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. Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
Too often Northamptonshire FRS has too few fire engines available which has an effect on response times. The service is aware of this and is looking to make improvements, including new flexible arrangements for staff to help cover demand. But it needs to keep better track of how many engines it has available at any given time and consider what more can be done.
The service’s prevention and protection work also needs improvement. Its prevention team has been substantially reduced to make savings required by the county council and so it doesn’t have enough resources to cover its prevention activity. Firefighters are supposed to support prevention but are often too busy. It works with partner agencies on a variety of annual activities to promote fire safety, but it needs to review how effective these are.
The service also has too few resources to meet the requirements in its risk-based inspection programme and isn’t auditing the high-risk premises it says it needs to. It also doesn’t do enough to engage informally with local businesses.
The service consults with the local community to build a picture of the risk of fire and other emergencies. Northamptonshire FRS works with the police to collect and share information about risk for particular premises. But not all of its scheduled checks are being done, although we are glad to see its backlog in processing this information has been cleared. It needs to ensure all systems for sharing information work as well as they should.
The service works with other agencies in planning the response to large-scale incidents. But these exercises should be based on realistic situations and involve more staff. It shares its control room service with Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, which helps it to deal with demand. Staff are trained to take command at incident sites, but more senior commanders don’t have their training updated or checked. The service gathers debriefs from operational staff after incidents, but could improve the way it communicates identified learning to them. Crews were not always aware that over-the-border risk information is available to them when attending incidents in neighbouring counties. A more consistent approach with neighbouring services to conduct joint training is needed.
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
Northamptonshire FRS engages well with the local community to build up a comprehensive risk profile. Its integrated risk management plan for 2017–2020 is called the Community Protection Plan (CPP). The draft CPP is made available to the public for consultation for six weeks before it is submitted to the fire authority for agreement. The service promotes this through its social media sites. It also sends a letter with a summary to 2,500 residents selected at random. It uses its community outreach vehicle, a van containing outreach materials, to get feedback from the public. The CPP for 2017–20 had 2,771 unique views on the service’s website during the consultation period.
The service uses a wide range of information from its own activity and from other sources to understand the local risk profile. It uses this information to set its objectives in the CPP. Examples include information gathered from protection and prevention visits, socio-economic data provided by the county council and demographic data provided by the Ordnance Survey. The service uses this information to develop local risk maps, called scorecards. These are put on the service’s intranet. Supervisory managers at stations can access these and use them to focus their teams’ activity on specific risks affecting their local area. This information is regularly updated and reviewed to make sure that the service is prioritising the most vulnerable.
The population of the county is growing faster than the national average, and the age of the population is higher than average. In response, the service targets its work on preventing fires and accidents in the home at people aged over 65, who are at greater risk of fire. In the year to 31 March 2018, over half of the home fire risk checks the service carried out as part of its prevention activity were directed to those aged 65 and over.
The service is aware of other vulnerable people in its community who are harder to reach through traditional methods. It uses a wide variety of data to understand its local communities. Its staff also interact with those communities through prevention activities. The service has a good understanding of what risks affect the most vulnerable. This information is used to set objectives within the CPP. For example, the service supports the police and county council in their work targeting anti-social behaviour and modern slavery, which often involves vulnerable people who are hard to reach.
The service shares information with a range of partner agencies to make sure they understand risks in the same way. These partners include the police, East Midlands Ambulance Service and the county council.
Having an effective risk management plan
Northamptonshire FRS has an effective risk management plan. Each year, the service reviews all the information that is used to develop the CPP. This is to make sure that it continues to understand which local people are most vulnerable. This is key to providing the best coverage of fire engines across the county. From this review, the service develops an annual action plan to make sure that it keeps working towards the strategic aims in the CPP.
A service-wide review was completed in 2015 which included an assessment of what fire cover was provided, the working patterns of staff, and all its property and vehicles. The findings from this review have been fed into a new draft CPP for 2019–22. The service should make sure that the new draft includes information about its response standards and what fire cover it provides. It should consult with the public to make sure their views are considered, and to help them understand what to expect from the service.
The service has developed an annual action plan which describes its progress on several key projects. These projects all support the three strategic objectives identified in the CPP, which the service calls:
- keeping our communities safe and well;
- keeping our staff safe and well; and
- making the best use of resources.
