How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure?
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.
We saw improvements in some areas since our 2019 inspection, but other areas have deteriorated. Overall, the service hasn’t made enough progress.
The service should make clearer links between, and explain better, how its risk assessment informs its risk management plans and objectives.
It still hasn’t developed a process to make sure its home fire safety checks can be easily prioritised to those at the highest risk. It is also still not evaluating all of its prevention activity, so it can’t assess how well its actions work, and which of them are most effective.
Fire safety audits are completed to a consistent standard. But the feedback the service gives to building owners needs improvement. It also needs to do more to assure the quality of its protection work.
Work to address the Grenfell Inquiry findings has made some progress, but more is needed. The service particularly needs to improve how it shares casualty information from fire survival guidance calls.
There has been some progress in learning lessons from emergency incidents and exercises, but more work is needed. Sharing the results of these lessons and making improvements based on them needs better oversight and management.
Positively, we found the service had maintained improved staffing levels in the protection team, and there is a clear plan to inspect the highest-risk buildings. There is evidence of the service collaborating with other organisations to identify and reduce risk. Fire engine availability is good and has improved since the last inspection. Information about the risks that firefighters face is up to date and easy to access. There was good knowledge of command procedures for incidents involving multiple emergency services and authorities.
How effective is the FRS at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies?
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at understanding risk.
Gloucestershire 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 needs to improve how it engages with its local community to build a comprehensive profile of risk in its service area.
- The service should make sure its integrated risk management plan (IRMP) includes clear outcomes which show the public how it is mitigating risk.
- The service should ensure the data it collects to inform its IRMP is understood and used to manage its risk within the county.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
Risks are assessed, but the data is not used to inform local risk management
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has assessed an appropriate range of risks and threats to develop its community risk profiles (CRP) 2020–2021. When assessing risk, it has considered relevant information collected from a broad range of internal and external sources and data sets. These include national and community risk registers, the service’s incident data, indices of multiple deprivation and information about fire protection activity.
We were surprised to find the CRP isn’t being used to inform and manage risk in the county. Strategic managers told us about station risk profiles, which are intended to allow the risk information from the CRP to be used to target station-level risk mitigation work. But these were still being developed, and there were no examples for us to examine.
The service has undertaken only limited consultation with vulnerable communities, such as those with disabilities or living in remote rural areas, to understand risk and explain how it intends to mitigate it.
It is unclear how the IRMP targets and mitigates risk
Gloucestershire FRS extended its IRMP to March 2022 by adding an action plan. In April 2022, IRMPs were replaced with community risk management plans (CRMPs). At the time of our inspection the service was consulting on its draft CRMP for 2022–25.
It isn’t clear how the 2021–22 IRMP action plan is being used to target and mitigate all risk in the service’s area. Nor are there specific, measurable objectives to show the public how effective the plan is at reducing risk. There was little evidence to show how the action plan’s commitments to reviewing the prevention and response policies were progressing, or how these policies would identify and reduce community risk. By contrast, the business fire safety policy had been updated and a programme of inspections of high-risk buildings was in progress.
Risk information is reviewed and updated promptly
We were reassured to find the service has improved the way it collects, reviews and updates information about the buildings and places it has identified as being at the most risk. One central team does this work, so the service can make sure risk information is reviewed and updated consistently. This means firefighters have access to accurate and up-to-date information to keep themselves and the public safe. We reviewed a selection of records and found they had been completed to a good standard.
There is a two-year programme for operational staff to visit sites so they are familiar with the risks and hazards, and with the actions they would need to take if they were called to emergencies at those places. The programme was new. Wholetime crews had been making visits, but on-call staff hadn’t yet started. The service should make sure all on-call stations book and complete visits to their risk sites.
More work is needed on short-term risks and sharing risk information
The service is involved in planning for major events such as the Fairford Air Show and Cheltenham Festival. However, it has recognised that it doesn’t have a robust process for collecting risk information about other temporary events such as sporting fixtures and music concerts. It has developed a new process for these, which was being tested during the inspection. We look forward to seeing this evolve and become established.
