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Tyne and Wear 2018/19


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. Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

The service understands local and community risk. It has consulted widely on its integrated risk management plan (IRMP) and its priorities. It communicates risk information well to its staff. However, plans we sampled for site-specific inspections lack vital information.

The service protects the public through fire regulation effectively. It manages its inspection programme well and uses its full range of enforcement powers. It carries out joint inspections with other agencies, and is proactive with local businesses to support fire safety awareness and compliance.

The service’s response to fires is good, with one of the fastest response times in the country. Its use of targeted response vehicles (TRVs) is an effective use of resources. However, it needs to make sure it learns well from incidents, and that all commanders are properly trained to lead incidents.

The service is a partner in the local resilience forum (LRF) and routinely tests its response plans.

The service needs to be better at preventing fires. It needs to make sure its safe and well visits target those most at risk. And it needs to better evaluate its prevention work so it fully understands the benefits of this work and whether it is successful. 

Questions for Effectiveness


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


Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it gathers and records relevant and accurate premises risk information.

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

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

Understanding local and community risk

The service has a good understanding of its local and community risk. Its strategic community safety plan incorporates its four-year IRMP.

The service’s community risk profile draws on a range of data sources. This profile enables the service to understand the diverse nature of its community, and to identify, prioritise and plan for current and future risk. The service uses computer modelling in a range of ways, such as reviewing how it responds to incidents, choosing the best location for a fire station and planning how to best respond to a large-scale incident.

The service looks ahead to understand how community risk and demand may change: for example, by reviewing predicted growth and development in the area. The service has good knowledge of the major incident risks in its community risk register, and manages this register on the LRF’s behalf.

The service knows its communities well and consults them. Recently, the service received more than 3,100 responses to a consultation survey, and acted on the feedback to shape its final proposals. The service’s community advocates speak several languages, helping them to connect with diverse and hard-to-reach communities.

In 2018, the service reviewed its IRMP to take account of both changes within the organisation and outside factors. This included embedding lessons from significant incidents that had taken place in other parts of the country and making sure its IRMP complied with revisions the government made to the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England.

To fulfil its IRMP priorities, the service has a number of business plans. This ensures the service’s work is aligned to its IRMP and that it is providing what it has promised the public.

Having an effective risk management plan

As well as its IRMP, the service has three core strategies:

  • a community safety strategy;
  • an organisational development strategy; and
  • a medium-term financial strategy.

These link to the service’s IRMP objectives and state specific outcomes to be achieved.

The service has invested time to make sure its staff are aware of the service’s priorities. For example, it has run staff workshops to help each staff member understand their own role in meeting organisational objectives. Each department has a ‘plan on a page’. This is a quick guide to a department’s aims and how they relate to the service’s strategic objectives. We found that, while staff in central departments have a good knowledge and understanding of their aims, staff working in fire stations aren’t as clear about how their role supports the service’s plan.

Maintaining risk information

The service shares risk information in several ways, from giving out handover briefs to orally briefing teams at the start of shifts. The service also emails staff about risk-critical information. However, we couldn’t be sure from the records we saw whether staff had read those emails.

Firefighters access risk information on the mobile data terminals (MDTs) in fire engines. We observed firefighters do this quickly and effectively, and they could explain to us how the information would help them handle an incident.

Staff share risk information well between themselves. For example, when staff carry out home fire safety checks (HFSCs), they add identified risks (such as hoarding) to the information held on MDTs.

The service gathers information about certain buildings which may pose a risk. This includes identifying what potential risks may be and creating response plans as required. However, plans we sampled lacked vital information such as the use of the building and the description of hazards, and the process for approving both new and reviewed plans wasn’t effective.

The service has systems in place for managing temporary risks. It plans for both annual events (such as the Great North Run and Sunderland Airshow) and one-off events (such as pop concerts). For such risks, the service produces plans for crews to use in the event of an emergency.

Officers use safety advisory groups to exchange information with other emergency services.


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

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure it targets its prevention work at people most at risk of fire.
  • The service should make sure staff carry out prevention work competently, including appropriate record keeping.
  • 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.

Prevention strategy

The service aims to prevent fires in the home, reduce risk and save lives. Home fire safety checks (HFSCs) are a main component of the service’s safety strategy.

