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. Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
The service is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies. It has gathered information from many sources so that risks are known and assessed. A risk profile is in place to prevent and mitigate these risks. These plans are known and understood by operational staff.
Safe and well visits are at the heart of the service’s good strategy for preventing fires. These are planned and prioritised by a central team and offer advice on identifying and reducing fire risks. The service promotes community safety, running seasonal campaigns to highlight timely messages.
The service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. Following a review, the service has identified a list of high-risk properties in its area. It has a two-year inspection programme for these properties and should make sure that it has the staff to carry out this work on schedule. The service has acted to cut the number of false alarm calls received.
The service is good at responding to emergencies. Its Firewatch system allows the service to plan to have the right fire engines and crews available to deal with incidents. However, more work is needed to make sure more on-call engines are available to help meet target times for responding to fires. The service is good at learning lessons from operational incidents.
The service is good at responding to national risks. It is well prepared for dealing with major incidents. The service is experienced in working with other agencies and neighbouring fire services in planning for dealing for national risks.
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
Staffordshire FRS has a good understanding of local and community risk. It produces a corporate safety plan (CSP) to tell the public how it will identify, manage and respond to risks from fires and other emergencies.
The service used data from online surveys, focus groups and interviews with interested parties to develop results for its last CSP. This helped the service to understand the diverse needs of its communities.
The service also uses information from sources such as incident data, the Staffordshire Resilience Forum, local authorities and the National Health Service. Data and intelligence are shared between partner organisations to produce a joined-up approach to providing services.
In developing the CSP, the service also analysed information on other factors including:
- socio-economic profiles;
- building developments, including roads and infrastructure;
- hospital, health and care facilities; and
- other premises which may be occupied overnight by vulnerable persons.
In producing a clear risk profile, the service has agreed data-sharing protocols with other agencies. It uses Exeter data and software such as Mosaic, gathering information about deprivation, age and lifestyles.
Staffordshire FRS is now using Experian data and PORIS, a provision of risk information system, to manage data to establish a schedule of inspections for high risk properties to ensure they are safe.
The service works with partner organisations and other agencies to identify shared risk. It is part of the Staffordshire Civil Contingencies Unit’s (CCU) risk and response assessment group. The group includes many agencies such as emergency responders and local authorities. It meets quarterly to identify new risks, monitor known risks, plan for potential incidents and support joint action when needed.
The service works to understand future risk. It does this by using national information and data, and information from partners such as Staffordshire County Council’s Insight team. This team provides strategic infrastructure plans and industrial strategies to help identify emerging risk.
Having an effective risk management plan
Staffordshire FRS’s CSP clearly links community risks into its prevention, protection and response work. In August 2018, governance of the service passed to Staffordshire’s police, fire and crime commissioner (PFCC), known as the Staffordshire Commissioner. As part of this transfer, the Staffordshire Commissioner is required to produce a fire and rescue plan containing their priorities. At the time of our inspection this was being developed, with an interim fire plan in place.
The CSP meets the requirements, set out in the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England, for fire services to assess all foreseeable fire and rescue related risks in their area and set out how these risks will be mitigated.
The service is an important partner in the Staffordshire local resilience forum, which produces a community risk register. This sets out both local and regional risks, including major projects such as HS2 and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022, naturally-occurring risks such as wildfires and flooding, and malicious threats such as terrorism. The service also works with other fire and rescue services nationally to consider wider emerging risks, such as the increase in waste fires.
Station and area plans link to the CSP to ensure local work is aligned to service priorities.
Maintaining risk information
Staffordshire FRS is effective at gathering and sharing accurate risk information about complex buildings and high-risk sites. This helps firefighters deal with incidents effectively and safely.
Staff regularly visit commercial premises and collect information about risks. A review of the system showed that the schedule was up to date. Each fire engine carries the information so that crews can access it at any time. There are systems to share information on risks across the service. A review of the system shows the service has an up-to-date programme where staff regularly collect premises risk information.
For temporary events, such as local festivals, fire crews visit the site to gather risk information when notified about an event by other agencies, such as the CCU. Mobile data terminals (MDTs), carried on all fire engines, hold the risk information, such as temporary access routes.
