifies operational deficiencies, it uses staff members’ local knowledge to make changes. For example, staff worked with the Duchy of Cornwall to place water tanks strategically around the island.

On the off-islands, crews visit every domestic property once a year and do a home fire safety check. Through the checks, staff get thorough knowledge of properties. This knowledge improves the safety of the public in these hard-to-reach areas.

Isles of Scilly and Cornwall fire and rescue services have a new legal agreement. Under this agreement, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service inspects commercial premises on the islands. This development is still in the pilot phase.

The service contributes, in a limited way, to the local authority corporate risk register.

Having an effective risk management plan

The service uses the local authority risk register data to inform its current IRMP.

The IRMP 2019–22 will support the formal legal agreement between Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service and Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service.

The current IRMP focuses on community risk. There is a clear link to the service’s operational activity. The plan sets out the service’s overall direction and future difficulties. These include maintaining levels of emergency response and community safety while saving money. The plan also promises to introduce new ways of working. The IRMP meets the requirements of the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England.

The service works well with other organisations to better understand community risk. The deputy chief executive of the local authority, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, is also the chief fire officer (non-uniformed) and attends the Isles of Scilly’s community safety partnership. These meetings identify vulnerability and community risk across all council services. The council knows about vulnerable people through GP referrals and self-referrals. The meetings ensure the council and the service both know about vulnerable people and can act as needed. This activity is tracked through regular meetings.

Maintaining risk information

The service should gather information about certain building risks to help staff plan a response to an emergency. The service has produced tactical information plans about certain premises on the islands. These are kept in fire engines and provide information about buildings including their layout and other known hazards. The administrative process of maintaining this risk information is limited.

Inspections of temporary and long-standing risks are paper-based. The findings of these inspections are not routinely communicated across the service. But we found that staff do have detailed knowledge of their local areas and risks. The size and activity levels of the service mean that, although risk information could be better maintained, this is good enough.

The service should share significant information with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. This would mean that both services would have consistent information during incidents. It was not clear if the control function provided by Cornwall is aware of current risk information.

The service does not use mobile data terminals on operational appliances. The service is updating the computer systems for each station. This makes it impossible to create, store and share electronic documents about risk across the entire service. Crews on each island address this through their strong local knowledge.


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


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

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it targets its prevention work at people most at risk. This should include a formal referral and recording system.

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 aims to carry out 100 home fire safety checks per year across the islands, but has only done so twice since 2011/12. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service did 54 home fire safety checks which represents a rate of 23.9 home fire safety checks per 1,000 population.

Airport fire service staff undertake home fire safety checks on St Mary’s as part of their service level agreement with the fire service. They also receive and act upon referrals from other local authority departments. They complete these checks throughout the year, although particularly in the winter when the airport is less busy and enough staff are available.

A referral process is in place to allow agencies to signpost vulnerable persons for the fire service to provide fire safety information to. The service needs to ensure arrangements are sufficiently robust to handle this information.

Staff have information to help them with home fire safety checks but there is no formal training in this area.

Promoting community safety

The service has strong links with the community. Its staff all live locally. Staff on the off-islands are particularly proud to be serving their communities. The service promotes a wide range of community activities. We did not, however, find any evidence that the service evaluates its community safety activities.

The community activities all aim to promote community safety. The service website promotes home fire safety checks with a contact number to request a visit. The service provides equipment free of charge to reduce risk in homes. For example, smoke detectors, replacement electric blankets and electric deep fat fryers for those considered to be vulnerable. The provision of fire safety equipment is not means tested, it is given if staff feel that there is a need.

The service runs campaigns to reduce general risk and improve the health, safety and wellbeing of local people. This includes fire safety advice. The service helps with events such as dementia awareness days and runs 999 days to promote safety information.

Staff run a Duke of Edinburgh award scheme for local children, which includes fire-safety activities. The service believes the children then spread this knowledge to their families and friends. It supports the school curriculum and visits schools and nurseries.

The service does not promote water safety awareness or water rescue activity. This is the responsibility of the islands’ coastguard.

Road safety

There is a limited road network on the islands and slow driving speeds. The service does not see road safety prevention as a priority or commit any resource to this area.


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

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it allocates enough resources to a prioritised and risk-based inspection programme.
  • The service should ensure its staff carry out fire safety audits competently.

All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in buildings and, where 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

Fire and rescue services must promote fire prevention. This means they should assess fire risk in commercial buildings. Where needed they should direct landlords and owners to comply with fire safety legislation.

The service identifies 15 premises as ‘high risk’. These are non-domestic premises with a sleeping risk, for example, hotels and the boarding school. The service brings in qualified personnel to carry out inspections. Previously, these were from the private sector; they now are from Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service under the recently-agreed legal agreement in relation to Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service’s statutory protection duties.