The service has a structured process for sharing changes in procedures and safety information with staff. Staff use an online system to record their training, and the service sends bulletins to this system. Staff can’t start recording their training until they have read and acknowledged these bulletins. Managers on station also receive emails about new bulletins, so they can check staff are aware they need to read them.
However, arrangements for sharing risk information arising from fire prevention, response and, in particular, protection activity are less structured and based on local arrangements rather than a service process. The service should consider putting a consistent process in place.
Some improvements, but more work needed to share learning from incidents
The service has provided additional resources and a new system to help improve how it acts on feedback from local and national operational activity. However, more work is needed to establish this.
We found some examples of changes the service had made following incident debriefs. But not all staff we spoke to knew about these, nor were they confident about how to find information the service had shared following debriefs.
Most new information is available from the service’s intranet ‘staff hub’ or through the online learning record system. The service should make sure that all learning from operational incidents is made available promptly and that operational staff are aware of how they can access this information.
The service has made positive progress on the Grenfell Inquiry findings but needs to do more
During this round of inspection, we sampled how each fire and rescue service has responded to the recommendations and learning from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has taken some steps to respond to this tragedy. It has identified some buildings with cladding similar to the type installed on Grenfell Tower. It has completed safety inspections at the majority of these buildings and, at the time of this inspection, the service was on track to complete this work as planned. At the same time as it inspected the buildings, it reviewed and updated its records and plans for dealing with incidents at each site.
But the service still has more to do. We heard that there were some training exercises shortly after the tragedy in 2017, but there have been few since. The service has set up a project team to oversee completion of actions following the fire and Phase 1 of the public inquiry. This work has been slow to progress. We were surprised to find that, given the national prominence of the issues raised by the Grenfell Tower fire, the service had not given this higher priority.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at preventing fires and other risks.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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 develop a clear prevention strategy targeting people most at risk and make sure activity undertaken is proportionate to reduce that risk.
- The service should make sure it allocates enough resources to meet its prevention strategy.
- The service should evaluate its prevention activity so it understands what works.
- The service should ensure it targets the most vulnerable referrals as a priority, and that staff understand the service’s high-risk factor categories.
The service’s prevention plan has not been fully updated
The service has a prevention plan which has been partly revised to align with its IRMP action plan. However, it hasn’t been fully updated. For example, many of the projects and activities that it details are exactly the same as those in the 2017–20 prevention plan.
The revised plan contains four high-level objectives, but only one refers to reducing risk, and there is limited detail to link these objectives to the activities described in the plan. The service doesn’t describe which people or communities it considers to be high risk. The plan doesn’t include any meaningful and easily understood measures that can be used to show the public how the service is mitigating risk, or how successful its plans are. As a result, it isn’t clear how the plan aligns to the risks the service has identified, or how it will use its resources to mitigate this risk.
Prevention work is returning to normal after the pandemic
We considered how the service had adapted its prevention work during our COVID-19 specific inspection between 9 and 20 November 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its public prevention work appropriately. Since then, we are encouraged to find that that the service has largely returned to face-to-face home fire safety checks, and that it continues to work with other organisations to receive referrals.
The process for targeting home fire safety checks still needs improvement
Gloucestershire FRS doesn’t have the capacity to produce its own list of home fire safety checks. Instead, it is reliant on referrals from other organisations. The service has identified seven fatal fire risk factors, and it continues to use these to prioritise visits into high or low-risk categories.
At 6.7 checks per 1,000 population, the service’s rate of home fire safety checks is higher than the national average of 4.5 checks per 1,000 population. However, it doesn’t prioritise its home fire safety checks as well as it could. The systems it uses don’t allow for the easy identification of those homes at greatest need within the high‑risk category. As a result, there is a need for specialist prevention staff to regularly monitor the system to make sure those at greatest risk receive the fastest response. We identified this as an area for improvement during our 2019 inspection.
We heard the service has plans to develop a systematic process to determine which people it should prioritise out of those it has already identified as being at greatest risk from fire, otherwise known as a ‘risk stratification system’. This would make sure those at greatest risk would receive the quickest response, without the need for manual intervention by specialist staff. This work was still in its early stages. The service should make sure it progresses this as soon as possible.