The plan also explains the service’s intentions over the coming year. It considers a range of objectives, such as preparing for the governance change in January 2019, when responsibility for the service changed from Northamptonshire County Council to the Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (OPFCC). Having this plan helps keep the service focused on the goals outlined in the CPP.
The CPP meets the requirements of the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England. It provides a summary of both the political and financial situations. The CPP identifies what actions have been taken to support the three strategic objectives. It also identifies what needs to be done in the future. The CPP doesn’t have specific sections about operational work, or prevention and protection work, although these are commented on throughout the document. The document provides a clear summary to the public of the current and future risks facing the service.
Maintaining risk information
The service’s management of risk information is good. The joint operations team consists of specialist staff from both the service and the police. Among other responsibilities, this team manages the process for gathering and recording information that firefighters need to know when attending a particular premises. This is recorded in a standardised form known as site-specific risk information (SSRI). The risk intelligence officer who works within the joint operations team notifies local station managers of existing SSRIs to be reviewed or new premises to be considered. Wholetime staff then visit the designated premises and complete a form that captures all relevant risk information. This form is reviewed by a station manager before being sent to the risk intelligence technician, who uploads the document onto a central database. This then allows the document to be seen on all mobile data terminals (MDT) fitted to fire engines. Once the document has been uploaded, the risk information can be accessed by any operational staff.
The risk information contained in the SSRIs is also used to review the number of fire engines sent to premises that request the attendance of the fire service. We found that on-call staff review the existing SSRIs to make sure that the information is still relevant. New risks are inspected by wholetime staff or the joint operations team.
Operational staff were able to demonstrate a good understanding of how to access risk information on the MDT. However, they consistently described the SSRI process as being very slow. Until October 2017, the service had only one risk intelligence technician. This person is responsible for making sure the information is accurate and uploading it to the MDT. This individual was unable to keep up with the volume of SSRIs and a backlog built up. The service recognised this and employed a second risk intelligence technician. This risk was also identified during a National Fire Chiefs Council inspection which was completed in March 2018. During our inspection we found that the backlog has been cleared and the time required to upload an SSRI onto the MDT has improved.
The joint operations team works to gather and share information about risk for public events such as the Silverstone Grand Prix. Having a joint police and fire team do this ensures that both services have a standard process for planning their responses to an emergency. The service is an active partner of the county council’s safety advisory group which provides advice and guidance to event organisers on public safety.
The service’s policy is for the supervisory manager to update the team with any service communications at the start of each new shift, including relevant general and site-specific risk information.
This information is shared across the organisation via email and the intranet. A handover book is also used in stations to pass information from one watch to another.
We found that some watches weren’t indicating in the book that they had read the information. Other stations didn’t even have a handover book. At these stations, junior officers passed risk information orally. This system is very informal and doesn’t leave a record that the service can audit. Some on-call managers said that they don’t have enough time to update their teams with risk information.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it allocates enough resources to prevention work. 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.
The prevention strategy currently includes home fire safety checks. These are assessments undertaken by the service in the homes of people vulnerable to fire. Prevention visits in the service include identifying potential fire risks, taking action to reduce fire risks, ensuring working smoke alarms are fitted, advice on social welfare, and advice on slips, trips and falls.
Northamptonshire FRS has a dedicated prevention team, but it has been reduced from 16 staff in 2010 to 7 staff in 2018 to make the financial savings. This team co-ordinates all the service’s prevention activity, including more complex situations.
The service uses a wide range of data sources to understand risk within its local communities. This information is uploaded to the intranet and local station managers are expected to use it to target their prevention activities. We found that many station managers don’t use this information and rely on a particular source of social demographic data which specifies only residents over the age of 65. It contains no other risk information. Because of this, operational crews aren’t able to find out who is the highest priority in their community. The service has identified this issue and provided clearer guidance to their station managers to ensure they use the full scorecards.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 3.3 home fire safety checks per 1,000 population. This is below the rate for England over the same period. The service hasn’t allocated enough resources to its prevention activity. All wholetime firefighters are supposed to participate in prevention activity, but we found that this was not always taking place.
The priority for wholetime firefighters is to be available to respond to fires. They may be moved around the county to best provide this cover. This can make it difficult for them to plan and complete prevention activity.
The service also expects its on-call firefighters to contribute to prevention activity. However, we found that some on-call firefighters didn’t believe that they should be doing this. On-call firefighters had little understanding of the benefits of effective prevention and saw it as an activity done by others within the service. Because of this, the prevention team didn’t feel that they were well supported by the operational crews – although they did say that a small number of stations were very proactive.