The service communicates risk information effectively to its staff. As well as MDTs, staff use an internal online tool for sharing information about local risks and ‘prevent flashes’, which share information about prevention work such as campaigns and local partnerships.
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.
Staffordshire FRS has an effective prevention strategy. A range of initiatives is used to reduce the risks identified to people and communities, and to keep people safe.
Many partner agencies make referrals to the service. These are assessed by a central team that prioritises safe and well visits using a gold, silver, bronze system.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 25,206 (and its partner organisations 318) safe and well visits. Although this is a reduction from the 26.8 safe and well visits per 1,000 population the service carried out in the year to March 2016, it still equates to 22.4 visits per 1,000 population, which is over twice the England rate of 10.4. These visits include identifying fire risks and how to reduce them, providing health and wellbeing advice including on slips, trips and falls, and fitting smoke detectors.
People who do not qualify for a safe and well visit are sent a home safety information pack. The central team monitors numbers, which are reported to performance meetings. Dip sampling checks those who did not initially qualify. If circumstances have changed, a visit is arranged.
The service describes itself as a prevention-led organisation. The central team is supported by local area prevention teams, community safety officers and volunteers. Full-time staff across the service are involved in prevention activities. Fire crews are supported by the business intelligence team, who produce demographic data which allows station staff to prioritise their safe and well visits.
Volunteers contact people following a safe and well visit, to evaluate whether it was useful. Activities targeted towards children and young people are also evaluated. The service measures the success of campaigns using on-the-day questionnaires, staff surveys and by evaluating pilot projects. Innovative prevention activities we saw included assessing hospital falls admissions, using hairdressers to target social isolation and holding an annual community wellbeing week involving all staff.
Promoting community safety
The service aligns its prevention activity with national campaigns, such as the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) community safety campaign calendar. Partner organisation referrals and positive outcomes for vulnerable people are among the measures monitored. The service uses some of these as case studies to improve staff understanding of positive outcomes from its prevention activity.
An internal team uses incident and demographic data to create a 12-month campaign plan. This targets seasonal issues such as outdoor fires, or specific groups of people such as smokers, with campaigns on social media and the service’s website. The accessibility of this information could be improved for those with a visual impairment.
The central prevention team allocates resources where needed. For example, following two deaths, the service is working with crews and partners to highlight the dangers of entering water to young people, walkers and runners.
The service makes good use of both volunteers and staff from partner organisations to carry out prevention work. ‘Olive Branch’ training is given to staff from partner organisations to show them how a referral to the fire service can help prevent fires and other incidents.
The service has successfully run a range of Prince’s Trust programmes for many years. It aims to engage vulnerable young adults with diverse needs and help them make positive lifestyle choices. Team leaders have built up a partnership network that offers work experience placements.
The service has a comprehensive and easy to follow safeguarding policy. All staff must complete initial and refresher training. This also includes information on radicalisation and modern slavery. An accredited week-long course covering prevention and protection activities includes training in how to identify vulnerability. This course is part of initial firefighter training and is now being rolled out to all operational staff.
Community safety officers run a programme to reduce fire-setting behaviour. The service works closely with partner organisations through multi-agency risk assessment meetings, known as MARACs. It works with Staffordshire Police to reduce the threat of arson by installing arson-reducing letter boxes at properties which may be at risk. An example of partnership working in an area with an increased risk of arson saw the service undertake extra safe and well visits alongside more police and fire visibility. This resulted in an increase in calls to Crimestoppers and fewer reported incidents of anti-social behaviour.
The service is an active member of the Staffordshire Safer Roads Partnership. It has helped raise funds for an education training co-ordinator. Through the partnership, the service is piloting road safety in safe and well checks to target older drivers, and a young driver hazard perception scheme. Partner organisations told us that the service is a valuable member of the group.
In a new initiative with the police, the service has begun to run a course that highlights dangers and promotes road safety for individuals who have committed minor offences such as not wearing a seat belt.