The training for safe and well visits lacks structure and staff do not have enough time to complete it
We found that the training for staff carrying out prevention work lacked structure. As the training must be completed alongside other work, there was also limited time for staff to do it.
Specialist prevention staff don’t have a formal induction and training programme. E‑learning modules are available, but need to be booked and completed alongside staff’s other workloads. The specialist staff also have to train on-call staff who volunteer to complete safe and well visits. This limits the time they have to carry out important prevention visits even more.
The service has recently increased the length of time on-call staff have for training. Staff saw this as an opportunity to improve how they complete home fire safety checks.
The service has clear safeguarding procedures, but some referrals need to be improved
The service has improved its safeguarding arrangements since our last inspection. Safeguarding training is given to operational and specialist staff, a new safeguarding referral form has been introduced, and the safeguarding lead is active and visible in the service.
Most staff we spoke to understand the importance of recognising vulnerability and making a safeguarding referral, but sometimes staff will refer to their manager or send an email to the central team. The service should assure itself that all staff are confident they can make safeguarding referrals by the most appropriate route.
The service collaborates with others to identify and reduce community risk
The service works with a range of organisations to understand and reduce risk in the community. These include Gloucestershire Police, the Safer Gloucestershire Board, Cotswold District Council, and the county’s safeguarding boards. They focus on those who are at greatest risk due to fire, domestic abuse and other vulnerabilities.
Gloucestershire FRS works directly with organisations on joint risk reduction projects at, for example, its SkillZONE community safety centre. It also receives referrals for home fire safety checks and makes referrals to organisations that are better able to meet the needs of people the service has identified as being at risk.
The service takes a lead role with the local authority and other organisations in preventing fire. For example, it chairs a multi-agency sub-group of the safeguarding adults board. The sub-group reviews fatal fire incidents and near misses. It develops projects and action plans which aim to prevent fires, fire fatalities and injuries. The group has arrangements to share risk information. Where needed, the service will complete a safe and well visit within 48 hours.
At the time of the inspection, the service had started to develop a pilot project to provide ‘domestic abuse champions’ from on-call fire stations in the Cotswold District Council area. This was at the request of the council. It was in its early stages and we look forward to seeing it develop.
The service does limited work to tackle fire-setting behaviour
The service has only limited involvement in targeting and educating people who show signs of fire-setting behaviour. Some staff have recently worked with Gloucestershire Police in response to an increase in deliberate fires in an area of Cheltenham, but this wasn’t part of a structured programme to tackle deliberate fire setting. The service is training staff to tackle deliberate fire setting, as recent retirements have affected its capacity to do this work.
There is not enough evaluation or quality assurance of prevention work
We found limited evidence that the service evaluates the effectiveness of its prevention activity. There was some evaluation of social media campaigns, but we found no evidence of quality assurance or review of the safe and well programme or other prevention work.
Without evaluation, the service can’t be sure it is identifying and targeting those who are most at risk. It can’t tell if its prevention work is effective at reducing risk and changing behaviours so that people are safer. It also can’t tell whether it is making the best use of its limited resources.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through fire regulation?
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at protecting the public through fire regulation.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service was inadequate 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 for enforcing the legislation.
Areas for improvement
- The service should ensure it has sufficient capacity and resilience to manage its RBIP and take proportionate enforcement action, including prosecution.
- The service should make sure it has an effective quality assurance process, so staff carry out audits to an appropriate standard.
- The service should assure itself that its use of enforcement powers prioritises the highest risks and includes proportionate activity to reduce risk.
- The service should make sure it works with local businesses and large organisations to share information and expectations on compliance with fire safety regulations.
The service has introduced a new protection plan
In line with the commitment in its IRMP action plan, the service has introduced a protection plan that sets out how it will make sure the buildings in its area are safe from fire.
The plan is a high-level document that explains how the service will review safety in buildings and, when needed, take enforcement action to make sure they are safe. However, the plan doesn’t contain enough information for business owners and building users to understand if their buildings are high risk. It also doesn’t outline how the service will work with them to make sure they make their buildings safer.
