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Durham and Darlington 2021/22

Effectiveness

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Good

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment

We are encouraged with the overall progress that County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has made since our last inspection in effectiveness, but more could be done in some areas. The service has published its new community risk management plan (CRMP) 2022–2025 and its community risk profile document. It describes how prevention, protection and response activity is resourced to mitigate or reduce the risks and threats the community faces, both now and in the future.

Prevention activity is clearly prioritised using a risk-based approach towards people most at risk. We were pleased to find that the highest risk people receive a revisit within 12 months and that the service has a dedicated arson reduction team to tackle fire-setting behaviour.

As of 31 March 2021, the service’s response time to primary fires was 8 minutes and 34 seconds. This is the fastest among all predominately rural services across England. For operational learning, we were impressed with the ‘talking heads’ videos the service produces following significant incidents to ensure lessons are learned for future response.

Despite the many positives, we identified areas where the service can further improve. The process to obtain site-specific risk information (SSRI) could be further enhanced as we found inaccuracies in some records we sampled. We found that it doesn’t always have the ability to investigate alleged fire safety offences with a view to prosecution. We were also surprised that when the service serves prohibition notices to restrict or prohibit the use of a building because of significant fire safety concerns, most aren’t followed up regularly to check compliance.

Questions for Effectiveness

1

How effective is the FRS at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies?

Good

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding risk.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Each fire and rescue service should identify and assess all foreseeable fire and rescue-related risks that could affect its communities. Arrangements should be put in place through the service’s prevention, protection and response capabilities to prevent or mitigate these risks for the public.

Areas for improvement

The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant site-specific risk information.

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 good at identifying risk

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has assessed an appropriate range of risks and threats after a thorough integrated risk management planning process. In our last inspection, we identified as an area for improvement that the service should ensure its integrated risk management plan (IRMP), which the service calls its community risk management plan (CRMP), is informed by a comprehensive understanding of current and future risk. Encouragingly, the service has addressed this by developing a clear community risk profile that identifies current and emerging risks. This is refreshed annually.

When assessing risk, it has considered relevant information collected from a broad range of internal and external sources and datasets. This includes data from the national risk register, census data and information from external organisations. When appropriate, the service has consulted and undertaken constructive dialogue with communities and others such as local authorities and other emergency services to both understand the risk and explain how it intends to mitigate it.

The service has an effective community risk management plan

After assessing relevant risks, the service has recorded its findings in an easily understood CRMP. This plan describes how prevention, protection and response activity is to be resourced to mitigate or reduce the risks and threats the community faces, both now and in the future. This approach is proving effective in prevention and response, but more work is needed in protection. The CRMP sets out the six strategic priorities:

  • emergency response;
  • business fire safety;
  • community safety;
  • value for money;
  • working together; and
  • our people, our way.

The plan is updated each year and it describes the service’s achievements in the last 12 months. The service provides comprehensive information to the public about its performance that is regularly updated, such as the number of fire incidents attended.

There is more to do in improving the accuracy of its site-specific risk information

The service routinely collects and updates the information it has about the people, places and threats it has identified as being at greatest risk. The CRMP details the 20 risks the service has identified. This includes road vehicle fires, as the service has one of the highest rates of primary fires in England.

An area identified for improvement from our first inspection in 2019 was that the service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date SSRI. We were encouraged to find that the service has improved its approach to the SSRI process, but more work is needed and this remains an area for improvement.

As part of our inspection, we reviewed a small sample of SSRI records. We found that some contained inaccuracies. For example, one record we sampled had the incorrect number of floors displayed. We also found that operational staff had a limited understanding of whether lower-risk information needs to be recorded, such as oxygen users in a home.

Risk information is shared across departments, but this should be more structured

Risk information is readily available for the service’s prevention, protection and response staff, which enables it to identify, reduce and mitigate risk effectively. Where appropriate, risk information is passed on to other organisations, such as local authorities and other emergency services.