Safe and well visits consider wider social and health problems. Trials of this type of visit are currently being run at two stations, Rushden and Kettering. These are due for completion in March 2019.
The service records the number of home fire safety checks completed by each station. It does not record any further detail about these checks. The service doesn’t evaluate its fire prevention activities to make sure it is having the biggest possible impact on reducing the risk of fire to the most vulnerable.
Promoting community safety
Despite low resources, the service undertakes a commendable amount of community safety activity. It has developed an annual campaign calendar to organise its seasonal and themed prevention campaigns. This helps it co-ordinate with partner agencies and wider national campaigns.
The service participates across the county in a programme called a Week of Action with partner agencies, such as the police community team and county council neighbourhood wardens. The Week of Action is designed to reach as many people as possible within a particular community over the course of a single week. Staff from the service attend community meetings, give fire prevention advice and identify suitable candidates for a home fire safety check. They also support their partner agencies in tackling anti-social behaviour and other social issues. The service should conduct a performance review or evaluation to see how effective this is.
We found that all staff have had suitable training to identify vulnerable people and make safeguarding referrals where required. They liaise well with other agencies and share intelligence to protect those identified as vulnerable. Staff are confident in implementing safeguarding procedures when needed.
The service works well to reduce deliberate fires through its Arson Task Force, a constructive partnership with Northamptonshire Police. In the year to 31 March 2017 the service attended 970 deliberate fires. This reduced to 859 in the year to 30 March 2018 – a 11 percent decrease. The service works with the police and the county council to highlight areas at risk of arson. They then work collaboratively to improve lighting, remove rubbish that has been fly-tipped, and reduce anti-social behaviour.
The service also supports a unique emergency service cadets scheme with the police and East Midlands Ambulance Service, for young people aged 13 to 18. The aim of the scheme is to assist young people to reach their full potential while at the same time providing opportunities for them to support their communities in a range of ways through volunteering activity. This includes taking part in a range of community safety and engagement activity for all three services. The service uses the scheme to give cadets a better understanding of fire safety and to deter them from activities that may result in fires. The service and the other agencies involved have agreed to allocate 25 percent of places to young people who are more likely to set fires. The service runs several community safety campaigns throughout the year. These are organised through the service’s campaign calendar. They focus on a range of seasonal themes such as water safety and fire safety within the home.
The service doesn’t successfully promote road safety to reduce the number of people who are seriously injured or killed on the roads. In the year to 31 March 2017 the service recorded 12 fatalities in road traffic collisions. This increased to 25 fatalities in the year to 31 March 2018.
The Northamptonshire Safer Roads Alliance (NSRA) has recently been established. This is a partnership between the service, police, highways agency, East Midlands Ambulance Service and the county council. The NSRA seeks to use road traffic collision data to identify trends and risk areas. It then co-ordinates a wide range of activities to reduce this risk.
The service recognises that it often acts in isolation without informing the NSRA. This results in some duplication of activities. Partner agencies also told us that the service uses a hard-hitting approach to dissuade young people from acting recklessly on the county roads. The NSRA doesn’t support this tactic as it doesn’t believe that it is effective.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Areas for improvement
- The service should assure itself that its risk-based inspection programme includes proportionate activity to reduce risk. It should also include appropriate monitoring and evaluation.
- The service should ensure it provides enough informal fire safety information to the local business community.
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 is not at the forefront of developing, sharing and influencing regulatory work to keep people safe and secure from fire and other risks.
While the service has a risk-based inspection programme (RBIP), it lacks the resources to undertake what is needed. The programme prioritises sleeping accommodation such as hospitals, care homes and hotels as the highest risk and requires that fire protection officers audit the high-risk premises more frequently than those at lower risk. The RBIP complies with the requirements of the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England.
Like the prevention team, the service’s protection team has been reduced to save money, as required by the fire authority. As at 31 December 2018, the service had eight dedicated fire protection officers who are competent to undertake a fire safety inspection and serve a formal notice if required. This has reduced from 15 staff as at 31 March 2011.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 2.4 fire safety audits per 100 known premises (which equates to 510 audits). This compares to the England rate of 3.0 over the same period. The clear majority of the audits the service carried out were on high-risk premises.
