How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
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. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
It understands the risks in its local community. It tells the public about these risks and involves them when making its plans. It uses a range of information to help with this. The service has a response standard of attending the scene of life at risk incidents within ten minutes. Its target is to meet this standard on 90 percent of occasions. Between 1 April and 31 December 2018, it exceeded this target (92.3 percent). Firefighters can access and use relevant information about risk.
The service’s work to prevent fires and other risks is very good. According to service data, fire deaths in Merseyside are at their lowest level since records have been kept. The service directs its prevention activity at the areas that most need it. It works with other organisations to prevent risk through different activities. The service involves its firefighters in prevention activity. It is an active member of the local road safety partnership. It also works with other groups to improve road safety.
The service has a new risk-based inspection programme. It has restructured its protection department. But it needs to make sure it has sufficient staff. It works with businesses to help them maintain standards. It takes enforcement action where necessary.
The service properly trains and equips its firefighters. It has adapted its staffing arrangements to help match demand. It has good systems in place to help staff learn lessons from incidents. It shares learning locally and nationally. But it needs to make sure the command competencies for supervisors are up to date. The joint emergency services control centre is good practice.
The service is a leading member of the local resilience forum. It can get help from other services for major incidents if necessary. It can also send resources to help others. It takes responsibility for managing how services do this nationally.
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
We found that the service has a good understanding of local and community risk. It has informed the public of the main risks they face in its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). This includes measures it has in place, or intends to introduce, to reduce these risks through prevention, protection and response. The current IRMP covers the period 2017–20. It is easy to understand and clear about the financial constraints facing the service. Prior to consulting on its IRMP proposals, the service engaged with the public to ensure that it understood their priorities. As a result, we found that the efficiencies and changes it proposes reflect the expectations the public expressed during that consultation exercise.
The service takes account of a wide range of information to build its IRMP. It draws from both internal and external sources such as local resilience forum partners, the health sector and local authorities. Additionally, it uses bespoke software to simulate the effect of any changes it proposes to make to the location of its fire stations. It uses census, health, deprivation, predictive population and built environment data from external partner organisations. It takes account of high-risk sites identified through the community risk register, such as the large number of high-rise blocks of flats in Liverpool, potential major accident sites and transport hubs. When appropriate, it has specific emergency plans in place.
It also takes account of the risks on the community risk register (which it manages on behalf of the local resilience forum) that present high levels of demand to the service. These include the involvement of fire in criminal activity, an ageing population and troubled families. The service shares information with local authorities to target those most at risk from fire and other emergencies, and has full access to road safety data through the Merseyside road safety partnership.
To draw its public-facing and internal plans together, the service has developed a broad range of performance indicators that allows it to compare its performance against other similar fire services. This approach is keeping internal departments focused on the aims of the service and enabling the fire authority to hold it to account for the service it provides to the public.
Having an effective risk management plan
We were pleased to see clear links between the service’s IRMP and its functional, departmental and station plans. We examined the service’s IRMP and found it to be in line with nationally published guidance.
The service has a response standard of attending 90 percent of life-risk incidents within ten minutes. It consistently meets this standard. It is being innovative in having more fire appliances available during the day, to match the higher levels of operational demand on the service during this time. This approach is also allowing it to maximise the time it can make firefighters available to provide its prevention and protection activities.
The service clearly directs its prevention activity to those individuals who are most at risk from fire, irrespective of where they live. Its prevention activity recognises the correlation between deprivation, crime, and the high levels of deliberate fire setting.
The IRMP commits the service to refreshing its protection activity by 2020. The service is on target to do that, having introduced a revised risk-based inspection programme targeted at its highest-risk premises.
Maintaining risk information
Fire engines are equipped with computer-based risk information that is accessible to firefighters. Firefighters were able to show us they can use this information quickly to assist them in the safe resolution of operational incidents.
Firefighters gather risk information for use at incidents. They also conduct fire safety audits at lower-risk commercial and industrial premises. This allows them to maintain a working knowledge of the risks in their immediate station area. This is helping to address the service’s concern that firefighters’ practical knowledge is decreasing because of the reduction in fires and other emergencies over the last decade.
We were also pleased to see that the service has a good system in place that allows it to quickly communicate temporary safety-critical risk information across the service such as at one-off sporting events. This ensures that firefighters have up-to-date and relevant information to allow them to successfully deal with operational incidents.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
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 deliberately concentrated the majority of its prevention work on its statutory responsibility to protect the public from the risks of fire. It clearly prioritises fire safety in the home and arson reduction. However, it is also engaged in a range of non-statutory prevention activity such as road and water safety.
The service has moved from offering universal home fire safety visits to concentrating on those at the highest risk from fire. We were pleased to note that the rationale for this approach is based on robust research into the causes of fire deaths in Merseyside over the past decade. As a result, together with referrals from partner organisations, it targets individuals based on their age, vulnerability, mobility and whether they live alone. Central to this approach is the use of shared health data. The service has helped to have this data (known as Exeter data) made available for the use of all fire and rescue services.