During our inspection, we found that some staff would email or telephone the relevant department to share information about risks that have been identified. The service would benefit from having a more structured approach to sharing risk information to make sure all the relevant people and departments are included. This is also the case for urgent risk information, which is sent by email. We found that supervisory managers cascade this information to their teams, but it wasn’t clear how the service ensures the information is read and understood by staff on annual leave or returning from absence. The service should consider improving the way it records this.

The service routinely updates risk assessments and uses feedback from local and national operational activity to inform its planning assumptions. It also shares learning nationally.

The service has responded well to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry

During this round of inspections, we sampled how each fire and rescue service has responded to the recommendations and learning from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has responded positively and proactively to learning from this tragedy. Although the service doesn’t have any high-rise residential premises, the service has assessed the risk of each building with four floors or more.

It has carried out a fire safety audit and collected and passed relevant risk information to its prevention, protection and response teams about buildings identified as high risk.

2

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

Good

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires and other risks.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services must promote fire safety, including giving fire safety advice. To identify people at greatest risk from fire, services should work closely with other organisations in the public and voluntary sector, and with the police and ambulance services. They should provide intelligence and risk information with these other organisations when they identify vulnerability or exploitation.

Areas for improvement

The service should implement a formal process that routinely checks the quality of home fire safety visits so that it can assure itself staff complete them to a consistent standard.

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

The community safety strategy is aligned to the community risk management plan

The service’s community safety strategy is clearly linked to the risks identified in its CRMP. This includes the service’s aim to reduce deliberate fires, as these are much higher in the north-east compared to other parts of England.

The service’s teams work well together and with other relevant organisations on prevention, and it shares relevant information when needed. Information is used to adjust planning assumptions and direct activity between the service’s prevention, protection and response functions. For example, where hoarding is identified, alerts are provided to inform firefighters of the increased risk, but some staff told us this is completed via email or telephone. The service would benefit from taking a more structured approach.

Prevention activities were managed well during the pandemic

We considered how the service had adapted its prevention work during our COVID-19 specific inspection in November 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its public prevention work appropriately. The service continued its prevention work by completing face-to-face home fire safety visits to those people it considered to be high risk on a risk-assessed basis, and it introduced an option of assessment and advice by telephone. Since then, we are encouraged to find that all outstanding home fire safety visits have been completed.

The service targets its prevention activity according to risk

Prevention activity is clearly prioritised using a risk-based approach towards people most at risk from fire and other emergencies. Since our last inspection, the service has further improved its screening process to make sure the most vulnerable are prioritised. It provides a range of interventions that it adapts to the level of risk in its communities. The community risk officers complete home fire safety visits for people identified as very high-risk and operational staff, including on-call firefighters, complete visits to people identified as high or medium risk. This delivery model has proved successful as the number of home fire safety visits completed per 1,000 population is much higher than the England rate. We were also pleased to find that the highest-risk people are revisited within 12 months.

The service takes account of a broad range of information and data to target its prevention activity at vulnerable individuals and groups. It has an effective data sharing arrangement in place with various organisations, which enables it to provide details of property and occupants deemed higher risk. For example, housing association Livin Housing Limited is able to support residents further to reduce risk.

Staff have received enhanced prevention training since our last inspection

In our previous inspection, we found that the service should ensure staff have received appropriate training on all the issues covered during a home safety visit. This was an area for improvement and we are pleased to find that staff have received the appropriate support to carry out these visits.

Staff told us they have the right skills and confidence to make these visits. These checks cover an appropriate range of hazards that can put vulnerable people at greater risk from fire and other emergencies. We also found that the specialist prevention staff receive regular continuous professional development, but this isn’t recorded.

There is limited quality assurance of home fire safety visits

We found that there isn’t a formal process that routinely checks the quality of home safety visits. This means that the service can’t assure itself that the visits are being completed to a consistent standard. Opportunities for learning that could improve service to the public are being missed.

The service responds well to safeguarding concerns

The staff we spoke to, including on-call firefighters, were able to tell us what action they would take when responding to a safeguarding concern. They told us about occasions when they had identified safeguarding problems. They told us they feel confident and trained to act appropriately and promptly.

