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Isles of Scilly 2021/22


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

Last updated 20/01/2023

Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment

The service’s integrated risk management plan (IRMP) identifies community risk and sets out measures to manage this. It would benefit from making better use of firefighters’ knowledge of their local risks to build its community risk profiles. Collection and management of information about risk sites has seen a notable improvement.

There are five inhabited islands in the Isles of Scilly. The largest island is St Mary’s. The other four islands – St Martin’s, Tresco, St Agnes and Bryher – are referred to collectively as ‘the off-islands’. Safety visits to homes on the off-islands continue to be completed annually. Firefighters have a good understanding of risk in their local communities. They recognise vulnerability and take appropriate safeguarding measures. The service needs to get better at overseeing the prevention work it commissions for the island of St Mary’s.

Protection has improved, with a clear plan to inspect buildings based on their risk. The service gives advice about building safety management to local businesses. Where necessary, it uses its powers to enforce safety improvements. Response to emergency incidents is good, with notable progress in training, particularly commanding incidents. Debriefing after incidents has got better, but more work is needed to share learning.

Overall, the service has improved since our first inspection in 2018. Protection is now graded as good, with the other three sections maintaining good also. The service continues to be rated as good for effectiveness.

Questions for Effectiveness


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


Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding risk.

Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service was good 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 make sure it uses firefighters’ local risk knowledge and the outcomes from its prevention activity to build its community risk profiles.

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

The community risk profile is based on a range of information

The Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service has assessed an appropriate range of risks and threats after a thorough integrated risk management planning process. When assessing risk, it has considered relevant information collected from a range of internal and external sources and datasets. This includes:

  • data about the residents of and visitors to the islands;
  • information about the business economy and economic welfare of residents;
  • drug and alcohol needs assessments; and
  • records of the incidents the service has attended over the previous nine years.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service supports the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service in researching and developing its IRMP.

The Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service undertook a residents’ survey while it was developing its 2019–22 IRMP. Given the size and nature of the island community, this is an appropriate way for the service to consult. It has used quotes from the survey in its IRMP to give context to its risk-reduction plans. For example, it highlights that the majority of respondents to the survey felt that sharing fire stations with local ambulance, police and Royal National Lifeboat Institution teams is beneficial.

The IRMP clearly shows how risk will be managed

After assessing relevant risks, the service has recorded its findings in an easily understood IRMP. This plan describes how prevention, protection and response activity is to be used to mitigate or reduce the risks and threats the community faces, both now and in the future. For example, the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service is providing community safety training to young people through schools and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme. It is also making sure the business community is safe through building safety inspections. And it is providing a range of appropriate firefighting and specialist rescue equipment at its fire stations.

The IRMP includes a range of performance measures. These are meant to help monitor and measure progress against the priorities and objectives set out in the plan. But the information given isn’t enough for the public to see how effective the service’s plan is at reducing risk. Nor is it clear how progress will be reported in a way that can be easily found and understood by the public.

The service should consider adopting an appropriate set of performance measures for its forthcoming community risk management plan (CRMP). (The CRMP will replace the IRMP). These should have a clear reporting process and enough detail so the public can see and understand how well the service is managing risk.

There have been improvements in the way information about risk is collected and shared

We were pleased to see improvements in the way the service collects, reviews and shares information with its firefighters about risk.

We found that there is a clear plan to review and update information about the highest-risk sites on the islands. The records we checked were up to date and completed to a good standard. This means firefighters have accurate and up-to-date information to keep themselves and the public safe during emergency incidents.

The service collects and shares information from prevention, protection and response. Since our last inspection, the service has provided computers for fire stations. These are used to share information such as health and safety updates, new operational procedures and learning from operational debriefs. The service also shares information with station supervisors by email and orally, either face to face or by phone.

Local knowledge isn’t always used to update the community risk profile

The service’s firefighters have a very good understanding of the people and risks in their local communities. This is particularly so for the off-islands, which are very small communities. They recognise when people are vulnerable and need help, either from the fire service or other care and support organisations.

This is a valuable source of risk information which isn’t always written down or recorded. The service should consider what aspects of local community risk information should be recorded and how this can be used to update its community risk profile.

Firefighters have better access to operational information, but need more training in using the system

Firefighters can use the computers on their stations to access a large amount of information to help with their work. This information is provided by the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service’s partner service, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, and also comes from national sources, such as national operational guidance. It includes information about risk sites, operational procedures and learning from emergency incidents on the islands.