The service has revised its risk-based inspection programme (RBIP) to focus on the buildings most at risk
The service revised its RBIP following our last inspection. It used fire and casualty data and the results of inspection activity to develop a clear definition of high-risk buildings. This includes high-rise buildings of six or more floors, hospitals and care homes. This definition was understood by most staff we spoke to and is the focus of the service’s audit programme.
At the time of the inspection, the service was on track to have audited all 1,732 buildings that meet its high-risk criteria by April 2022, which is positive.
We found the service isn’t clear about the resources it will need to meet the future demands of its RBIP, and the associated enforcement and engagement work. It hasn’t yet reviewed its RBIP and other anticipated work to determine if its current resources are enough. This is an important next step. The service should make sure this review is completed and that the results inform its future resource planning.
Resourcing has improved, but more resilience is needed
Despite improved resources, the service isn’t doing enough to make sure its protection department is resilient now and in the future.
The increase in protection staff that we noted when we revisited the service earlier in 2021 has been maintained. Inspectors receive specialist training and accreditation to the appropriate national level. The majority of new staff have completed their training, and the service has also trained some of its operational staff to complete business safe and well visits. While this could increase capacity, the service was at a very early stage of testing the arrangements during the inspection.
There has been improvement in the availability of staff to give 24/7 specialist advice to make sure people are safe, but this is still not fully resilient.
We were concerned to see the service is still largely reliant on one member of staff to manage its fire safety records and work allocation system. It has been too slow to change this known single point of failure.
Protection work is returning to normal
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. We were encouraged to hear the service had returned to on-site audits as lockdown restrictions were lifted.
The service has made good progress in reviewing safety in high-rise buildings
Gloucestershire FRS has reviewed the buildings in its area to identify those which use cladding similar to that installed on Grenfell Tower. It has visited most of these buildings to check fire safety arrangements and to gather information to help firefighters who might attend an emergency at the buildings. At the time of this inspection, the service was on track to complete this work as planned.
Audits are consistent, but feedback needs to be improved
Protection work is generally completed to a good standard, but the service could do more to make sure it gives a consistent response to businesses. We reviewed a range of audits of different premises. This included audits that were made:
- as part of the service’s RBIP;
- after fires at premises where fire safety legislation applies;
- where enforcement action had been taken; and
- at high-rise, high-risk buildings.
Most audits had been completed in a consistent and systematic manner, with important information and findings accurately recorded, but there were some inconsistencies in the way feedback was given to building managers, and the action taken by other organisations could be recorded in a more consistent manner.
Quality assurance needs to be improved
The service isn’t doing enough to quality assure its protection work. New staff have their work routinely reviewed by a manager to support their development. Managers also review any inspection reports which result in enforcement.
Service policy is for safety inspectors to have their work reviewed by a manager every six months. Staff we spoke to told us this rarely happens. Without regular quality assurance of all inspectors’ work, the service is missing opportunities to promote consistency and drive improvement.
There is limited use of enforcement powers
A shortage of skills and capacity means Gloucestershire FRS doesn’t consistently use its full range of enforcement powers. There has been a low level of enforcement activity in recent years. In the year to 31 March 2021, the service issued:
- no alteration notices;
- 37 informal notifications;
- 1 enforcement notice;
- 1 prohibition notice; and
- undertook no prosecutions.
It completed 2 prosecutions in the past 5 years, from 2016 to 2021.
Some staff lacked the confidence and experience to complete formal enforcement work. The department also doesn’t have the capacity to carry out formal investigations for prosecutions alongside completing its RBIP. The service should consider how it supports its staff to take effective enforcement action, and make sure it has the resources to do this in the future.
The service is working with other organisations to improve building safety
The service gave examples of where it is working with other organisations to improve building fire safety. It works with the housing and building control departments of its local authorities. It also works with the Care Quality Commission to review safety in care homes.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the service has worked with residential building owners to review and improve the safety of the buildings in its area. This includes Cheltenham Borough Council and Gloucester City Homes. It has also engaged with the owners of commercial buildings that have cladding similar to Grenfell Tower to improve safety in those buildings.