In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 26,134 HFSCs. Visits involved fitting working smoke alarms, and advising on social welfare and health prevention, as well as slips, trips and falls, identifying potential fire risks and taking action to reduce fire risks.

In the past ten years, the service has seen a reduction of 57 percent in the number of dwelling fires. This compares with a reduction of 25 percent nationally.

The service uses several data sources, including Exeter data, to identify people who are at greater risk of fire at home. Crews use a prioritised list of addresses to carry out HFSCs. The service aims for 80 percent of all visits to stem from this approach.

The service also receives HFSC referrals from partner organisations. However, the referrals received contain no information about potential risk. As a result, the service can’t assess risk and prioritise resources accurately. The service could also look at prioritising its HFSCs according to those at high risk.

We also found that HFSC files often lacked detail, didn’t accurately record identified risks and didn’t state the advice given or actions taken. Sometimes, it wasn’t clear whether the correct follow-up action had been taken. The service should look at improving this, as well as ensuring quality assurance. As is common with most services, we found evaluation was limited. The service should enhance its evaluations of its prevention activities to make sure it is meeting the service’s stated aims.

Promoting community safety

The service works with its partner organisations on a range of prevention activities. One example is the SafetyWorks! centre, where every year approximately 14,000 young people and vulnerable adults learn safety and life skills. We found the centre was last fully evaluated in 2010. While there is a strategic intent to support this initiative, its future strategy is unclear. The service should make sure it has a plan to put the centre to best use. It also needs to be clearer about partner organisations’ future commitment.

In 2012, the service and several partner organisations (local authorities, social housing providers and housing associations) launched a domestic sprinkler partnership. The aim was to protect people deemed to be at high risk of a fire at home. To date, more than 1,200 sprinklers have been installed. In 2017, an independent evaluation reported that this project had potentially saved lives and prevented serious fire injuries.

The service’s water safety work includes taking part in the national ‘Be Water Aware’ campaign. The service also launched the ‘throw bag’ campaign. Supported by RNLI, this campaign trains staff in pubs on Newcastle’s quayside to use lifesaving throw bags. Since its launch in July 2018, the campaign has resulted in several rescues and has potentially saved lives.

We found that operational staff have a good knowledge of safeguarding practices. Staff we spoke to have completed annual online training, and were confident about identifying vulnerable people and making safeguarding referrals.

The service has high levels of deliberate fires attended. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the number of deliberate fires attended by the service was 5,605. This is one of the highest levels in the country per 1,000 population.

The service uses data to understand where arson has, and is likely to, occur. It produces campaigns and works with the local authority and police to identify deliberate fire setting trends. Reports are produced and shared with partners in relation to deliberate fire setting activity. We saw examples of arson reduction activity such as watches patrolling arson hotspots. Fire crews report to the council possible items which may attract arson, such as derelict buildings and cars. These are then removed or boarded up before they are set alight. Recent changes to schools’ education packages have also been made to give arson reduction messages to Years 6–8 children.

Road safety

The service’s community safety strategy cites the importance of road safety campaigns. However, the service doesn’t prioritise road safety, but rather carries out these activities in an ad hoc way. The service told us it has chosen to prioritise the prevention of life-risk incidents, so most of its central prevention resources are focused on home safety.

As a result, the service’s road safety work lacks central vision and co-ordination. It focuses on engagement after incidents rather than education. The service needs to satisfy itself as to the quality and effectiveness of its road safety work.

That said, in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service attended 325 road traffic collisions (RTCs). This is a reduction of 6 percent compared with the previous year and the lowest number of RTC incidents the service has attended since the Home Office started recording these figures in 2009.


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


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.

Risk-based approach

The service has a risk-based inspection programme, which it reviews annually. It also has the ability to deal with fire safety concerns day and night.

The service’s database lists 31,100 premises. Of these, the service inspects around 2,000 buildings annually. Currently, these buildings are inspected between every six months and three years.

In between formal inspections, crews visit premises to check whether basic fire safety measures are in place. This is a good use of resources, allowing inspectors to focus on highest-risk inspections.

Crews also carry out approximately 2,500 operational health checks annually to see whether basic fire precautions are in place in buildings deemed to be of lower risk.

In the year to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 6 fire safety audits per 100 known premises (which equates to 1,976 audits). This is higher than the England rate of 3 (per 100 known premises) over the same period. In the same period, the service audited 38 percent of the 460 high-risk premises it had identified.

