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Northumberland 2021/22


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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Requires improvement

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service has improved its effectiveness since our inspection in 2019. It has made progress against most of the areas for improvement that we found. And we saw improvements in the way it protects the public.

The service is working from an integrated risk management plan (IRMP) that has been extended by a year. It will have a new plan from 2022. We saw some good use of data to create risk profiles. But the service has not engaged with its communities as well as it should to understand risks. So, its approach to risk is too narrow.

There are some new areas for improvement in its response to incidents. It needs to better inform the public about ongoing incidents. And it should improve its debriefing system.

The service has made poor progress in improving its prevention work through quality assurance and evaluation.

Questions for Effectiveness


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

Requires improvement

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at understanding risk.

Northumberland 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 make sure it gathers and records relevant and up-to-date risk information to help protect firefighters, the public and property during an emergency.
  • The service should make sure that the aims and objectives of prevention, protection and response activity are clearly outlined in its IRMP.
  • The service needs to improve how it engages with its local community to build a comprehensive profile of risk in its service area.

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

The service needs more direct engagement with the community

The service hasn’t fully assessed the risks it faces as part of its integrated risk management planning process. When assessing risk, it has focused on limited information from internal and external sources. This doesn’t enable it to build a comprehensive risk profile. For example, the service told us that engagement with the public is difficult, so it relies on information from partner organisations and data from operational incidents.

Consultation for the current IRMP is now dated, with plans for consultation for the new IRMP for 2022 still in draft. The service needs to ensure consultation includes direct engagement to both understand the risk and explain how it intends to mitigate it. It should engage the local community and others, such as the police, local health authority, business networks and the charity sector.

The IRMP needs updating

The service’s IRMP has been extended for a fifth year. It has made a Year 5 update that is a one-year extension to the Fire and Rescue Plan (IRMP) for 2017-21.

The original plan is detailed, and explains how prevention, protection and response will reduce risks to the community. But it is no longer aligned to the service’s current strategies for prevention, business fire safety and response.

The plan was extended because of the pandemic. The service also wanted to give newly appointed officers time to develop the plan. These reasons are not without merit. The decision to extend the existing IRMP was agreed by the county council. But the service should have had more developed plans in place, to avoid extending the existing IRMP for a fifth year.

Gathering, maintaining and sharing risk information needs to improve

The service collects some risk information about the people, places and threats it has identified as being the highest risk. But the information we reviewed was limited, inaccurate or not up to date. We found risk information on premises was out of date for nearly one quarter of all high-risk sites.

We also heard from staff during our inspection that training and quality assurance of risk information is not consistent.

We did find evidence of sharing risk information across departments, although the process for doing this was inconsistent. We found the process for sharing information on short-term risks to be unreliable. It uses word-of-mouth and station briefings to update crews.

The service needs to do more to ensure it gathers and records risk information to a consistent standard, including information on short-term risks. It should do more to keep risk information up to date and relevant.

While the service has made some progress on gathering risk information, the area for improvement identified in 2019 remains.

Good understanding of risk from operational activity

The service is good at using feedback from local and national operational activity to challenge its planning assumptions. The service uses a third party to analyse operational risk activity from fires and road traffic collisions. So it can identify those most at risk from these types of incidents.

It uses this information in its station plans. The information also helps it to prioritise prevention activity and to identify areas of the community at greatest risk from fire.

The service also uses information from its operational debrief process and national operational learning from fire and rescue services, as well as joint organisational learning from other blue light services.

The service has reviewed building risks following the Grenfell Tower inquiry

During this round of inspection, we sampled how each fire and rescue service has responded to the recommendations and learning from phase one of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service has responded to this tragedy. The service has assessed each at-risk building in its area. This includes all buildings at risk because of height, the type of construction or cladding. At the time of inspection, the service had visited 314 out of the 317 identified premises.

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


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

Requires improvement

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at preventing fires and other risks.

Northumberland 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, as well as 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 evaluate its prevention activity so it understands what works.
  • The service should make sure it quality assures its prevention activity, so staff carry out safe and well visits to an appropriate standard.
  • The service should improve its use of communications to provide fire prevention information and to promote community service.

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

Service’s prevention strategy is clear and easy to understand

The service’s prevention strategy is clearly linked to the risks identified in the Year 5 update to the IRMP.

Prevention work doesn’t take place in isolation. Appropriate information is sent to other relevant teams across the service. It is used to adjust planning assumptions and direct activity between the service’s prevention, protection and response functions.