Safety messages to school children are being promoted through new Safe and Sound interactive pods. The pods use several scenarios to promote home and road safety messages. There are plans to further expand this joint working with the police.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety?
Staffordshire 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.
Staffordshire FRS undertakes a range of protection activity to fulfil its statutory and discretionary duties. Its protection strategy demonstrates it is taking a broad approach to identifying and addressing the protection risk it faces.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 416 fire safety audits, which equates to 1.6 per 100 known premises. Although this is lower than the England rate of 3.0 over the same period, the number of fire safety audits carried out by the service has been on an upward trend since 2014/15. The rate at which the service finds unsatisfactory premises during its audits is 40.1 percent. This compares to an England rate of 31.5 percent indicating the service may be better at targeting premises in need of inspecting.
In 2018, the service reviewed its definition of a high-risk property. It uses Experian data to provide a list of premises deemed as high risk of having a fire. The list is streamlined to identify premises used for sleeping accommodation. Properties that have been identified as high or very high risk to fire crews following risk inspections are also included. As at 31 March 2019, using this new definition, the service identified 1,770 high-risk premises.
The service told us that in the first quarter of 2019/20 it completed 290 audits. This indicates they will reach their own target of inspecting all high-risk premises over the next two years. The review identified the need for three more fire safety inspectors to ensure the programme of audits remains on track. At the time of inspection, these positions were still awaiting approval. We look forward to seeing the benefits of the revised risk definition, and the impact of the new staff, continuing in the coming months.
Fire safety officers accompany fire safety inspectors every two months to ensure audits are being carried out consistently. The service uses the NFCC audit form to ensure a consistent and robust approach to auditing. Findings are recorded using a system known as the Community Fire Risk Management Information System (CFRMIS). However, we found that recording of time spent on inspections was inconsistent across the service.
In the year to 31 March 2019, the service completed 96 percent of 343 building regulation consultations within the required timeframe, an improvement from 88 percent over the previous year. Reactive work such as complaints and fire safety concerns are prioritised.
Unlike some services, fire crews do not undertake lower-risk fire safety audits. However, fire crews are trained to identify low-level fire safety shortfalls when they are carrying out risk inspections, or at incidents. Qualified fire protection staff are also available out of hours to support fire crews and respond to serious fire safety concerns when needed.
Staffordshire FRS takes a supportive approach to working with businesses and ensuring fire safety compliance. However, it will use its formal enforcement powers where required.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service issued 162 informal notifications, no alteration notices, 9 enforcement notices and 4 prohibition notices. Data from the Home Office indicated that the service has not used its powers to prosecute in any year since records began in 2010/2011.
Fire safety inspectors receive training to prepare cases for prosecution. Team meetings are used to discuss staff confidence in building cases and maintaining skills. Although no prosecutions have been taken forward recently, we saw cases where evidence has been produced for legal assessment. The Staffordshire Commissioner’s office and Derbyshire FRS give legal support.
Protection staff are actively involved with local safety advisory groups, which oversee large and temporary events. The service works with regulatory partner organisations, sharing information and taking joint action to reduce risk. A good example of this is the Waste Management Sites Partnership. The protection team undertakes joint inspections with local housing officers and immigration and environmental health agencies. The service has inspection protocols with other agencies such as environmental health and local prisons. Trading standards have agreed to give the service a list of firework storage sites each summer.
Working with others
Staffordshire FRS is working to reduce the number of calls to false alarms, known as unwanted fire signals. Control room staff provide robust call challenging to assist this process and data supplied by the service shows that, in the last 12 months, 60 percent of these calls were not attended. A review identified that the highest number of false alarms came from domestic properties such as sheltered housing. This led to joint protection and prevention interventions with staff visiting properties to assess both the building and the occupants to maximise safety and reduce false alarm calls.
The service works together with other agencies such as the Chamber of Commerce, Safety Groups UK and the Regulation for Growth steering group for Staffordshire. The supportive approach to fire safety regulation helps businesses via education packages such as ROBUST (business continuity) and fire safety training and education.
Staffordshire FRS gives support nationally to four major businesses via the primary authority scheme and is leading nationally on work to reduce fires at waste sites.