The service has a good response to building and licensing consultations
The service responds well to building control and licensing consultations from its local authorities and approved inspectors. We spoke to Cotswold District Council, who were complimentary about how the service has worked with them. They said building control consultations get a timely response from suitably qualified staff. The council is also able to discuss any issues or concerns with the service.
In the year to March 2021, Gloucestershire FRS responded to 99.5 percent of its building control consultations within the expected 14 working days. Licensing consultations received a similarly good response, with 99.4 percent of consultations receiving a response within 28 working days.
The service needs to do more work with businesses to promote safety
The service could do more to work with local businesses and other organisations to promote compliance with fire safety legislation.
The service gives some safety information on its website, and it uses social media to promote safety messages, often aligned to national business safety campaigns. But it rarely works directly with businesses to explain the importance and benefits of complying with fire safety legislation, and it has not set up any primary authority partnerships. The service is missing opportunities to improve fire safety by helping businesses understand the value of good compliance.
The service could do more to reduce unwanted fire alarms
The service challenges calls from automatic fire alarm systems as its primary mechanism to make sure false alarms don’t affect responses to real emergencies. As a result, in the year to March 2021 the service didn’t send a response to 54 percent of the automatic fire alarm calls it received. This increased the availability of fire engines and firefighters to respond to genuine emergencies. But the service could do more to highlight to businesses the importance of managing their fire alarm systems to prevent unwanted calls.
Areas that gave us concern have improved
During our 2019 inspection, we saw notable shortfalls in the service’s protection arrangements. As these shortfalls were significant, we gave the service a cause of concern, with recommendations for improvement. We were pleased to find the service has made enough progress for the original cause of concern to be lifted. We will continue to work with the service to review its progress and make sure these improvements are sustained.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at responding to fires and other emergencies.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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.
Areas for improvement
- The service should make sure it has resilient arrangements to give relevant information to the public about ongoing incidents to help keep the public safe during and after they happen.
- The service should make sure it has an adequately resourced plan to adopt national operational guidance, including joint and national learning.
- The service should ensure it has an effective system for staff to use learning and debriefs to improve operational response and incident command.
Response plans need updating
The service doesn’t have a response plan which is clearly linked to risk, nor is it communicated in its IRMP. It hasn’t reviewed its response model and the location of fire stations since 2015.
At the time of our inspection, the service did have plans to review its emergency response arrangements, but this work wasn’t due to start until 2022. As a result, the service can’t clearly link the rationale for the location and number of its emergency response vehicles and stations to its understanding of risk or to plans to mitigate that risk. For example, fire engines are being replaced on a like-for-like basis rather than with vehicles and equipment that have been chosen because they best meet the needs of the local community.
The service does not meet its new response standards.
There are no national standards for fire and rescue emergency response. The service has set out its own response standards. Disappointingly, it didn’t do this as part of its IRMP, so the standards aren’t linked to the management of risk. Neither did it consult the public on the proposed change.
The service’s current response standards are:
- dwelling fires: an average response of nine minutes or less;
- other building/‘commercial’ fires: an average response time of ten minutes or less; and
- primary fires: an average response time of ten minutes or less.
In the year to March 2021, the service didn’t meet its response times for dwelling, primary or other building/’commercial’ fires. These had average response times of 9 minutes and 20 seconds, 10 minutes 6 seconds and 10 minutes and 2 seconds respectively.
We were pleased to see the service has amended its response policy since our last inspection. It now sends the nearest, appropriate fire engine to all calls, which improves the service the public receives.
Fire engine availability is good
To support its response model, the service aims to have its wholetime fire engines available on 100 percent of occasions, with on-call fire engines available on 90 percent of occasions. The service has improved its fire engine availability since our last inspection and has consistently met this standard. In the year to March 2021, wholetime fire engine availability was 100 percent and on-call engine availability was 91 percent.
Incident command skills support needs improvement
The service has arrangements to make sure the skills of its incident commanders are regularly assessed and validated in line with national standards. We reviewed the records of a sample of incident commanders and found them to be up to date and in line with service policy.
We found incident commanders were familiar with the procedures for assessing risk, making decisions and recording information at incidents in line with national operational guidance, as well as with the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP).