For example, the service uses both the community safety department and operational crews to respond to requests from the public and partners for prevention work. Any risks identified are shared with other departments.

COVID-19 has had a negative impact on prevention work

We considered how the service had adapted its prevention work during our COVID‑19-specific inspection in October 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its public prevention work appropriately.

During inspection, data provided by the service showed that 745 home safety checks had been completed between April 2020 and January 2021.

By comparison, the service carried out an average of 7,924 home safety checks in the three financial years before the pandemic.

The service has needed to take a risk-based approach during the pandemic. But it must assure itself that it identifies and visits high-risk residents. This is in line with the latest guidance.

Targeting of most at risk is limited

The service provides a limited home safety check. For example, it is only just developing its home fire safety checks into full safe and well visits. We found limited improvement in this area since our last inspection.

The service does have a risk-based approach to direct prevention activity towards sections of the community. But the range of risk factors is narrow. So the service may miss some people who are at an increased risk of fire and other emergencies. For example, we were told the main routes for referrals were from adult social services and a company that provides oxygen to home-users.

Station plans for directing fire prevention activities are also based on risk information. Operational crews are carrying out what is effectively a campaign of targeted cold‑calling.

The service needs to assure itself that prevention activities are directed from all available risk information. This would improve targeting of those most at risk.

Operational staff aren’t confident about safe and well checks

Staff told us they don’t have the right skills or confidence to carry out safe and well visits. These checks don’t always cover an appropriate range of hazards that can put vulnerable people at greater risk from emergencies other than fire. Operational staff told us that training for safe and well visits was often informal. Staff, who may or may not be competent with safe and well methodology, train their colleagues.

The service needs to make sure staff are properly trained to do safe and well visits and understand the value of these visits.

Staff are confident about identifying safeguarding concerns

Staff we interviewed told us about occasions when they had identified safeguarding problems. They told us they feel confident to act appropriately and promptly. We heard from staff across all roles that they were confident in identifying vulnerable young persons and adults. They showed they knew how to request support. Formal training in this area was limited to an e-learning package. But staff reported confidence in this area because they had support from experienced colleagues and simple procedures to follow.

The service works well with partner organisations

The service works with a range of partner organisations such as:

  • the youth offending team;
  • local education department;
  • the Prince’s Trust; and
  • adult and young persons’ services in Northumberland County Council.

We found good evidence that the service routinely refers people at greatest risk to other organisations that may be better able to meet their needs. These organisations include the county council’s adult and young persons’ services. The service can take referrals from adult social services. It acts appropriately on the referrals it receives. For example, during 2020/21, the service received 553 requests for support through the multi-agency safeguarding hub. The service recorded a 99 percent response rate.

It works well with adult services to exchange information about adults at greatest risk. It uses the information to challenge planning assumptions and target prevention activity. For example, it identified that people over the age of 65 living alone in flats are at greatest risk of a fire, or suffer more severe consequences of a fire.

The service is good at supporting young people

The service has a range of suitable and effective interventions to target and educate people of different ages who show signs of fire-setting behaviour. This includes the Extinguish Programme, a fire cadet scheme, and the Prince’s Trust programme.

The Extinguish Programme is aimed at young persons who have shown signs of interest in fire-setting. The other schemes are for young people who may benefit from positive role models and the opportunity to improve social and wellbeing skills.

When appropriate, the service routinely shares information with other partner organisations to support the prosecution of arsonists. The service works closely with Northumbria Police to investigate the cause of fires thought to be deliberate. The service uses specially trained staff for this.

Evaluation of prevention activities still requires improvement

In our Round 1 inspections, we identified as an area for improvement the way the service evaluates the effectiveness of its prevention activities. In this inspection, we found limited evidence that the service does this.

Reassuringly, the service’s prevention strategy has identified as a priority for 2021/22 a review and further development of quality assurance for all community safety work. The service’s own improvement plan showed that in June 2021 it was working to achieve this. It still has more to do to achieve its own objectives.

Community engagement and communication is limited

During the inspection, we heard how the service has increased its use of social media to deliver community safety messages. We understand that social media will play an important role in its plans to communicate and engage with the community.

But the service’s use of other means of community engagement is limited. And its evaluation of methods used is also limited. So we still consider this an area for improvement, as identified in our 2019 inspection.

The service needs to assure itself that its chosen methods of communication and engagement are the most appropriate for getting to the most hard-to-reach in the community.


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


Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation.

Northumberland 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.

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

Clear strategy for fire protection and business fire safety

The service’s protection strategy is clearly linked to the risk it has identified in its IRMP.