The service collaborates well with other organisations

The service works with a wide range of other organisations such as Durham Constabulary and North East Ambulance Service to prevent fires and other emergencies. There are two community safety responders; a post that combines the roles of an on-call firefighter, a police community support officer and a first responder. This is an effective way for the service to share information with other emergency services.

We found good evidence that it routinely refers people at greatest risk to other organisations which may be better able to meet their needs. These organisations include housing providers and social care. Arrangements are in place to receive referrals from other organisations, such as the ambulance service. County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service acts appropriately on the referrals it receives. For example, we found evidence of home fire safety visit referrals from other organisations being completed within the timescales the service sets itself. In addition, the service provides support, such as training, to those who provide referrals.

The service routinely exchanges information with other public sector organisations about people and groups at greatest risk. It uses the information to challenge planning assumptions and target prevention activity. Data sharing arrangements are in place with other organisations to share relevant information about vulnerable individuals.

A dedicated arson reduction team tackles fire-setting behaviour

The service area has one of the highest numbers of deliberate fires in England. For the year ending 31 March 2021, the service attended 409.2 deliberate fires per 100,000 population against the England average of 113.2.

There is a dedicated arson reduction team, which is providing a range of tailored activities to target and educate people of different ages who show signs of fire-setting behaviour. This includes its Phoenix Fire Champions programme, which educates school-aged children about setting fires.

When appropriate, it routinely shares information with other relevant organisations to support the prosecution of arsonists. The service has fire investigation officers who identify the cause of deliberate fires and provide this information to the police.

There is a well-resourced schools’ programme in place

We found that operational staff complete school visits to raise awareness of fire safety and wider prevention work, such as water safety. The schools are prioritised, depending on the local risk. The service provides a resource pack containing videos, smoke alarms and presentation material to firefighters, but some staff we spoke to hadn’t been provided with the appropriate training in how to carry out school visits.

Prevention activities are evaluated

In our last inspection, we said that the service should evaluate all its prevention work so it understands the benefits better. This was an area for improvement and we were pleased to find the service now has good evaluation tools in place. These tools measure how effective its work is so that it knows what works, and that its communities get prevention activity that meets their needs. For example, in December 2021, the service introduced a questionnaire which is completed by the occupant following a home fire safety visit. We were told by the service that 97 percent of occupants who completed the survey feel safer in their homes following the visit.

At the time of our inspection, the service had recently introduced ‘behaviour change calls’. It contacts a range of occupants who received a home fire safety visit six months previously to see if there have been any behavioural changes. We look forward to seeing how this develops.

Prevention activities take account of feedback from the public, other organisations, and other parts of the service. Feedback is used by the service to inform its planning assumptions and amend future activity, so it is focused on what the community needs and what works.

3

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

Requires improvement

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at protecting the public through fire regulation.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

All fire and rescue services should assess fire risks in certain 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 (RBIP) for enforcing the legislation.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should regularly monitor and check compliance of prohibition notices that have been served.
  • The service should ensure that protection staff have and maintain the capacity and skill to use the full range of available enforcement powers, including the ability to prosecute where necessary.

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

The business fire safety strategy is aligned to the community risk management plan

The service’s business fire safety strategy is clearly linked to the risk it has identified in its CRMP.

Staff across the service are involved in this activity, with information effectively exchanged as needed. The service has continued to invest in the Level 3 Certificate in Fire Safety and its frontline supervisory managers, among other staff, hold this qualification. Its wholetime firefighters carry out fire safety audits in low and medium‑risk premises. They make referrals to the specialist fire safety teams when necessary. Information is then used to adjust planning assumptions and direct activity between the service’s protection, prevention and response functions. This means resources are properly aligned to risk.

Protection activities were managed well during the pandemic

We considered how the service had adapted its protection activity during our COVID‑19 specific inspection in November 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its protection work well. Since then, we are encouraged to find the service has returned to face-to-face inspections for its protection work, with appropriate measures in place.