The service manages building consultations well. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, it received 511 building regulation consultations and responded to 438 (85.7 percent) within the required time frame.

Four times a year, the service runs development days, which include staff from neighbouring fire and rescue services. It also reviews case files four times a year for quality assurance purposes.

The department is keen to learn and improve. After a fire involving an ‘escape room’ overseas, the service identified and inspected similar properties in its area. This led to a prohibition for a fire safety breach.

The service also gathers feedback on its protection work. In the year to March 2018, the service received 137 completed surveys from the premises it had inspected. Of those, 97 percent agreed that an audit had helped make their premises safer.


The service wants businesses to be fire safety-compliant. If necessary, it enforces compliance and prosecutes non-complying businesses.

The service uses the full range of its enforcement powers. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, it issued 635 informal notifications (the lowest level of action) and brought two prosecutions (the highest level of enforcement). Both prosecutions were successful.

Inspectors receive three days’ legal training each year, so staff are able to prosecute cases if considered necessary. A full case review follows any prosecution to identify potential learning. The service produces and shares case studies with departmental staff, the wider officer group and partner organisations.

The service works well with other agencies to carry out joint enforcement (for example, with Trading Standards and the local authority) and to share risk information.

Working with others

The service is working hard to reduce false alarms. Between 8.00am and 8.00pm daily, control room staff use their discretion to decide whether to send a crew in response to a call from a building with an automatic fire alarm. We noted that control room staff more readily challenged calls that were alerted by automatic fire alarms.

In the year to 30 September 2018, 39 percent of incidents that the service attended were false alarms. This compared with a rate of 40 percent throughout England.

Over a ten-year period, the number of false alarms the service attended decreased by 33 percent (from 9,388 in the year ending 31 March 2007 to 6,315 in the year ending 31 March 2017). However, this incident type is now increasing. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service attended 6,730 false alarms.

The service has eight primary authority schemes. These schemes seek to provide businesses with consistent regulation advice. The schemes are managed by a dedicated member of staff.

Since the Grenfell Tower fire, the service has conducted 190 audits of local high-rise buildings and hospitals. Prevention staff carried out HFSCs in more than 12,000 flats. The service also made compliance checks on high-rise buildings and advised residents on fire safety.

The service is working on a pilot with the Health and Safety Executive to enable regional regulatory bodies to better share information and intelligence about premises and flag up any areas of concern. We look forward to seeing the outcome of this work.


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


Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure that operational commanders are appropriately trained to perform this role effectively.
  • The service should assure itself that it has the appropriate procedures in place to record key incident ground decisions and that this process is well understood by staff.
  • The service should ensure it has an effective system to gather and share operational learning.

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

Managing assets and resources

The service understands its response profile well. It has reviewed its fire cover model – namely, the number of firefighters it has on duty at different times – several times in recent years. It did this most recently in 2017 alongside a review of its IRMP. The service’s use of computer modelling allows it to calculate response times so it can best meet risk and demand.

The service shares a fire control system with Northumberland FRS. This has improved some areas of joint working and the two control rooms can answer each other’s calls if necessary or if the other site is unavailable.

Fire control receives and responds to 999 calls. The service has performance targets for call handling and reviews performance as well as quality. Since 2015, call handling times for primary fires have improved annually. In the year to 31 March 2018, the service’s average call handling time for primary fires was 71 seconds.

Control operators can change the number of fire engines and firefighters attending an incident based on the information they receive. Fire engines also have GPS tracking, which allows control to dispatch the most appropriate response.

All but one of the service’s fire stations are wholetime – namely, they have a full-time firefighter presence. The service is having difficulties ensuring appropriate availability of its sole on-call station. This is mainly because there aren’t always enough firefighters available to appropriately crew the fire engine. Service data reported in 2018 that the fire engine at this station was unavailable for 62 percent of the year. During this time, fire engines from other stations, or from the neighbouring fire service, attended most incidents in this area. This situation was not receiving sufficient senior management attention.

The service has invested in its operational fleet, and in equipment, to meet the needs of its IRMP. It is equipped to deal with both local and national incidents.

Operational staff were complimentary about the service’s investments, and spoke well about the service’s training centre.


The service has 24 fire engines, based from 17 fire stations. Of these stations, 16 are staffed wholetime. The service also has two further fire engines, based at its training centre, that can be used to support operational incidents if required.