Staff throughout the service are involved in fire protection and business fire safety, with information effectively exchanged as needed. For example, we saw where protection staff identified problems with a dry riser. They shared this with operational crews, as well as operational staff, highlighting fire safety concerns. This resulted in the serving of a prohibition notice.

Through the service’s fire safety database, staff in all roles can record and share information on premises to build an accurate and up-to-date risk profile. In turn, this information and data is 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.

COVID-19 impact on protection

We considered how the service had adapted its protection activity during our COVID-19-specific inspection in October 2020. At that time, we found it was slow to suitably adapt its protection work for the public. From the start of the pandemic, the service conducted fewer fire safety audits than it would normally. It decided to stop face-to-face fire safety audits and enforcement activity while risk assessments and national guidance were developed to protect staff.

Since then, the service has fully adopted national guidance and is now back on schedule to carry out fire safety audits in line with its RBIP.

Good alignment of activity to risk

The service’s RBIP is focused on the service’s highest risk buildings. It uses a combination of national data sources and guidance to determine what is a high-risk premises.

The service has adopted an approach to its RBIP programme that is consistent with national guidance.

The audits we reviewed were completed within prescribed timescales. These were realistic and proportionate.

But the service doesn’t have a prescribed timescale for responding to fire safety complaints from the public. Having said that, the cases we looked at were within a reasonable timescale. We would expect timescales for responding to fire safety complaints from the public to be clear and accessible to staff and public alike. We would also expect timescales to have a clear rationale, based on risk.

Similarly, we noted the service did not have a clear policy for fire safety audits of premises following a fire. Although we saw evidence that the service was doing post‑incident fire safety audits, the approach was not consistent. The service should assure itself that it has a clear, stated position for post-incident fire safety audits. And it should assure itself that it does them in a consistent manner.

Proportionate response to doing post-Grenfell building checks

The county of Northumberland 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. This might be due to the building’s height or method of construction; or the type of cladding.

At the time of inspection, the service had carried out inspections at 314 out of 317 premises identified as potentially high risk. Information gathered during these audits is made available to response teams and control operators so they can respond more effectively in an emergency.

The service is on track to visit all the high-risk buildings it has identified in its service area by the end of 2021.

Good quality of audits

We reviewed 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 applied, where enforcement action had been taken, and at high-risk buildings.

The audits we reviewed were completed to a high standard, in a consistent, systematic way and in line with the service’s policies. Relevant information from the audits is made available to operational teams and control room operators.

Proportionate approach to quality assurance

The service assures the quality of protection activity in a proportionate way. We found the process was applied with a sensible and risk-based approach.

The service has good evaluation tools 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.

Active and consistent approach to enforcement

The service consistently uses its full range of enforcement powers. When appropriate, it prosecutes those who fail to comply with fire safety regulations. The service told us it prefers a collaborative approach with businesses, to gain compliance. But our inspection found a growing confidence in using statutory powers, such as prosecution of those businesses committing the most serious fire safety offences or continuously ignoring regulations. We saw evidence of seven prohibition notices and two enforcement notices being issued within the last 12 months. And we saw details of two prosecutions that were under consideration.

In the year to 31 March 2020, the service issued no alteration notices, no enforcement notices and four prohibition notices, and undertook no prosecutions. It completed one prosecution in the five years from 2016 to 2020.

Resourcing continues to improve

The service has increased the number of dedicated protection staff to meet the requirements of its RBIP. But some team members were not fully qualified at the time of inspection. When all staff are fully trained, the service will be able to provide the audits and enforcement activity needed, both now and in the future.

The service uses station-based staff to carry out lower-risk audits. In addition, the service was in the process of appointing up to 11 fire safety advocates from across all roles and duty types. When these additional staff are in place, the service anticipates that it can do an extra 500-plus audits of lower-risk premises each year.

Staff are trained in line with national standards by a range of accredited external providers.

The service works closely with other enforcement bodies

The service works closely with other enforcement agencies to regulate fire safety, and routinely exchanges risk information with them. The business fire safety team is located in the same building as the council’s other services for regulatory enforcement. These include building control, licensing and trading standards.

We heard from both the service and others how these arrangements allow for good sharing of information and ideas. And they support a consistent approach to enforcement.

Good response to building and licensing consultations

The service responds to all building and licensing consultations on time. So it consistently meets its statutory responsibility to comment on fire safety arrangements for new and altered buildings. For the year ending 2020/21, the service responded to all building regulations and licensing consultations within 15 days, on 99 percent of occasions.

