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Oxfordshire 2018/19

Read more about Oxfordshire

This is HMICFRS’s first annual assessment of fire and rescue services. This assessment examines the service’s effectiveness, efficiency and how well it looks after its people. It is designed to give the public information about how their local fire and rescue service is performing in several important areas, in a way that is comparable with other services across England.

The extent to which the service is effective at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks is good.

The extent to which the service is efficient at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks is good.

The extent to which the service looks after its people is good.

Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services


HM Inspector's summary

We are pleased with the performance of Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service in keeping people safe and secure. But it needs to improve in some areas to give a consistently good service.

The service is good at keeping people safe. We judged it to be good at:

  • preventing fires;
  • protecting the public through fire regulation;
  • responding to emergencies; and
  • responding to national risks.

But it requires improvement at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies.

Oxfordshire FRS is good at providing an efficient service. It is good at making the best use of resources and at providing an affordable service.

The service is good at looking after its people. In particular, we judged it to be outstanding in how it promotes the right values and culture. And it is good at getting the right people with the right skills and at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. But it requires improvement at managing performance and developing leaders.

Overall, we commend Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service for its performance. This provides a good foundation for improvement in the year ahead.


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

Last updated 20/06/2019

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. Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

The service has a good understanding of the level of risk it faces. It has an effective risk management plan and works with partner organisations to refresh its action plan every year. However, its records about the risks firefighters face in some buildings and sites are out of date.

The service has an ambitious programme of prevention work and fire safety checks. It works closely with vulnerable groups and provides good training on road safety.

The service has reviewed its fire safety audits. They now focus on the buildings that are most at risk from fire. It has reduced some low-level audits and increased the size of its fire safety team. It uses its enforcement powers effectively and where they are needed. It has tried to reduce the number of false fire alarms, but the number of false alarm incidents attended has notably increased since 2015/16.

Oxfordshire FRS has a good response time to emergency calls and for the year ending 31 March 2018, the service’s average response time to primary fires was in line with other predominantly rural services. It manages emergency calls by working with the services in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. But more staff need to be confident about retrieving information from fire engines’ mobile data terminals.

Incident commanders were well trained and clear about when they could take action and when they needed to refer to senior managers. The service uses the council’s press office to give out public information and publicise larger emergency incidents. We found a mixed approach to reviewing incidents and sharing what is learnt.

The service has clear plans to prepare for a major incident, particularly at large and complex sites. It works closely with neighbouring fire services to allow for a joint operational response.

View the five questions for effectiveness


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

Last updated 20/06/2019

An efficient fire and rescue service will manage its budget and spend money properly and appropriately. It will align its resources to its risk. It should try to keep costs down without compromising public safety. Future budgets should be based on robust and realistic assumptions. Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.

The service has a good track record of achieving savings. It is on course to achieve modest savings this year. Oxfordshire County Council supports the service’s medium and long-term planning. Its committees also scrutinise the fire budgets. The service has robust financial systems.

The service has limited capacity to support the change programme. Its funding of response teams is stable, but it relies on overtime to keep fire engines crewed with five staff. This should be tested for value for money. It holds quarterly reviews to make sure resources are used effectively.

The service works with others within the Thames Valley partnership group and evaluates its joint work with emergency services. It has tested its business continuity plans but needs to improve its prevention and protection databases to avoid loss of data.

The service reviews its budgets annually. Staff help in making their work more efficient and eliminating waste. Finances are in good order and the service is proactive when jointly buying equipment. All operational equipment is tested and fit for use. But the service needs to invest more in technology and its buildings need updating. The collapse of the building services contractor Carillion has meant the service has not had a formal programme in place to update these buildings.

View the two questions for efficiency


How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?

Last updated 20/06/2019

A fire and rescue service that looks after its people should be able to provide an effective service to its community. It should offer a range of services to make its communities safer. This will include developing and maintaining a workforce that is professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse. The service’s leaders should be positive role models, and this should be reflected in the behaviour of the workforce. Overall, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

The service puts the wellbeing of staff as a high priority. Leaders had put in a range of support services for staff, which were well received. Critical incident welfare arrangements were also in place. Staff asked for appointments out of hours to support those on call.

The service has a clear and up-to-date health and safety policy and all staff were trained in this. The service has low levels of sickness. Monitoring and management of absences is done well.

Staff felt proud to work for the service and the senior management team create a positive and inclusive culture across the organisation.

The service understands the make-up of its workforce. But it faces difficulties in recruiting and retaining on-call firefighters. It is doing more work to try and address this problem.

Staff valued the quality and range of training. The service regularly organises training exercises with neighbouring fire stations. It needs to improve the IT system to monitor the training needs of staff and make information easier to find and record. Staff felt they were encouraged to give feedback and managers responded well to their comments. The service should look for a better way to tailor messages for on-call staff.

The service is making efforts to become a more inclusive employer, although more could be done. Uniforms for female staff do not fit well. There is a problem with the suppliers that needs to be addressed as a priority.

A new appraisal system has been introduced but we found that operational staff had limited understanding of it. On-call firefighters found it difficult to use because they work part-time. Some staff considered it an unnecessary burden while others were supportive of it.

We were not able to consider how the service identifies high potential staff as there was no set process in place. However, staff felt that promotion opportunities across the service were fair and open.

View the four questions for people

Key facts – 2020/2021

Service Area

1,006 square miles


0.70m people
up3% local 5 yr change


55% wholetime firefighters
45% on-call firefighters
0.61 per 1000 population local
0.56 national level
down9% local 5 yr change
down5% national 5 yr change


25 stations
34 fire engines


1.9 fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
2.1 non-fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
3.9 fire false alarms per 1000 population local
3.8 national


£24.23 firefighter cost per person per year
£25.22 firefighter cost per person per year (national)

Judgment criteria