The service has given its staff guidance and support on using the computers and accessing the available information. However, this needs more time to become fully established. We found that not all firefighters were comfortable or confident in using the new computer system and finding the information they need.


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


Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires and other risks.

Isles of Scilly 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 make sure it has appropriate arrangements in place to oversee and scrutinise the progress and quality of prevention work delivered by its prevention partner.

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

The service’s prevention plans are based on local risk

The service sets out its prevention plans in its IRMP. The activities it plans to complete are clearly linked to the risk profile in its IRMP. It has highlighted that people over the age of 80 are at greatest risk from a fire in their home, with men at greater risk than women. The service has also identified seven factors that affect the likelihood of people experiencing a fire at home:

  • smoking;
  • living alone;
  • poor housekeeping;
  • limited mobility;
  • mental health issues;
  • taking medication, including illegal drugs; and
  • consuming alcohol.

Home fire safety checks (HFSCs) make up much of the service’s prevention work. Firefighters visit all homes on the off-islands annually. The service has commissioned airport firefighters to complete most visits on St Mary’s.

It also has other work planned to help people understand fire risks at home and how to reduce them. This includes offering the public visits to the fire station on St Mary’s, staff attending local community events, and working with children through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme at the Five Islands Academy on St Mary’s.

The service has close links with adult social services. Social services send the fire and rescue service referrals for HFSCs if they think people are at risk. And, when the fire and rescue service carries out its own HFSCs, it will refer vulnerable people to social services where appropriate.

Better oversight is needed of prevention work commissioned from other organisations

The service has a contract for airport firefighters to complete aspects of the prevention programme. These include HFSCs on St Mary’s and delivering the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award training. We found the service has limited oversight of the progress and the quality of this work.

Despite contracting the work to a partner, the service maintains overall accountability for it. It should take steps to make sure it has better oversight and governance arrangements for the contract with the airport, and assure itself about the progress and the quality of work being carried out on its behalf.

Prioritisation of prevention visits needs to be clearer

Firefighters visit every home on the off-islands annually. They offer safety advice and, where needed, fit or replace a smoke detector. The service also provides and funds electric deep-fat fryers, fire blankets and other safety equipment to reduce the risk of fire at home. If urgent referrals are received from partners, off-island firefighters complete these as soon as possible.

It isn’t clear how routine prevention visits and referrals on St Mary’s are prioritised when delivered by the service’s partner. The service should make sure prevention work on St Mary’s is effectively prioritised so those at greatest risk are visited first.

Records for prevention work need improvement

The service should improve its prevention recording system. The forms we reviewed were completed inconsistently. Currently, records are analysed manually, and staff can’t look back further than three years. This is inefficient and limits the service’s ability to use information from its prevention work to evaluate the effectiveness of its approach, or to inform its community risk profiles.

Staff are confident completing home fire safety checks

While there is currently no formal training, staff we spoke to were confident in their ability to complete HFSCs. They showed an understanding of the fire risks likely to be found in the home and of the support they could give. For example, following a safety concern raised during a visit, the fire service installed a specialist alarm system to protect a vulnerable resident. Firefighters also recognised situations when they should refer people to other care agencies for support.

The service has started to give training on HFSCs. The first sessions for firefighters from St Mary’s and the airport took place during our inspection. The service plans to extend training to staff on the off-islands later this year. We look forward to seeing this programme and the benefits it provides continue.

Staff recognise vulnerability and make appropriate safeguarding referrals

Firefighters receive a safeguarding refresher through their mandatory annual training. Staff we interviewed can recognise the signs of vulnerability and make referrals to appropriate safeguarding organisations. They know their local communities well and told us about occasions when they had identified safeguarding problems. This included identifying a vulnerable person after an emergency and making a referral for support to adult social services. They were confident and trained to act appropriately and promptly.

Staff refer to a flow chart when they have concerns about a vulnerable person. A copy is carried on fire engines and is available at the stations. However, not everyone we spoke to was aware of this. The service should remind staff about the flow chart. This will help make sure safeguarding is carried out appropriately and consistently.