In the year to 30 September 2018, the service attended 15.2 incidents per 1,000 population, compared with the England rate of 10.5.

The service has reduced the number of firefighters who ride on a fire engine. It has also reviewed the number and type of response it gives to different incidents.

The service has one of the fastest response times to primary fires, compared with other services operating in mainly urban areas. In the year to 31 March 2018, the average response time to primary fires was 6 minutes and 49 seconds. In 2019, the service will introduce a formal response standard.

The service is innovative in meeting predicted risk and demand. Its use of TRVs is an effective use of resources.

By March 2021, the service aims to adopt all areas of national operational guidance (NOG). NOG is already in practice for command and breathing apparatus.

Staff are good at using MDTs to access risk information. However, despite this, staff told us MDTs are proving frustrating to use. We heard that messages often disappear from the screen, and messages passed to crews via MDTs don’t always cover incidents accurately.

We found that the service only uses formal decision logging at larger incidents when the command unit is present. While the service has guidance in sending messages via radio, staff appeared unaware of this. Firefighters were confident about identifying safeguarding issues and knew how to report concerns.


Training for commanders was inconsistent at all levels across the organisation. For example, managers’ training records – stating whether they are competent to command – either weren’t completed or were inaccurate. Also, some supervisory level commanders hadn’t completed revalidation assessments within the stated time frame. The service should make sure commanders have the training they need, and are competent to safely and effectively command operational incidents.

Keeping the public informed

The service informs the public about incidents partly through its website, but mostly through social media channels. Fire control staff we spoke to could show us what training they had received and they were also confident about what procedures to follow.

Evaluating operational performance

The service has a debrief process to gather feedback after an exercise or incident. We are satisfied that staff understood this process. The service records learning from its debriefs on its assurance database. But the service hasn’t used this to effectively communicate or promote learning with staff. Neither operational staff nor fire control staff could give examples of any learning that had been shared after incidents or exercises.

The service seeks to learn from significant incidents that occur in other services. For example, it reviewed its procedures in light of the Manchester Arena attack. This resulted in the service enhancing its capabilities through additional equipment to be better prepared for such an incident.

The service shares its learning within the fire sector through the national operational learning process. It does the same with other emergency services through the joint operational learning process. This process is well managed.


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


The service is prepared for a range of potential incidents. It has plans to maintain fire cover at certain main locations, and it can support large or specialist incidents in other counties. It has helped at wildfires, building collapses, explosions and large-scale flooding in other parts of the country.

The service has tactical plans to help the command team at larger incidents. However, these plans aren’t tailored to the incident and so the service should make sure these plans are easy to use.

On behalf of the local resilience forum (LRF), the service creates and manages plans for Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) sites in Northumbria. It also trains partner organisations and co-ordinates exercise plans for these sites.

Fire control staff are confident asking for support through the national co-ordination centre.

Working with other services

The service has agreements in place with two neighbouring fire and rescue services to support each other if necessary.

However, according to our staff survey, which we carried out as part of our inspection to get the views of FRS staff on their service, 52 percent of the 122 firefighters or specialist support staff who responded said the service doesn’t regularly train or hold exercises with neighbouring fire and rescue services. Please see About the Data page for more details.

Recently, the service uploaded risk information about premises in a neighbouring fire service to its MDTs. While this is welcome, staff had not been informed of the development. The service should make sure staff who may need risk information are aware of and able to access it.

Working with other agencies

The service is a lead partner within Northumbria’s LRF and considered by one partner agency to be the driving force. It takes the lead for COMAH preparedness, including co-ordinating visits and exercises.

The service is involved in training partner organisations and offers its training centre and command suite for training and exercising.

The service has taken part in, and hosted, several large-scale, multi-agency exercises. These included a simulated plane crash and a simulated terrorist attack at a shopping centre. Debrief reports helped the service learn from these exercises.

Tyne and Wear FRS has an operational marauding terrorist firearms attack (MTFA) capability. Firefighters from three fire stations have been trained to be able to attend a MTFA incident. The service has carried out a number of exercises to test this capability. However, at the time of our inspection, the voluntary participation of firefighters was withdrawn pending trade union pay negotiations. In response, the service formed a resilience team of officers to provide this capability. While some testing of arrangements had taken place, we found this was limited. The service should assure itself of the resilience of its current MTFA arrangement.