Fire safety activity should be prioritised to the highest-risk premises

The service’s RBIP is focused on the service’s highest risk buildings. At the time of our inspection, the service reviewed its highest-risk premises. We were told it had identified 28 premises as being highest risk, but this is only 0.17 percent of known premises in the service area.

The service aims to inspect all its highest-risk premises within three years. We recognise the pandemic will have affected the service’s ability to carry out these fire safety audits. However, in the year to 31 March 2021, only 12 high-risk fire safety audits had been completed. This is a vast reduction from 256 fire safety audits of high‑risk premises being completed in the year to 31 March 2019.

The service told us that in the year to 31 March 2022, 87 percent of the fire safety audits were completed by firefighters. In addition, we were told that 28 percent of fire safety audits result in an assessment that fire safety is unsatisfactory. We found most of these audits took place in shops or offices where the risks are generally lower. But this is a positive improvement from the previous year up to 31 March 2021, when only 11 percent of fire safety audits were unsatisfactory.

From the small selection of records completed by operational staff that we sampled, we found none identified any issues in the premises. Operational staff don’t carry out fire safety audits in higher-risk premises, or premises which have a sleeping risk. The service should assure itself that this current approach is working, and that specialist fire safety staff are focusing on its highest-risk premises.

Recruitment and retention challenges are being addressed

The service is working towards having enough qualified protection staff to meet the requirements of the service’s RBIP. We were told that four out of seven specialist fire safety staff had left the service in the months leading up to our inspection, but they were replaced promptly. We recognise that it takes time for staff to be competent. But three out of seven specialist fire safety officers are currently in development so they can’t work on the highest-risk premises or carry out enforcement work.

The operational staff are increasing referrals to the specialist fire safety team due to the audits being unsatisfactory as they can only address low and medium-risk issues. This results in the specialist fire safety teams’ workloads increasing. This affects the service’s other protection activities, such as checking compliance of prohibition notices. Once all the specialist fire safety team have the appropriate qualifications, it will have adequate resources and a larger pool of qualified people to meet future need.

The service’s response to post-Grenfell building checks is proportionate

County Durham and Darlington has no premises that fall within the scope of the post‑Grenfell Building Risk Review Programme. But the service did identify premises it considered at risk. It has assessed the risk of every building that has four floors or more. However, we were told that these audits were carried out in isolation and limited information was passed on to response teams and control operators.

The quality of audits is inconsistent

We reviewed a range of audits of different premises across the service. This included audits as part of the service’s RBIP, after fires at premises where fire safety legislation applies and where enforcement action had been taken.

Not all the audits we reviewed were completed in a consistent, systematic way, or in line with the service’s policies. For example, we found a prohibition notice served but the premises’ file was missing some key information.

Quality assurance has improved, but specialist fire safety staff aren’t yet part of the reviews

In our previous inspection, we raised an area for improvement that the service should ensure it has an effective quality assurance process. We are pleased to find that a specialist fire safety officer will review a sample of records from each watch monthly with feedback sent by email. The service is further enhancing this process by completing the quality assurance check in person. Despite this process for operational staff, specialist fire safety staff haven’t received the same reviews.

The service has introduced a new evaluation tool to measure the effectiveness of its activity and to make sure all sections of its communities get appropriate access to the protection services that meet their needs.

The service has more work to do to improve enforcement

In our last inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should ensure protection staff have the capacity and skill to use the full range of its available enforcement powers. The number of formal notices served by the service has increased since our previous inspection. In the year to 31 March 2021, the service issued:

  • 0 alteration notices;
  • 90 informal notifications;
  • 3 enforcement notices; and
  • 3 prohibition notices.

The service has only prosecuted twice since 2016/17. Some staff told us that they try wherever possible to support businesses rather than pursue legal action. Although the service has experienced fire safety officers and has support from legal counsel, we found that some staff don’t have the confidence to investigate alleged fire safety offences with a view to prosecution. This is mainly due to capacity and confidence as some specialist staff with the relevant experience have left the service. The service has a clear enforcement policy statement, but some guidance documents haven’t been updated since 2009 and specialist fire safety staff were unaware of these processes.