The service collaborates well with partners

As there are few fires on the islands, the service works with a range of organisations to identify and reduce other community risks. These include Devon and Cornwall Police, South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

In recent years, the service has become a more active member of the Isles of Scilly’s community safety partnership. This is a local initiative led by the Council of the Isles of Scilly, aimed at addressing and tackling community safety issues. Through the partnership, the service contributes to promoting community health, safety and well‑being. This includes highlighting fire safety messages, and outlining the prevention services it can offer to help keep people safe.

The service is recognised by the community safety partnership for having a good understanding of local risks and being able to support partnership activities. The service receives referrals for HFSCs from adult social services, the community safety partnership and a local care provider. In turn, the service has its own arrangements to refer people to social services, when it believes they are at risk or need support.

The service receives information about community risk through the community safety partnership. This is based on the partnership’s local risk analysis. The service is starting to share some risk information with the community safety partnership. This work is in its early stages. We look forward to seeing how this develops.

The service takes a proportionate approach to tackling fire-setting

There are few fires on the islands. There is also a minimal problem with nuisance and deliberate fire-setting. When problems are identified, the service works with its police and environmental health partners to understand the cause of the problem and take proportionate preventive action. This includes working with local schools, where pupils receive presentations about undesirable behaviours, including fire-setting.

Prevention work isn’t evaluated to see if improvements can be made

We didn’t find any evidence to show that the service evaluates its prevention work. For example, it collects a range of information from people when it does home fire safety visits. However, it doesn’t use this information to inform its community risk profiles, or to work out if it needs to change or amend its safety visit programme.


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


Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation.

Isles of Scilly 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 for enforcing the legislation.

Areas for improvement

The service should review its protection and prevention property records to make sure that all commercial buildings, including recently converted bed and breakfast accommodation, are included in the protection database.

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

The protection plan is aligned to risk

The service’s overall approach to protection is set out in its IRMP. It highlights a range of planned activities to reduce the risk and consequences of fire in commercial buildings on the islands. These are linked to its risk profile and include:

  • developing a risk-based plan to inspect commercial buildings;
  • inspecting commercial buildings after a fire;
  • encouraging the installation of sprinklers; and
  • working with partners to improve water storage in farms that are remote or have limited water supplies.

Because of the specialist skills needed and the size of the service, it has formally delegated delivery of its protection programme to its partner, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. We were pleased to see positive improvements in this programme since our previous inspection.

Protection inspections have returned to normal following COVID-19

We considered how the service had modified its protection activity during our COVID‑19-specific inspection in October 2020. At that time, we found that it had adapted its protection work well, using webinars and other virtual communication methods to advise businesses about how to stay safe. Since then, we are encouraged to find that Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has resumed face-to-face safety inspections of the island’s highest-risk buildings. Records from the service showed these were all inspected by the end of March 2022.

Inspections focus on highest-risk buildings

Given the small size of the community, there is a limited number of high-risk buildings on the islands. The service has worked with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, its protection partner, to review its local risk profile. It has adopted Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service’s definition of high risk as the basis of its RBIP. Under this definition, high-risk buildings on the islands include:

  • the hospital;
  • the residential care home;
  • hotels; and
  • bed and breakfast accommodation.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has developed an RBIP, which it completes on behalf of the service. The highest-risk buildings are inspected annually under this programme. This work was affected during the pandemic, but we were pleased to see that all buildings were inspected during 2021–22.

The service has recognised that a significant number of buildings on the islands are being converted into bed and breakfast accommodation. While some sample inspections have been completed, the service hasn’t yet reviewed its buildings database to make sure all new bed and breakfast accommodation is included.

Inspections are completed consistently and to a good standard

We reviewed a range of audits of different premises across the Isles of Scilly. These included audits that were carried out:

  • as part of the service’s RBIP;
  • after fires at premises where fire safety legislation applies; and
  • where enforcement action had been taken.

The audits we reviewed were completed to a high standard and in a consistent, systematic way. The service and its protection partner regularly meet to discuss progress of the inspection programme and exchange protection risk information they have identified. This allows Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service to make changes to the building risk information given to firefighters and Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service to adjust the programme of building inspections when needed.

Work should be assured to confirm quality and consistency

There is limited quality assurance of the protection work completed for Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service. The service’s partner doesn’t regularly quality-assure the work of its staff. As a result, inspections carried out on the islands aren’t always checked to make sure they are consistent and in line with Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service’s inspection policy. The service should consider, in discussion with its partner, how to address this so it can be confident in the quality and consistency of protection work.