How often specific premises should be inspected is calculated by an electronic database. This uses information such as the risk associated with the premises and whether it complies with the law to decide which premises are a priority. Each week the database produces a list of premises to be audited. We found that the fire protection officers don’t have time to audit all the premises on the list. They use their professional judgment to decide which premises are the highest risk and only audit those. As at 31 December 2018, the service had identified a total of 5,513 high-risk premises. In the year to 31 December 2018, the service completed fire safety audits of 612 high-risk premises. The premises that aren’t audited are returned to the system incomplete. The service is unable to audit all high-risk premises as required by the RBIP. As the service is only undertaking limited protection work, it may not identify potentially unsafe buildings, which could place both the public and firefighters at risk.
The service completes its consultations on planning applications within the legally required timeframes. We found this process to be well managed. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service received 510 building regulation consultations and responded to 496 (97.3 percent) in the required timeframes.
The service responds to fire safety concerns in a timely manner and in line with its policy. It has ensured that specialist knowledge about protection is available to operational staff at all times of the day and night. As part of their contract, all protection staff have agreed to work on a call-out rota, rather than only office hours.
Fire protection officers are well trained and qualified and have obtained a level 4 diploma in fire safety. Protection managers routinely oversee fire safety inspectors when they undertake an audit to make sure they are done consistently. However, no records are made of this assessment to make sure that performance keeps improving.
Operational crews have not received training on fire protection work, enforcing safety law. Inspectors found that operational crews refer fire safety concerns to a fire protection officer rather than dealing with it themselves. They are unable to assist the fire protection officers by checking for hazards or conducting low-risk audits. The service has recognised this and plans to develop a new training package for all operational crews.
The service doesn’t proactively analyse protection data to make sure that it is having the biggest possible impact on reducing risk.
The service recognises the need to help businesses comply with fire regulations during its audits, in line with the Regulators’ Code. The service also understands that formal enforcement powers can be used when the need arises, if there is a particularly high degree of risk at a premises, or they have a history of not complying with the law. The county council provides the service with legal guidance when considering formal enforcement actions and prosecutions. Fire protection officers have received the necessary training to be able to carry out a prosecution.
Fire protection officers can issue a prohibition notice without needing a line manager to approve it. To make sure these notices are being issued correctly, the fire protection officer will request a peer review from a colleague before they issue it. The colleague looks carefully at the evidence to make sure that a prohibition notice is the best course of action to reduce risk. These reviews are recorded as a typed note on the protection database.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service issued 137 informal notifications, 19 enforcement notices and 6 prohibition notices. It did not issue any alteration notices or instigate any prosecutions. However, fire protection officers felt that the service supported them well when they were considering a prosecution case. Where appropriate the service works on these prosecutions with other regulatory bodies such as the local housing authority and trading standards.
Working with others
The service doesn’t engage effectively with local businesses on an informal level. This limits its ability to support people who want to comply with the law. The service recognises that it doesn’t use social media to raise awareness of fire safety within the local business community. It plans to develop self-help tools on its website to help people to find fire safety information without needing to speak to a fire safety inspector.
The fire protection manager is responsible for the supervision of several police staff within their team. This enables the two organisations to share specialist skills and knowledge. It is particularly helpful in providing consistent advice on public safety to organisers of events such as the Silverstone Grand Prix.
Northamptonshire FRS has successfully reduced the number of false alarms and is committed to reducing this further. Control room staff have a ‘call challenging’ procedure to decide whether a fire engine is needed. This procedure follows the guidance provided by the National Fire Chiefs Council. Where the same premises keeps having false alarms, a fire protection officer will attend to offer advice and guidance. When the responsible person fails to take appropriate action to prevent further false alarms, the service supports the use of formal enforcement action. In the year ending 30 September 2009 there were 3,673 false alarm incidents attended. In the year ending 30 September 2018 there were 1,692, and the rate of false alarms attended in Northamptonshire was lower than the rate for England. This suggests that the service is effectively reducing and challenging false alarms.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it has an effective system for staff to use learning and debriefs to improve operational response and incident command.
Cause of concern
We have serious concerns about Northamptonshire FRS’s ability to respond to incidents. The service consistently doesn’t have available its minimum number of fire engines. Senior managers are not routinely told when this happens.
- The service should improve its process for monitoring the number of fire engines available, so that senior managers can make effective decisions.
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
At the time of inspection, the service was operating in accordance with its response strategy (2017–20). This strategy doesn’t clearly identify what the risks are within the county. Nor does it state what the expected attendance times are and what resources are required.