A notable pilot scheme with a local prison to provide fire marshal qualifications to prisoners has, according to service-provided data, cut cell fires by 50 percent. The service has also led on a scheme to fit sprinklers to all residential buildings in Staffordshire with four or more floors to improve safety for occupants.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Staffordshire 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 improve the availability of its on-call fire engines.
Managing assets and resources
Staffordshire FRS’s response strategy is based on a thorough assessment of community risk. It sends the most appropriate resource to an incident, taking into account the incident type and the time it would take for a fire engine to arrive.
The service operates a mixture of wholetime and on-call stations, with wholetime stations located where risk is highest. On-call stations are in more rural areas and have part-time crews, known as on-call firefighters. In some areas, on-call firefighters support the full-time crews. All firefighters are equally trained, whether whole or part-time.
The service has a range of fire engines and specialist resources, such as rescue and water safety vehicles, to respond to the full range of emergency incidents.
A system called Firewatch manages crewing. It enables managers to plan for shortfalls a week in advance. On-call firefighters must declare when they are available, and gaps are managed locally when possible. The Firewatch system monitors skills to make sure there are enough firefighters with the right skills available.
Overtime is sometimes used to ensure fire engines are crewed sufficiently. Firefighters are moved around the county to fill gaps. A pilot is assessing the viability of roaming firefighters to reduce gaps in availability across on-call stations.
The service is facing difficulties recruiting on-call firefighters. It is trying to make the role of an on-call firefighter more attractive. It has reduced the minimum commitment from 84 to 50 hours per week and made the training more accessible to candidates who may have another job outside the fire service. Recruitment has increased but some stations are still unable to provide cover at times.
The service has an action plan to implement national operational guidance (NOG). It has worked regionally with other fire and rescue services to align working practices.
A dedicated officer has completed a gap analysis of NOG against service procedures. Progress against the action plan is reported at quarterly performance meetings.
Policy changes are communicated to staff via the intranet, and operational procedures amended. Firefighters use the amended procedures to support training events.
In the year to December 2018, the service attended 8.3 incidents per 1000 population. This compares to the England rate of 10.4 over the same period.
Like many fire and rescue services, the service has too few on-call firefighters. This impacts upon the number of fire engines the service has available. In the year to 31 March 2019, the average on-call fire engine availability was only 68.6 percent. Overall, monthly fire engine availability for the service was 75.7 percent due to wholetime fire engine availability being 99.2 percent. When insufficient firefighters are available, a targeted response vehicle (TRV) can be used instead. These are fire engines crewed by three firefighters that will respond to minor fires where there is no risk to life.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the service’s average response time to primary fires was 10 minutes 53 seconds, an increase of 24 seconds from the previous year. This is higher than the average (9 minutes 55 seconds) when compared with other significantly rural services. The service aims to send at least 1 fire engine to any high-risk area within 8 minutes, 87 percent of the time. High-risk incidents include property fires, road traffic collisions and other incidents known as special service calls. In the year to 31 March 2019, the service achieved this target 78 percent of the time and therefore did not meet its own standard.
We found that firefighters could access risk information from MDTs quickly when asked. Staff told us that the system was reliable and updated regularly. Urgent information is sent out as an ‘ops flash’ and staff must acknowledge they have seen it.
Staff told us that information about incidents is recorded on a form known as an analytical risk assessment (ARA). ARAs are signed off by incident commanders as a record of risks and actions. These are collected by a central team who share any learning points.
Control room staff manage deployment of fire engines. They gather information about incidents and use a tool known as 999eye to help them decide how many fire engines are needed. With 999eye, a caller can upload a picture or video clip of an incident. Staff told us they are supported to make decisions about the number of fire engines needed for an incident, based on information received. Following feedback, a member of control room staff developed a guide to help operators locating incidents on major roads in Staffordshire.
Incident commanders at all levels are well trained. Staff complete scheduled incident command refresher days and scenario-based training and assessment. Assessments are mandatory and are recorded. Higher level command is shared by partner organisations and run by the local CCU.