However, some incident commanders told us there were few opportunities to maintain their command experience and skills in the periods between when they are trained and reassessed for their roles. This was particularly relevant for newly appointed commanders and those working in areas with relatively low call levels and few opportunities to command incidents. The service told us it had put support arrangements in place, so incident commanders could shadow more experienced staff and benefit from their support. These arrangements lacked structure and not all incident commanders were aware of them. The service should consider how it can improve the structure of these arrangements and increase staff confidence in them.
The service records analytical risk assessments at emergencies using a risk assessment form. It duplicates the latest assessment on a whiteboard, so firefighters can see the latest risk information when they are at an incident.
We were surprised to find some incident commanders did not understand this and were unclear about how permanent records of risk assessments were kept. The service should assure itself all response staff understand the process and the methods of permanently recording risk assessments.
Control staff are involved in exercises and incident debriefs
We are pleased to see the service integrates its control staff into its training and incident debrief activity. Staff told us this had improved since the last inspection.
There were examples of control staff being involved in exercises at a specialist local training venue and a high-rise building in Gloucester. Control staff were also involved in incident debriefs after an incident on the M5 and a fire in a high-rise building that raised important safety issues.
The service tries to arrange debriefs so control staff can attend in person. On some occasions they use online meeting facilities so that staff can attend while still on duty in the control room.
There is limited progress to introduce national operational guidance
The service needs to do more to introduce national operational guidance. This was an area for improvement we identified in our last inspection.
Its plan showed limited progress, with many tasks overdue. It has recently revised the plan and agreed additional staff levels at stations to support the work needed to introduce national operational guidance. It should make sure this work progresses promptly and with effective managerial oversight.
Arrangements for handling multiple fire survival guidance calls need to be more robust
Despite a positive start, more work is needed to make sure the service’s arrangements for handling multiple fire survival guidance calls are robust and can be deployed effectively.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the service has reviewed its procedures for handling calls and providing survival advice to people trapped by fire. Control staff could confidently give survival advice and had access to clear guidance for this. There are also arrangements for passing additional calls to ‘buddy’ services, and facilities to bring in staff to deal with increased call numbers. But the system for recording and passing multiple casualty details to firefighters attending an incident was not well understood beyond control staff and had not been tested.
But we found 40 percent of control staff hadn’t recently completed training in handling these calls, and the arrangements had not been tested in any exercises. The service should assure itself that its arrangements are robust, properly understood by all operational staff, and can be deployed effectively.
Risk information is up to date and easy to access
We sampled a range of risk information, including what is in place for firefighters responding to incidents at high-risk, high-rise buildings. The records we examined were up to date and had been reviewed with the service’s protection and response teams. Operational staff we spoke to told us they can submit updated information following a visit to the site.
Staff are able to access risk information using computers in the cabs of their fire engines. The system appeared to be robust and reliable. Two areas where staff felt the system could be improved were by having access to specialist information about chemicals and information about vehicle safety systems. These would help firefighters attending emergency incidents keep the public and themselves safer. The service recognises this is an area where it can improve. It has committed to providing vehicle safety information on its fire engines. We look forward to seeing this progress.
The service needs to do more to improve incident debriefing
The service needs to do more to improve its arrangements for identifying, recording and sharing learning from incidents and exercises. It has done work in this area, but with limited progress.
The way the service manages learning and actions arising from debrief isn’t effective. Service departments are not taking responsibility for improvement actions assigned to them. This means the actions aren’t prioritised and completed. The service told us it plans to introduce new arrangements to oversee this and to make sure actions are completed. We look forward to seeing this develop, and to a more robust approach to debriefs and learning being established.
We found only limited evidence that the service contributes to and acts on learning from other fire and rescue services or operational learning gathered from other emergency service partners.
Arrangements to keep the public informed about ongoing incidents are ineffective
The service doesn’t have a clear and co-ordinated approach to informing the public about ongoing incidents. This needs to be improved to help keep the public safe during and after incidents.