We were impressed to note that in the year to 31 March 2018 the service carried out around 52,000 home fire safety checks, equating to 37.1 home fire safety checks per 1,000 population. It targeted just under 31,000 (58.8 percent) of these checks at elderly people and just under 9,000 (16.6 percent) to people declaring a disability.
When firefighters identify additional needs during visits, we saw evidence that they refer individuals to more specially trained staff. This ensures a more in-depth safe and well visit takes place. These visits include identifying and taking action to reduce potential fire risks, ensuring working smoke alarms are fitted, advice on social welfare, health screening and detection, health prevention and advice on slips, trips and falls.
We found that the service fully involves operational firefighters in its prevention strategy, which is widely understood. It is notable that the service reinforces the importance it places on its strategy by assigning one day a year where all staff, including fire authority members, take part in fire risk checks.
The service seeks feedback, and evaluates and quality assures this activity to ensure that it is contributing to its intended strategy. It now completes fewer checks but these are better targeted.
In the year to 31 March 2018, there were five fire-related deaths in Merseyside (four accidental dwelling fire deaths plus one deliberate action), based on records published by the Home Office. These are at the lowest level since records began.
Promoting community safety
We found that the service is engaging with a range of partner organisations to promote community safety. These organisations told us the service is a valued member of Merseyside’s community safety partnership. It takes an active role in taking individual referrals to and from multi-agency safety hubs.
We were encouraged to note that the service is proactive in engaging with under-represented groups in its communities and assuring itself that these groups receive an appropriate service. Most notable is the engagement work with the Muslim community.
We saw evidence of the service promoting water safety in areas where the risk of drowning was significant. The service is also engaging with groups that provide access to vulnerable individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia or who might be at risk of taking their own life. All fire stations in Merseyside are promoted as safe havens, meaning they are advertised as places vulnerable people may seek refuge in times of need. We spoke to people who gave us first-hand accounts of occasions when vulnerable members of the public had looked for and been given refuge.
The service has a proactive approach to arson reduction. It works closely with Merseyside Police, which has enabled it to contribute to the successful prosecution of many arsonists. The service monitors where deliberate fires are taking place and leads regular multi-agency campaigns that target those areas. These campaigns provide public reassurance, education and target hardening.
The service told us it traditionally receives a high volume of calls and many attacks on staff during the run-up to Bonfire Night. We were impressed by the volume of activity the service had undertaken in the lead-up to Bonfire Night. To reduce the risk to both the public and staff, the service reported that it worked with partner organisations to remove over 50 tonnes of bonfire materials, carried out joint target-hardening visits, regularly drove high-risk routes in fire appliances to increase visibility and deter offenders, and successfully worked with the police to reduce violence to staff.
The service is a member of the Merseyside road safety partnership. Partners told us that it is an active and valued member. The partnership co-ordinates road safety activity across the five districts of Merseyside. It uses a mixture of education, engineering and enforcement to improve road safety. The service leads the partnership on innovation. It has introduced virtual reality technology to assist with education campaigns and is currently researching other opportunities.
We noted that the service also engages with a range of local football clubs, schools, further education establishments, youth offending services and The Prince’s Trust’s schemes. This to provide a variety of road safety education packages targeting young drivers.
There has been a reduction in the total number of injuries recorded on Merseyside’s roads in recent years. In the year ending 31 March 2017, the service recorded 529 non-fatal road vehicle casualties. This reduced to 400 in the year ending 31 March 2018.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service 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 allocates enough resources to a prioritised and risk-based inspection programme.
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.
The service has made a commitment that by 2020 it will ensure maximum effectiveness in targeting the right level of protection expertise to the right level of risk. We found that the service is on track with that commitment.
The service recognised that it needed to improve the way it chooses properties for inspection. Previously it had been revisiting places that already had a satisfactory standard of fire safety measures. It has now refreshed its risk-based inspection programme. This means it is now targeting premises for inspection in line with its inspection plan. It has ranked, according to risk, every property in Merseyside covered by the relevant fire safety legislation. It has calculated each property’s risk by combining data it already holds with external factors such as social, economic and environmental risk factors.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 3.0 fire safety audits per 100 known premises (which equates to 908 audits). This is in line with the England rate. Of these audits, 91 percent were satisfactory. This high level of satisfactory audits supports the service’s analysis that it needed to refresh its risk-based inspection programme. In the year to 31 December 2018, the service audited 310 of the 13,299 high-risk premises it had identified.
We examined a number of audits completed at the Wallasey, Bootle and Netherton, and Belle Vale protection hubs. We are satisfied that these are consistent and in line with the service’s policy and procedures.