The service has 24/7 availability to respond to dangerous conditions out of hours.

Prohibition notices aren’t followed up to check compliance

At the time of our inspection, there were 37 prohibition notices in force. We were surprised to find that most prohibition notices that have been served aren’t followed up regularly to check compliance. There were several prohibition notices served several years ago with the last compliance checks carried out in 2018. This sends out the wrong message to those that don’t take fire safety legislation seriously. The service should consider the use of alteration notices where necessary, as several prohibition notices currently in force were served over ten years ago.

The service provides good training for staff and has invested in its workforce

Staff get the right training and work to appropriate accreditation. The service aligns staff training with nationally recognised standards and has invested in its operational workforce, with supervisory managers and new apprentices completing the Level 3 Certificate in Fire Safety. This was an area for improvement raised in our last inspection and we are pleased to find that operational staff have received the appropriate support to carry out fire safety audits competently.

The service works well with other enforcement agencies

The service works closely with other enforcement agencies to regulate fire safety and routinely exchanges risk information with them. The service has carried out joint inspections where necessary. For example, a joint visit was carried out with the police, and local authority in a licensed premises.

The service responds to building and licensing consultations in a timely manner

The service responds to all building consultations on time, so consistently meets its statutory responsibility to comment on fire safety arrangements at new and altered buildings. In the year to 31 March 2021, the service responded to 99 percent of building consultations within the time frame set. For the same period, 97 percent of licensing consultations were responded to on time.

Engagement with businesses has increased since our last inspection

In our previous inspection, we raised as an area for improvement that the service should ensure it works proactively with local businesses. Since then, the service has developed a business fire safety communications and engagement plan. This details the different campaigns the service plans and currently runs. For example, a virtual fire safety seminar attracted a diverse range of organisations. The service uses its website and social media to promote fire safety information.

The number of unwanted fire signals the service attends has declined

An effective risk-based approach is in place to manage the number of unwanted fire signals. The fire safety officers review incident data daily and there is a three-stage intervention process in place. The service has a successful charging policy in place for premises that have 3 or more unwanted fire signals in a 12-month period. It gets fewer calls because of this work. In the year to 31 December 2021, 32 percent of incidents were fire false alarms. Fewer unwanted calls mean that fire engines are available to respond to a genuine incident rather than responding to a false one. It also reduces the risk to the public if fewer fire engines travel at high speed on the roads.

4

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

Good

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services must be able to respond to a range of incidents such as fires, road traffic collisions and other emergencies in their area.

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

Response resources are effectively reviewed and action taken to ensure their distribution is effective

The service’s CRMP is linked to the risks identified in its community risk profile. Its fire engines and response staff, as well as its working patterns, are designed and located to enable the service to respond flexibly to fires and other emergencies with the appropriate resources. For example, the service relocated a second wholetime fire engine from one fire station to another where the risks are greater. It also introduced a targeted response vehicle, which responds to incident types including secondary fires and false alarms.

New response standards have been introduced and the service is the fastest predominantly rural service in England

There are no national response standards of performance for the public. But the service has set out its own response standards in its CRMP. The following standards were introduced in April 2022. It aims to attend:

  • accidental dwelling fires within 8 minutes on 70 percent of occasions;
  • non-domestic fires within 9 minutes on 70 percent of occasions; and
  • road traffic collisions within 10 minutes on 70 percent of occasions.

The previous response standards, which were set in 2004, had been met except for non-domestic fires. The service aimed to attend 70 percent of all non-domestic fires within 8 minutes, but this was achieved on 67 percent of occasions.

Home Office data shows that in the year to 31 March 2021, the service’s response time to primary fires was 8 minutes and 34 seconds. This is the fastest to respond among all predominately rural services across England.

The service uses its resources well, but on-call availability can still be improved

In the year to 31 March 2022, the service’s on-call availability was 67.9 percent. This has reduced from the previous year when it was 78.2 percent. During our inspection, staff often told us that on-call fire appliances weren’t available. Wholetime fire engine availability was 100 percent. This means overall, fire engine availability was 84.0 percent, compared to 89.1 percent the previous year.