The service has identified that it needs at least 14 fire engines to be available across the county. It seeks to achieve this by having seven wholetime crewed fire engines available, as well as two ‘variable crewed’, with wholetime staffing during office hours and on-call staff in the evening. The remaining five fire engines are provided by on-call firefighters. Ensuring that 14 fire engines are available is a daily challenge for the service. The service recognises that it is struggling to have enough on-call fire engines available. In the short time period we sampled, on-call fire engines were below the minimum required during weekday mornings and throughout the day on weekends. Between April 2018 and December 2018, the overall average monthly engine availability ranged from 72 percent to 77 percent. Between April 2018 and December 2018, the average number of available engines each month was consistently lower than the minimum needed of 14 engines available.
If the number of available fire engines drops below 14 at any time, the officer in charge of the control room is required to notify the senior officer on duty. This is stated in the service’s operational response mobilising policy. The senior fire officer should then review the situation and move fire engines or crews around the county to maintain cover in line with the service’s policy. However, we found that this isn’t happening. The situation arises so often that staff don’t feel that there is any point reporting it. We are seriously concerned that it has become business-as-usual to manage the service with fewer than the minimum number of fire engines required.
The service has developed flexible crewing arrangements to address some of the shortfall caused by the lack of on-call availability. For example, for specific incident types a fire engine can attend with a reduced crew of three, as opposed to the usual four. A crew of three can only be used where strict conditions are met.
The service has also created a resource management centre to improve strategic cover. It does this by moving fire engines around the county, and by bringing in more staff to work overtime.
Despite these actions the service still isn’t able to ensure that it consistently has the minimum of 14 fire engines available that it needs to keep the public safe.
The service researched what its response standards should be, using data from within and beyond the fire sector. It concluded that the level it should aspire to is that on 75 percent of occasions it should:
- respond to incidents where someone’s life is at risk within 8 minutes (from time of call);
- respond to fires where no-one’s life is at risk within 12 minutes; and
- respond to road traffic collisions where no-one’s life is at risk within 15 minutes.
The service does not meet these standards. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service’s average response time to primary fires was 10 minutes 36 seconds. From 1 April 2018 to 31 December 2018, the service responded to 37.4 percent of life at risk incidents within 8 minutes.
The service views these standards as a goal it aspires to, rather than a realistic target with its current resources. It intended to work with the county council and other agencies to explore how these targets could be achieved. The service informs us this work was not completed due to reduced funding. The service has undertaken a review of its response standards and the fire cover model. It has developed new response standards which are part of the proposed CPP (2019–22).
The service has reviewed national operational guidance to identify where its current procedures are not aligned. It is collaborating with other East Midlands fire and rescue services to make sure that national operational guidance is implemented accurately and consistently. Appropriate personnel within the service have been given the responsibility for addressing the gaps identified. At the time of inspection, it was found that the service is on track to fully implement national operational guidance in line with its action plan.
The service has developed a partnership with Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service. In 2018 the service introduced a new mobilising system which enables the control rooms in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire to share responsibility for handling calls and managing incidents. This has provided the service with greater resilience in its control room.
We found that operational staff were able to find a range of risk information using their MDTs. They were also confident in their ability to locate information to help them manage a range of incidents, such as road traffic collisions or chemical spillages.
The service has a plan in place to adopt the national operational guidance on incident command. Most supervisory managers were able to demonstrate a good understanding of the guidance.
Incident commanders demonstrated good knowledge of the support materials available to them. These include memory aids, command support packs, analytical risk assessments and decision logs.
Staff have training to take on a command role at incidents. The service uses a software package to train and assess incident commanders. There are four levels of incident command – level one is the lowest. New level one incident commanders are assisted by an incident monitoring officer who acts as a ‘critical friend’ at an operational incident. Level one commanders have their command skills refreshed and assessed regularly, as required by the service’s policy.
The service doesn’t provide any refresher training or assessment for level two commanders and above. The service cannot therefore be sure that its level two and above incident commanders are working to the latest guidance and best practice.
Keeping the public informed
The public are initially informed of any incident via the service’s social media channels and website. The service also has a partnership with the police communications team which provides 24-hour support for incident communications and media. The county council media team will also provide communications support where these affect the authority. For major emergencies, 24-hour communications are provided through the local resilience forum, which brings together the local authority, fire service, police, ambulance and emergency planning.