To support this approach, the service has restructured its protection department. We are concerned by the vacancies in this department and the number of experienced staff who have left in recent years. However, we recognise the service has mitigated these problems in several ways: it ensures that managers complete inspections; it is training fire safety auditors to do more-complex work; and it is introducing a firefighter role to provide a career pathway within protection. Consequently, the service is on track to deliver its risk-based inspection plan.
We found that the service has the appropriate skills in place to take enforcement action when necessary. It can respond to complaints in a timely manner. The service has taken enforcement, prohibition and prosecution action across a broad range of properties. These include properties linked to the night-time economy, health care and housing services. When the service takes enforcement action, it publicises the results to encourage wider compliance.
The service engages with a range of businesses to encourage compliance. It aims to use prosecution and prohibition as a last resort. However, we are satisfied that it has good scrutiny arrangements in place, and that it is taking enforcement and prosecution action when necessary. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service issued 1 alteration notice, 37 enforcement notices, 30 prohibition notices and no prosecutions.
Working with others
The service works with a broad range of partner organisations through its protection department. This includes:
- local authority licensing;
- environmental health;
- housing services;
- the clinical care commission; and
- the Environment Agency.
For example, the service worked closely with the Environment Agency to deal with a large fire that had taken place at a waste recycling facility at Liverpool docks. It also works with private landlords, sporting-event providers and representatives of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
The service is working hard to reduce the negative impact of attending false alarms at commercial and domestic premises. It actively monitors this type of call and works with businesses to reduce them. If appropriate, it doesn’t attend automatic fire alarms when there is no risk to life.
The service clearly demonstrated its commitment to working with other organisations following the Grenfell Tower fire. Liverpool has over 200 high-rise tower blocks and many of them have cladding. Following the disaster, the service’s protection department jointly inspected each block with local authority partners. It offered a home fire risk check to every resident. The service has now seconded an experienced officer into Liverpool City Council to support follow-up activity.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure staff know how to command fire service assets assertively, effectively and safely at incidents. This should include regular assessment of command competence.
Managing assets and resources
The service bases its response standards on a thorough assessment of risk to the community. It has made a commitment to attend 90 percent of all life-risk incidents within ten minutes. We were encouraged to see that it is meeting this standard. To support this, the service ensures it has a fire engine available in ten principal station areas. Home Office data shows that in the year to 31 March 2018 the service’s average response time to primary fires was 7 minutes and 29 seconds, which is slightly faster than the average for other predominantly urban services.
The service has analysed its demand and found that most emergency incidents happen during the day. As a result, it has fewer fire engines immediately available overnight. This doesn’t compromise the response standard and maximises staff availability during the day. This is when they can most easily interact with businesses and the public, and maintain essential training skills. Between April 2018 and December 2018, the overall average monthly pump availability ranged from 79 percent to 92 percent.
The service has introduced a variety of duty systems that take account of local demand and risk. These also contribute to the service-wide response standard. They ensure the service is able to respond to large and protracted incidents and to deploy assets to national incidents. We found that the service has the appropriate range of people and equipment to meet the demands of a mainly urban area. However, the chief officer intends to continue to review the efficiency of duty systems in future IRMPs.
The service’s operational policy reflects national guidance. But staff have an inconsistent understanding of what recording process they would follow if required to step outside policy. They were also not always sure how to log significant decisions.
We visited the emergency control room on two occasions during our inspection. We found that staff are good at sending resources to incidents based on the individual risk each incident presents. They have discretion and make good use of their ability to alter the attendance criteria to incidents. This may mean sending more, fewer or no appliances.
We visited 11 fire stations during our inspection. We found that firefighters can quickly access risk information about known higher-risk premises using computers fixed in each fire engine. They are also confidently able to access information relating to risk at premises, chemical information, water supplies and vehicle data for use at road traffic collisions. We are satisfied that they can quickly share risk information that may be temporary – such as a building’s sprinkler system being temporarily out of operation – within the control room and across the service.
We found that incident commanders at all levels of the organisation have a good understanding of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP). These principles are in place to help incident commanders from the blue light services work well together.
The close working relationship the service has with Merseyside Police and the North West Ambulance Service improves how well these JESIP principles work. The police emergency control room is in the same building as fire control, and the ambulance service is based at five community fire stations. The ambulance service also has its hazardous area response team based at the service’s training and development academy. This has contributed to a close relationship, meaning joint training can happen more easily.
We were disappointed to find that the service isn’t meeting its own target of formally assessing the command competence of its supervisory managers every two years. However, it was fully aware of this. It has put robust control measures in place and has allocated resources to address this issue at an appropriate pace. This includes providing more capacity for assessments and carrying out assurance assessments at incidents and training exercises.
Keeping the public informed
The service updates the public about ongoing incidents through its website. It is improving the website to ensure it is making the best use of all available media to communicate with harder-to-reach groups.