In our previous inspection, we raised as an area for improvement that the service should ensure it has an effective policy to determine how it aligns its resources to risk during periods of low fire engine availability. We found that the service has introduced new policies to deal with a range of events that require intervention, such as during periods of reduced staff availability.

It is encouraging to find the service uses its resources well. For example, the service can relocate its wholetime fire engine to a central position in the service area. This allows the fire engine to respond in a timely manner. This is a good example that the service is matching its resources to risk.

Training for incident commanders is good

The service has trained incident commanders who are assessed regularly and properly. As of 31 March 2021, 100 percent of the 166 incident commanders it requires have been accredited. This enables the service to safely, assertively and effectively manage the whole range of incidents that it could face, from small and routine ones to complex multi-agency incidents.

As part of our inspection, we interviewed incident commanders from across the service. The incident commanders we interviewed are familiar with risk assessing, decision-making and recording information at incidents in line with national best practice, as well as the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP).

We identified in our last inspection that the service should assure itself that it has procedures in place to record important operational decisions made at incidents and that these procedures are well understood by staff. We found this has been addressed. For example, analytical risk assessments are now photographed at the incident and then sent to a central team for storage.

Control staff are involved in operational response activities

We are pleased to see control staff integrated into the service’s command, training, exercise, debrief and quality assurance activity. We were given examples of how fire control staff have been involved in training and major incident exercises with operational staff. We were also pleased to find that control staff were involved in structured debriefs after incidents.

The service should test its ability to provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously

Control has good systems in place to exchange real-time risk information with incident commanders, other responding partner organisations, and other fire and rescue services. Maintaining good situational awareness helps the service to communicate effectively with the public, providing accurate and tailored advice.

The service has provided training in fire survival guidance to its staff. While we recognise there aren’t any high-rise premises in the service area, the service hasn’t reviewed its ability to provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously as we would have expected it to. This was identified as learning for fire services after the Grenfell Tower fire.

The mobile data terminals aren’t reliable and risk information isn’t always up to date

We sampled a range of risk information, including what is in place for firefighters responding to incidents at high-risk buildings and what information is held by fire control.

The information we reviewed wasn’t always up to date or accurate. For example, in one sample we reviewed a premises that was identified as medium risk, but had zero occupants recorded on the record.

We were told by operational staff that the mobile data terminals on fire engines were slow and clunky. They reported that the terminal had crashed on the way to an incident, which resulted in the crews not being able to access or retrieve critical risk information. The service has bought new terminals and they were due to be installed following our inspection.

Incident debriefs are effective and learning from incidents is used to improve future response

An area for improvement identified in our last inspection was that the service should make sure it has an effective system enabling staff to use learning and debriefs from incidents to improve future operational response. We are pleased the service has addressed this. The service has a process to obtain learning from lower level to major incidents.

As part of the inspection, we reviewed a range of emergency incidents and training events. These included a mine rescue and a road traffic collision on the motorway. We were impressed with the ‘talking heads’ videos the service produces following a significant incident. These outline the emergency call to the control room, then follow events and decisions from when the fire appliance arrives to the incident’s conclusion. All the staff that we spoke to during our inspection spoke positively about the videos. We look forward to seeing how this develops in the future.

We are pleased to see the service routinely follows its policies to assure itself that staff command incidents in line with operational guidance. Internal risk information is updated with the information received. Any operational learning obtained is sent to all operational staff by email and staff must confirm whether they have read and understood the learning.

We are encouraged to see the service is contributing towards, and acting on, learning from other fire and rescue services or operational learning gathered from other emergency services. National information and learning are reported to the operational assurance team, then communicated to the rest of the service.

The public is kept informed of ongoing incidents

The service has good systems in place to inform the public about ongoing incidents and help keep them safe during and after incidents. The communications officers provide 24/7 cover, which helps keep the public informed, and they provide media training to middle managers and above. In addition, the team works well with the County Durham and Darlington Local Resilience Forum (LRF) to provide consistent messages to the public.