Enforcement is applied proportionately to make sure people are safe

The service has made increasing but proportionate use of its enforcement powers. In particular, this has improved since the pandemic in 2020–21, when very little on-site protection work took place.

The service gave us data that showed it issued seven informal notifications and one prohibition notice in 2021/22. This is an increase when compared to the previous year, when it didn’t issue any notices. It shows the service is prepared to use its enforcement powers when appropriate.

Protection work is properly resourced

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has allocated enough qualified protection staff to meet the requirements of the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service’s RBIP. A small team of appropriately trained and accredited staff carry out all inspections and site visits. The work is overseen by a manager, who also meets regularly with the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service’s station manager to discuss progress of the RBIP and exchange risk information.

The service responds quickly to building and licensing consultations

The service responds to building and licensing consultations in a consistent and timely way. It consistently meets its statutory responsibility to comment on fire safety arrangements at new and altered buildings. In 2020/21, the service responded to all its building regulation (1 of 1) and licensing (3 of 3) consultations in time.

The service advises businesses about the importance of keeping their buildings safe

We inspected the service to see how it responded during the early stages of the pandemic. We found that it had supported businesses as the first lockdown lifted by giving fire safety advice and guidance to business owners and building managers via webinars. This was well received.

We were pleased to find that this approach has continued. As well as carrying out fire safety inspections of buildings, the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service and Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service also hold meetings with the business community to explain the importance of managing safety in their buildings. This includes holding business safety surgeries at St Mary’s Fire Station and working with the leisure industry ahead of major events like the World Pilot Gig Championships, an annual boating event held on the islands.


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


Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies.

Isles of Scilly 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.

Fire service response meets the islands’ needs

The service has an appropriate range of fire engines, trained firefighters and equipment to meet the risks presented by the islands’ communities. There is a fire station on each inhabited island. Firefighters are on call, undertaking other work when they aren’t called to respond to emergencies.

Some of the off-island communities are very small, with narrow and uneven roads. The service uses specially converted and equipped tractors and trailers to make sure it can access as much of the islands as possible. It provides specialist equipment to deal with incidents likely to occur on the islands. This includes equipment for chemical spillages and road traffic collisions. The service also shares space in some of its fire stations with other emergency partners, including the police, ambulance and coastguard.

The service responds promptly to emergency calls

There are no national response standards of performance for the public. The service sets out how it will respond to emergencies in its IRMP. It aims to get a crew of four firefighters to all incidents. However, it recognises that due to limited resources on the off-islands, an initial response may be made with three firefighters. The service provides support to the off-islands, sending firefighters by boat from the nearest island and from St Mary’s. For larger incidents, there are arrangements for Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service to send staff to support the service and give tactical advice to incident commanders by phone. This was used during a recent fire on the Porthmellon industrial estate on St Mary’s.

Due to the low number of calls and the unique setting of the service, care is needed when comparing the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service with other services. Home Office data shows that in the year ending 30 September 2021, the service’s response time to primary fires was 11 minutes and 52 seconds.

The service has good fire engine availability

To support its response plans, the service aims to have its six fire engines available at all times. The service consistently achieves this, with 100 percent availability recorded for the year ending 31 March 2021. We were pleased to see that the service has improved its system for monitoring the availability of its firefighters.

There are notable improvements in incident command

We are pleased to see that the service trains and assesses its incident commanders regularly and properly. This was an area for improvement we identified in our last inspection.

Instructors from Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service visit the islands to train the service’s incident commanders and assess their skills. The service has recognised that the small number of incidents on the islands limits the opportunities for incident commanders to maintain their skills. So, it trains and tests their skills annually rather than every two years, which is the minimum recommended nationally. This helps the service to safely, assertively and effectively manage the range of incidents that it could face.

As part of our inspection, we interviewed incident commanders from across the service. The incident commanders we interviewed told us they are familiar with the national best practice for risk assessment, decision-making and recording information at incidents. They were also confident to use operational discretion and felt they would be supported by the service if they did.

Control staff are involved in debriefs, but more exercises would be beneficial

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service’s critical control team takes emergency calls and despatches fire engines to incidents for the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service. We interviewed staff from this team as part of our inspection.