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and Merseyside Police have a joint command and control centre where the police’s force incident manager is based. Local resilience forum and ambulance staff also work from this location. Among other benefits, this gives them immediate face-to-face contact with each other. This means that joint decisions about communicating with the public can happen quickly during emergency incidents.
Firefighters we spoke to provided us with consistent first-hand evidence of occasions when they had dealt with safeguarding concerns, both at operational incidents and during day-to-day business. We found that they are well trained and confident. They explained to us how they followed the referral pathways the service has in place.
We also found that control staff are confident in their ability to give fire survival advice to callers who are trapped by fire during incidents.
Evaluating operational performance
We found that the service has good systems in place to gather feedback from operational incidents, which help it to make improvements. The service is making good use of technology to track and resolve problems that firefighters raise during debriefs.
The service has no set triggers for formally debriefing incidents. But its operational assurance team reviews all incidents as part of business as usual. In addition, a monitoring officer attends any significant incident and makes sure that it is being commanded appropriately and that debriefs take place.
We saw good evidence that the service gathers operational learning and feeds this back to staff through an operational learning database. When appropriate, it publishes significant incident reports, produces case studies and circulates officers’ briefing notes to improve future practice. For example, we were able to review the significant incident report for a large fire that had occurred in a car park at the Kings Dock in Liverpool. This report led to changes in the pre-determined attendance at similar premises. It also led to the creation of more detailed plans for high-volume pumping appliances covering the area of these docks.
We found that the service is contributing to and sharing information from the national arrangements that are in place to share significant risk information. For example, we were able to view information that the service had taken from a national joint operational learning portal that related to the risks the National Grid had raised about illegal jumping off tall structures.
Although we found the debrief process led by the operational assurance team to be robust, we found operational crews took an inconsistent approach to debriefing smaller incidents.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
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 found strong evidence that the service can supplement its own resources from neighbouring services during large-scale incidents. For example, during a major multi-storey car park fire in the Kings Dock area of Liverpool on New Year’s Eve 2017, the service was supported by 16 appliances from neighbouring services. Senior managers are able to successfully deal with and command a major incident of this nature.
We also found that the service has site and risk-specific multi-agency plans in place for high-risk premises and events. These include:
- transport hubs;
- sports grounds and events; and
- plans for incidents at premises covered by the control of major accident hazard regulations.
The service shares these plans with local resilience forum partners. It uses Resilience Direct, a national web-based platform that emergency responders use, to share information securely.
Working with other services
The service is highly effective at working with other fire services nationally. It acts as the lead authority on behalf of the fire sector for national resilience assets. These are strategically placed in fire services across the country, funded by the Home Office. They provide resilience for national emergencies that could need mass decontamination, or that involve chemical, biological or radiation agents, explosives, wide-scale flooding or terrorist attack.
As the national lead, Merseyside FRS also runs the national resilience fire control. This co-ordinates the availability of these assets and mobilises them when services request them from anywhere in the country. The service also co-ordinates training for these assets and leads on the management of their long-term capability on behalf of the Home Office. This has created a deep understanding, throughout the service, of the use and capabilities of these assets.
We saw evidence that the service has successfully co-ordinated the mobilisation for remote large-scale incidents. For example, it co-ordinated the attendance of fire engines from 21 services to wildfires that happened in Lancashire and Greater Manchester last year. Additionally, we found evidence that it had mobilised its own assets in support of wide-area flooding that occurred in Cumbria and North Yorkshire in previous years.
We are satisfied the service ensures it is intraoperable with the fire services with which it shares a border. It does this through the comprehensive assurance and debrief systems it has in place that have been detailed above.
We saw that the information the service holds on the risks in surrounding services isn’t as accessible as its own risk information. But we noted that, while we were inspecting, the service was upgrading the computers it has on fire engines, where this information will be made available.
Working with other agencies
The service’s partner organisations told us that it is a valued and active member of the local resilience forum. It takes the lead for training and exercising, and maintains the community risk register. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service carried out 35 joint exercises or training events. This includes a variety of table-top and live exercises, including for terrorist attacks in built-up areas and incidents at local air and sea transport hubs.
The service can respond to terrorist attacks and work alongside police and ambulance responders in the immediate vicinity of such a threat. The service has its own marauding terrorist firearms attack capability and, at the time of our inspection, also provided it to Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service. During our inspection, we saw the benefits of the joint command and control centre the service has developed with Merseyside Police. This building has located police and fire emergency controls alongside the national resilience fire control. It allows emergency planners from the fire, police and ambulance services and the local resilience forum to work in the same space.
These arrangements provide a joined-up approach to emergency planning for known and one-off risks. These have included a major golf tournament and the Giants Festival, which both took place in Merseyside last year. The Giants Festival attracted more than one and a half million people onto the streets of Liverpool.