National operational guidance has been successfully implemented

The service has been a forerunner nationally for implementing national operational guidance. The service seconded an officer to the National Fire Chiefs Council during the development of the national standards. We were told this helped the service to implement the guidance. The service has also put in place a way to make sure risk assessments, procedures and training packages are regularly reviewed. At the time of our inspection, the service received praise from the National Fire Chiefs Council for its own implementation of the guidance and supporting 28 fire and rescue services across the country to do the same.

5

How effective is the FRS at responding to major and multi-agency incidents?

Good

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to major and multi‑agency incidents.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

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 well prepared to respond to major and multi-agency incidents

The service has effectively anticipated and considered the reasonably foreseeable risks and threats it may face. These risks are listed in both local and national risk registers as part of its community risk management planning. For example, the service has plans to deal with flooding over a wide area and industrial fires.

It is also familiar with the significant risks that could be faced by neighbouring fire and rescue services that it might reasonably be asked to respond to in an emergency. Firefighters have access to risk information from neighbouring services. Risk information with neighbouring services is shared through a secure portal called Resilience Direct, which all fire and rescue services have access to.

The service has good arrangements in place to respond to major incidents

We reviewed the arrangements the service has in place to respond to different major incidents, including extreme weather events such as flooding.

The service declared a major incident when Storm Arwen occurred in November 2021. A multi-agency response was set up and we found the service responded to the incident effectively.

The service has good arrangements in place, which are well understood by staff. For example, the service has trained specialist operational staff in marauding terrorist attacks and aligned this response training to the latest joint operating principles. Fire control staff were familiar with what to do when a major incident is declared and they knew how to request national resilience assets.

The service works effectively with neighbouring fire services

The service can support other fire and rescue services responding to emergency incidents. The service has an arrangement with Cleveland Fire Brigade to use its incident command support unit when needed. It has additional formal arrangements in place with neighbouring services. It is intraoperable with these services and can form part of a multi-agency response.

Cross-border exercising takes place with neighbouring fire and rescue services

The service has a cross-border exercise plan with neighbouring fire and rescue services so that they can work together effectively to keep the public safe. The plan includes the risks of major events at which the service could foreseeably provide support or request assistance from neighbouring services. We were encouraged to see that feedback from these exercises is used to inform risk information and service plans.

Principles for working with other emergency services are integrated into incident command

The incident commanders we interviewed had been trained in and were familiar with JESIP.

The service provided strong evidence that it consistently follows these principles. This includes the application of JESIP in all command training and assessments, as well as including it in multi-agency training exercises and incidents.

The service works effectively with other organisations

The service has good arrangements in place to respond to emergencies with other partners that make up the County Durham and Darlington Local Resilience Forum. These arrangements include planning and preparations for major incidents identified in its community risk profile.

The chief fire officer is the chair of the forum’s strategic board, with the service also chairing the tactical business group and communication cell. We were told the service is seen as a valued partner of the forum. As part of the forum’s response to COVID-19, the service chaired the tactical co-ordination group and the regional co‑ordination group. The chief fire officer is the National Fire Chiefs Council lead for LRFs, representing forum chairs on a working group that set the direction and agenda for the national forum chairs’ weekly COVID-19 call.

The service takes part in regular training events with other members of the LRF and uses the learning to develop planning assumptions about responding to major and multi-agency incidents. During the pandemic the service:

  • saw over 150 staff volunteer for additional activities;
  • co-ordinated community testing sites for Durham County Council, with over 7,000 tests conducted using more than 3,500 hours of support provided by the service; and
  • supported vaccination centres by working over 12,000 hours as vaccinators, administering over 55,000 vaccinations to its communities.

National learning is shared regularly

The service keeps itself up to date with national operational learning updates from other fire services and joint operational learning from other organisations, such as the police service and ambulance trusts. This learning is used to inform planning assumptions that have been made with other partners.