We found that operational crews have had training to help them recognise vulnerable people and take action to safeguard them when required. Staff demonstrated a good understanding of the process and were confident in describing when they would make a safeguarding referral.
Control room staff have clear guidance to support them in providing guidance to people who are in immediate danger from fire. We found that staff were able to demonstrate how to find documents and relevant information on their systems. This ensures that guidance is provided quickly and confidently.
Evaluating operational performance
The service regularly undertakes hot debriefs after incidents. These are used to evaluate the performance of service staff and to identify any lessons they need to learn from the incident. A hot debrief is often carried out by the incident commander and is completed on site before the crews return to the station.
The service has a robust electronic system to record larger debriefs. These are divided into minor and major. A minor debrief can be instigated by any member of staff. Major debriefs are only instigated after the service has attended an incident which required six fire engines or more. On these occasions, all staff involved receive an email asking them to complete a debrief form. East Midlands Ambulance Service and police colleagues are also asked to contribute when they have attended an incident. These electronic forms are collated by the joint operations team, which then identifies any lessons for the organisation.
Although the service gathers information from operational staff after an incident, staff were not clear about how this information is used to identify lessons for the organisation. Staff responses are collected into a single report and then returned to them. This report can often be very long as it contains all the entries that have been submitted. Staff stated that it doesn’t include any conclusions or actions. Some staff told us that they have lost confidence in the process because it doesn’t result in any meaningful changes.
How effective is the FRS at responding to national risks?
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure operational staff have good access to cross-border risk information.
- The service should arrange a programme of over-the-border exercises, sharing the learning from these exercises.
- The service should ensure it is well-prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to a community risk identified by the local resilience forum, including a marauding terrorist attack, and that its procedures for responding to terrorist-related incidents 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).
The service has made arrangements to supplement its resources in the event of extraordinary need. It has a water rescue unit which recently supported Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service during a period of flooding. It also has high-volume pumping and a mass decontamination unit, which are listed as national assets, making them available to services across the country.
The service has established a system for completing site-specific response plans for high-risk premises. The service uses an electronic risk assessment matrix to identify the highest risks. A tactical information plan is then developed for these premises. This is available to the operational crews on their MDTs.
The service has a system to record newly identified risks that may cause harm to firefighters. A temporary SSRI can be completed and recorded on the MDT within 48 hours. Operational crews then visit the site to conduct a full SSRI and specify the minimum attendance at that premises in an emergency situation if it differs from what would normally be required for that kind of site, for example if it is being used to store flammable materials.
Working with other services
The service shares a county border with seven other fire and rescue services. Northamptonshire crews and crews from neighbouring counties regularly attend each other’s incidents. The service states that it stores information for any high-risk premises in a neighbouring county that are within 10 km of the county border. This information should be available to operational crews on the MDT. However, we consistently found that operational staff were either unaware of the information or unable to access it. This means they could attend an operational incident without prior knowledge of the risks they could face.
Operational staff said that they don’t undertake any training or exercises with neighbouring services to help them work with each other effectively. Staff described working in isolation at operational incidents involving other fire and rescue services. Staff did not seem aware of recognised systems of work with other services. This can be addressed by a more consistent cross-border exercise programme.
Working with other agencies
Twice a year the service participates in ‘table-top’ training exercises for large multi-agency incidents, in which senior officers come up with a scenario and work it through using maps and documents. The exercises involve other agencies such as the police, East Midlands Ambulance Service and the emergency planning department of the county council. These are co-ordinated through the local resilience forum and include middle and senior incident commanders. The exercises are described by middle managers as being limited by being table-top simulations. At the time of inspection, no evidence was provided of the service using computer simulations or practical exercises. They don’t allow other fire service staff, including firefighters, to gain valuable experience. This system alone is insufficient to ensure that the service can work effectively as part of a multi-agency response.
The service has developed guidance for its control room staff when dealing with a multi-agency incident. Control room staff have received appropriate training and have access to on-screen guidance to help them gather information and make decisions.
Incident commanders have a good range of equipment to help them manage an incident. However, we found that not all of them have a good understanding of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles. These principles ensure that all the blue light services work together effectively. Some incident commanders weren’t confident in their ability to respond to a multi-agency event.
The service has a group of national inter-agency liaison officers providing 24-hour cover in support of partner agencies. These staff act as advisers for incidents like a marauding terrorist attack. They provide the service with a secure means of communication, which allows classified information to be shared between police, fire and ambulance services.