We are pleased to see Cornwall’s control staff integrated into the Isles of Scilly’s debrief and assurance activity. Cornwall’s control staff can use an online debrief form to share feedback after incidents. We also heard examples of two incident debriefs that control staff attended in 2021. Control staff told us that they noticed improvements in radio messages after they highlighted areas for improvement during incident debriefs.

While they are involved in the islands’ debriefing activity, there is less opportunity for Cornwall’s control staff to take part in training and exercises with the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service. We were told about an emergency planning exercise that took place at the Isles of Scilly Airport in February 2022 and some training that Cornwall’s control staff provided for the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service in April 2022.

The number of exercises that take place is limited by the size of the service. However, the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service should look for other ways to include Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service control staff in their training and exercise plans.

Access to risk information has improved

We reviewed how the service collects information about high-risk sites and buildings. We also looked at how it makes this information available to firefighters when they attend emergencies.

The service has made improvements to the way it collects and updates risk information. When we last inspected, this information was held in paper records. We are pleased to see the service has since improved. The information is now available in electronic format, on a central system that all staff can access using the computers at their stations.

Risk information is still stored in paper records carried on fire engines for firefighters to use at an emergency. This is so that firefighters can access this information when out on a call to keep the public and themselves safe. Reassuringly, the service has invested in portable computers which can be used to access risk information. These computers will shortly be fitted to fire engines so firefighters can read risk information more easily at an incident. We look forward to seeing the completion of this work.

We reviewed a sample of risk records. The information we reviewed was up to date and detailed. It could be easily accessed and understood by staff. Where appropriate, information given by the protection team is included in the records.

Incident debriefing has improved, but more work is needed to share learning

As part of our inspection, we looked at the service’s arrangements for reviewing operational performance and debriefing emergency incidents and exercises.
We are pleased to see the service has made improvements in this area since our last inspection. However, more work is needed to make sure that all firefighters can access shared learning, and that suggested improvements are followed up on and completed.

The service routinely carries out what it calls hot debriefs immediately or shortly after an incident. Firefighters and control staff can record their observations and suggestions for improvement using an online form. A structured debrief has also been introduced for larger and complex incidents.

Staff told us about developments in incident debriefing. They could point to improvements that had been made following a debrief, for example better arrangements for calling boats to transport crews between islands during an emergency. However, not all staff knew where to find the learning that had been shared after an incident. This learning is recorded in the service’s new intranet hub or distributed in an operational bulletin, produced by Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, which is sent to stations.

The service recognises that there are further improvements it can make. It is looking at ways to make sure that staff have been informed about learning from incidents. It should also consider an appropriate way to record and track the progress of actions and improvements that have been identified from debriefs.

The service is introducing national operational guidance

We are pleased to see the service has a clear approach to introducing national operational guidance. This was an area for improvement we identified during our last inspection.

The Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service works with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service to understand changes in national operational guidance. It reviews new policies and procedures that Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has developed based on national operational guidance. It then adopts or adapts these, so they are appropriate for the Isles of Scilly. Its incident command and breathing apparatus training and procedures align to national operational guidance. Work is planned to further align the service’s operational procedures to national operational guidance as the national project progresses.

There are appropriate arrangements to keep the public informed about emergency incidents

The service has some arrangements in place to inform the public about incidents and help keep them safe during and after incidents. These include a social media feed and a fire service section on the Council of the Isles of Scilly website.

However, while members of the council and senior council officers will make media statements during larger incidents, there are limited ways for real-time information to be given to the public and local community. The service should consider how it can improve the provision of real-time information about incidents to the public by working more closely with the council’s communications team.


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

Not inspected

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).

Because of its remote island location, we didn’t assess the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service for its ability to respond to major and multi-agency incidents. But we did assess the service when we reviewed its response to the initial stages of the pandemic in 2020.

We were pleased to see that the service adapted well to the pandemic. It worked closely with its partners to maintain the islands’ resilience and support the Isles of Scilly’s ‘One Island’ approach to provision of services and civil protection.

It supported the operational incident cell, a subgroup of the Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly multi-agency local resilience forum. The subgroup, which co-ordinated the island’s COVID-19 response, took part in emergency planning and preparation exercises, and provided staff for an interim undertaker and mortuary service. The Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service adapted its training and response arrangements to reduce the risk to its firefighters. It started to introduce new IT to fire stations to improve communication with staff working on the off-islands.