Some operational officers have the training to give media briefings. For more significant incidents, the service works with the council media team, with operational officers providing briefs when needed. The service also uses its social media channel to update the public about some incidents. Support for these arrangements isn’t resilient and there is limited out-of-hours availability. The service recognises this is an area where it needs to improve.
How effective is the FRS at responding to major and multi-agency incidents?
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at responding to major and multi‑agency incidents.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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).
Areas for improvement
- The service should make sure it is well-prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to a terrorist incident, and its procedures for responding are understood by non-specialist response staff and are well tested.
- The service should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up‑to-date risk information. This should include cross-border risk information.
- The service should make sure it runs a programme of service, cross-border and partner exercises, sharing the learning from these exercises.
The service needs to improve its major and multi-agency incident preparations
The service has considered the reasonably foreseeable risks and threats it may face. These include site-specific risks such as Purton Water Treatment Works and Safran Landing Systems; community risks such as wide-area flooding and wildfires; and event risks like the Air Tattoo at Fairford and the Cheltenham Festival.
The service has made some progress since our last inspection in 2019. It has provided risk information on fire engines about sites in neighbouring service areas. However, we found all the firefighters we asked about this did not know the information was there or how to access it. When firefighters were called to an incident in a neighbouring service’s area, they would rely on the neighbouring service for any risk information.
Response to major and multi-agency incidents needs improvement
We reviewed the arrangements the service has in place to respond to different major incidents, including high-rise building fires, risks planned for by the local resilience forum (LRF) and terrorist incidents.
Control staff know how to mobilise for major incidents and how to request national resources when needed. The service works with other organisations through the LRF. Staff from the service attend exercises and training organised by the LRF. The service is taking the strategic lead for the LRF’s flood planning, and there is multi-agency liaison through regular work group meetings. Most staff we spoke to understand the service’s major incident procedures and are confident about attending such incidents.
However, more work is needed. Training for multi-agency incidents needs to be given more frequently to all firefighters. Our staff survey showed that 55 percent of respondents (72 of 132) hadn’t exercised with other organisations in the past 12 months. Firefighters hadn’t received training in the latest high-rise firefighting and evacuation techniques. There was also no programme to give new national training to non-specialist responders who may be called to a terrorist incident.
Arrangements for working with other fire services are good
The service has arrangements in place so that it can respond to or request support from its six neighbouring services. The service told us it regularly attends incidents in neighbouring areas. Staff we spoke to were aware of the operating protocols to work effectively with neighbouring services.
Better co-ordination is needed for cross-border exercising arrangements
The service has a plan for cross-border exercising with some of its neighbouring services, although progress on this has been delayed by the pandemic. There was limited central oversight of exercises and training with neighbouring services. Much of the training was arranged at local station level.
A programme of major incident cross-border training had started just before the inspection. It needs more time to become established.
We saw limited examples of learning from cross-border exercises being shared between services and within Gloucestershire.
There is good understanding and application of JESIP
The service trains all incident commanders in the JESIP, which are used to make sure emergency services and partners work together effectively during emergencies. Strategic incident commanders also do multi-agency gold incident command training. Most incident commanders we spoke to were familiar with JESIP and could apply the principles correctly. The service gave us examples of JESIP being used in practice, including when working with LRF partners throughout the pandemic and during the recent fuel crisis.
The service has good arrangements for working with other organisations
The service has good arrangements to respond to emergencies with other organisations that make up the Gloucestershire LRF. It leads the operations group, oversees the LRF flood plans, and hosts the LRF secretariat.
The service supported the LRF to introduce a resilient command structure for the strategic co-ordinating groups during the response to the pandemic. It also worked on the excess deaths, community resilience and testing teams. It supported the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust during the pandemic by providing trained staff to drive ambulances.
The service works with the Severn Area Response Association, which carries out waterborne search and rescue. The service hosts the Severn Area Response Association at its fire station in Tewkesbury.
Arrangements for using national learning need strengthening
The service told us it had arrangements for keeping up to date with joint organisation learning updates from other blue light partners and national operational learning from other fire services, such as the police service and ambulance trusts. However, it could give only very limited examples of learning which it had brought into the service. It couldn’t give any examples showing how it used operational experience gained in service to contribute to national learning.