Keeping the public informed
The service makes extensive use of social media to share safety information and give round-the-clock updates on live incidents. The service website has links to both Twitter and Facebook. A central team provides the bulk of information, with additional station accounts that inform local communities.
The service is good at identifying vulnerability and safeguarding vulnerable people at incidents. All staff undertake mandatory initial and refresher training to support them. Staff told us they felt confident making referrals when necessary.
Control room staff were confident in giving fire survival guidance to the public. They have action cards to support them. Operators demonstrated how they would access and record information.
Evaluating operational performance
Staffordshire FRS has good systems to evaluate operational performance and make operational improvements. Staff told us that operational learning and monitoring was a positive within the service.
Hot debriefs follow every incident. Learning from hot debriefs is recorded on an operational assurance form and sent to a central team. Larger incidents have a structured debrief which will involve representatives from crews, partner agencies and fire control. Debriefs following significant incidents are chaired by the Staffordshire CCU and will cover the principles of joint working, known as JESIP.
The service also sends higher-level commanders, known as TacAds, to incidents to monitor, support and review the actions of crews. The TacAd will complete an operational assurance form, focusing on good practice, learning points or a cause for concern.
A central team collate information from all types of debrief and monitoring. They share learning either with an ops flash, through e-learning, a quarterly operational bulletin or via a weekly newsletter. Structured debrief records and action plans are added to an internal online portal known as LearnPro and are available to all staff. Middle managers attend a quarterly forum and discuss learning from case studies to improve planning and preparation for similar events.
A review of structured debriefs showed thorough content with action plans to support learning and improvement. An example of this was the debrief following the wildfires in 2018, which saw working groups set up to review the suitability of equipment.
Learning from national events is identified by the organisational assurance team. This team will send out information to department leads who will assess how learning can be embedded. Decisions and rationale are recorded. National learning is added to the LearnPro portal.
The service exchanges its own learning via national operational learning. A recent example is an incident at Westport Lake where personal protective equipment was removed.
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 service (known as intraoperability) and emergency services (known as interoperability).
Staffordshire FRS has good arrangements to help in the event of extraordinary need, including support from neighbouring services when needed. The service demonstrated that it can consistently respond to several demanding incidents over many days during the wildfires in summer 2018.
Incident commanders and control room staff told us that they can ask for additional resources using national resilience control systems. This process is tested regularly. Staffordshire CCU plans for extreme events and information is shared with partners on an online portal known as Resilience Direct.
The service has site-specific response plans in place for high-risk premises. Working closely with the CCU, planned training focuses on specific risk premises and themes. Training and exercises at high-risk sites include representatives from other agencies, such as police and local authority.
Working with other services
Staffordshire FRS can demonstrate that it works with other fire and rescue services when needed. The shared control room with West Midlands Fire Service demonstrates that the quickest fire engine to an incident is always sent, regardless of the incident location. The service has sent resources to support other services many times, most recently for the potential dam collapse in Derbyshire in July 2019.
The service is bordered by seven other fire and rescue services. We found that cross-border training and exercising for firefighters was more consistent in the south. Access to cross-border risk information was limited. However, it was good to note that information for high-risk premises in other counties was easy to access, such as the Kingsbury Oil Terminal in Warwickshire.
The service is involved in regional health and safety, and procurement groups to try to improve the compatibility of equipment and procedures.
Working with other agencies
Staffordshire FRS is good at working with other agencies to plan and test arrangements for dealing with large incidents.
In the year to 31 March 2019, 39 multi-agency exercises were carried out. The CCU plans exercises for all partners five years in advance. Each year there are three tactical exercises for operational crews and one strategic exercise for senior commanders. Partners told us that the service always participates fully in planning and preparation.
The service ensures that staff are prepared to deal with major incidents in Staffordshire. It works closely with other emergency services and response partners. The service has resources which can be used to support national incidents, and these are tested regularly.
The service is prepared for a marauding terrorist attack, known as MTAs. Joint training with West Midlands Fire Service takes place to support this. In 2018, a large-scale multi-agency training event to test procedures took place at Alton Towers.