Cornwall planned an inspection programme to audit ten premises with a sleeping risk, and two hospitals or care homes. There is currently a very limited risk-based inspection programme. So far, Cornwall has shared what it found during these inspections with the service.


A fire service may consider legal action if it finds breaches of fire safety legislation in a property. Data supplied by the service during fieldwork shows that it only conducted protection audits on 2 percent of its known risk premises (excluding private single dwellings) in the 12 months to 31 March 2017. Cornwall is now conducting protection audits on behalf of the service.

In the last five years the service has not taken any enforcement action against commercial premises on the islands. Cornwall Fire & Rescue Service will be responsible for taking legal action following the delegation of protection functions.

The service’s senior management believe that owners of commercial premises comply with fire safety legislation. They believe that their motivation is the investment they have made in the islands and the need to attract tourists. The service does not test this view and it does not have a risk-based inspection programme. There is currently no risk-based inspection programme although work is underway since Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service began production of a risk-based evidence profile. The service plans to use this to inform a future risk-based inspection programme.

Operational crews undertake exercises in the hotels on their respective islands when out of season. This gives them access to the premises. But fire crews have had limited or no training in fire protection, so they may not always correctly identify breaches in fire safety regulations.

Working with others

We found some examples where the service works with other organisations to reduce false alarm 999 calls from premises with fire alarms and give staff advice and training in the workplace on fire safety awareness .

However, we did not find any examples of work with local businesses to improve compliance with fire safety regulations.


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


Isles of Scilly 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 ensure it understands what it needs to do to adopt national operational guidance, including joint and national learning. It should then put in place a plan to do so.
  • The service should ensure staff know how to command fire service assets assertively, effectively and safely at incidents.
  • The service should ensure it has an effective system for staff to use learning and debriefs to improve operational response and incident command.

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 Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service’s control room to mobilise its resources. The service, supported by Cornwall, is reviewing its operational policies and response capabilities. The aim is to align, where appropriate, with Cornwall’s policies.

Under the agreement between the two services Cornwall sends specialist officers to the islands during large or complex incidents. This process recently proved successful during a live incident.

When Cornwall fire control mobilises to incidents on an island it is by alerting on-call members on at least two of the other islands. This ensures the right number of firefighters attend. Given the travel difficulties faced by crews, this is an effective way to support an incident should it escalate and become more serious.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service attended a total of 17 incidents. The service has a range of vehicles adapted to respond to its local risks and environment. These include, for example, tractors and purpose-built trailers. The service can use the local authority airport staff and fire engines for larger incidents. During this type of event, the airport would be closed. The recording of staff availability is adequate, however it would benefit from modernisation.


The service has a good local understanding of the risks on the islands. It is aware that key risks are sleeping accommodation within hotels, terraced properties and agricultural properties. The service has not fully inspected these properties.

The service is not aware of national operational guidance and how this should be reflected within its policies and procedures. The work with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service should help with this, as staff will have access to all joint operational policies as part of this collaboration.


On the Isles of Scilly, the highest operational commander role is watch manager. This means that an officer from Cornwall may be called to attend any larger incident.

There has been no formal incident command training for several years. Under the new arrangements with Cornwall, there has been some command training. It appeared that there had been no formal assessment of competence that had been checked by any quality assurance processes.

We found that staff did not understand the guidance on operational discretion, where firefighters step outside normal procedures under certain circumstances. And staff did not understand either the joint decision model nor national operational guidance.

Keeping the public informed

The service does not appear to communicate with the public about recent incidents, for example on a website or through social media. But the firefighters are so much a part of the local community that the public is usually aware of local events.

The service relies on its close work with its partner organisations and firefighters’ local knowledge to identify vulnerable people and safeguarding needs. There is no formal process for recording or sharing such knowledge. The service communicates this knowledge only to staff who are believed to need it.

Training on safeguarding is inconsistent. Most staff are aware of procedures through other jobs that they hold. There is now a computer-based training package available, but problems with IT mean that not all staff can access it.

Evaluating operational performance

The service has a process for evaluating and sharing learning from incidents using hot debriefs and post incident survey forms. But this is not part of routine practice across the service. We found that the service does not formally evaluate essential learning from incidents or share it with staff.

The service’s data showed it does very few formal debriefs, however, this reflects the low number of incidents it attends.

There is no training for debriefs after an incident. Staff debrief their own crews on a basic level by checking their welfare after incidents. The service shares any debrief learning through talking.

For major incidents, the service does undertake a formal debrief. Following a recent barn fire, a senior officer from Cornwall chaired a debrief for the crews. But the service did not share learning from this with all crews and staff.


How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?

Not being graded

Due to the nature of the islands, Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service does not respond to national risks. So, we didn’t inspect the service’s performance in this area.