Good improvements in engaging with business

The service proactively engages with local businesses and other organisations to promote understanding and compliance with fire safety legislation. Following on from developments started during the pandemic, we have seen the service improve its use of social media to engage with the business community. The service uses a range of platforms to raise awareness of current themes. It also offers support and advice through these outlets.

During the inspection, we were shown the content that will soon be available to businesses through a new and dedicated website. We look forward to seeing how successful this is and how the service evaluates the use of this service.

Good at managing unwanted calls from automatic fire alarms

The service has an effective risk-based approach to manage the number of unwanted fire signals from automatic fire alarms. It has adopted a staged approach to reducing the number of these calls.

During inspection, we were shown how the service reduced its initial attendance at some problematic premises. It has raised invoices to recover costs for attendance at sites unable or unwilling to reduce calls from unwanted fire alarms.

As a result of the staged approach, the service receives fewer calls from automatic
fire alarms. The service has seen a reduction from 1,254 calls in 2017/18, to 728 in 2020/21.

Fewer unwanted calls mean that fire engines are available to respond to a genuine incident. It also reduces the risk to the public because there are fewer fire engines travelling at high speed on the road


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

Requires improvement

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at responding to fires and other emergencies.

Northumberland 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 within their areas.

Areas for improvement

  • During incidents, the service should ensure it gives relevant information to the public to help keep them safe.
  • The service should ensure an effective system of debriefing to enable staff to learn from operational incidents is proportionate and targeted, to improve future response and command.

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

Good response strategy

The service’s response strategy is linked to the risks identified in its IRMP. Its fire engines and response staff, as well as its working patterns, are designed and located so it can respond flexibly to fires and other emergencies with the appropriate resources.

For example, during 2020/21, the service reviewed pre-determined attendances against all incident types to ensure the right number of fire engines were attending incidents at the time of call. The service has also completed a service specification for fire engines and for the next generation of breathing apparatus equipment. This has now gone out to tender.

The service has been piloting a more flexible response with five of its on-call fire engines. This aims to improve availability and response times. Following successful trials, the service is increasing the range of incidents that these fire engines can safely attend with a reduced crew.

Service response standards are not being met

There are no national response standards against which the service can benchmark its performance for the public. But it has set out its own response standards in its IRMP.

The response standards set by the service require the first fire engine to attend a fire within 10 minutes and to attend a road traffic collision within 15 minutes. The service has also set standards for the second fire engine to arrive at a fire within 13 minutes and at a road traffic collision within 20 minutes. In all cases, the service aims to achieve these standards on 80 percent of all occasions.

The service doesn’t always meet these standards. Home Office data shows that, in the year to 31 March 2020, the service’s average time to primary fires was 11 minutes and 40 seconds, which is slower than the average time of 10 minutes and 27 seconds for predominantly rural services. The service told us they intend to review response standards when developing the new IRMP.

Further analysis of these times shows the service compares favourably when looking at the call handling times and the time taken by crews to initially respond. This suggests the overall response time is due to the predominantly rural nature of the service and the travel distances involved.

The service needs to improve on-call availability

To support its response strategy, the service aims to have 91 percent of its fire engines (21 out of 23) available on 100 percent of occasions.

The service doesn’t always meet this standard. For the year ending 2020/21, it achieved an overall availability of 88.8 percent. But further analysis shows that, while wholetime fire engines were available 91.5 percent of the time, on-call fire engines achieved only 87.7 percent availability.

Good improvements to incident command skills

The service has trained incident commanders who are assessed regularly and appropriately. Since our last inspection, the service has now trained and assessed incident commanders in line with national standards and operational guidance. This enables the service to safely, assertively and effectively manage incidents, ranging from the small and routine to the complex and multi-agency.

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).

The service does need to ensure that arrangements for continuous professional development and maintenance of competence are as effective as the arrangements for formal training and assessment.

During inspection, we heard how the incident command support pack was a useful resource for managing incidents. But we repeatedly heard how the unit used to support the management of the most complex and protracted incidents was often unavailable. This is because of staffing issues. The service needs to review arrangements for ensuring there are suitable facilities for incident commanders and command support teams for the safe and effective management of incidents.

Training and inclusion of control room staff needs to improve

We were disappointed to find that the service’s control staff aren’t always included in the service’s command, training, exercise, debrief and assurance activity. We found that control staff have a limited role in training and exercises. Control isn’t tested to the same extent as operational crews and incident commanders.

We understand that measures to protect staff from COVID-19 may have increased the isolation of staff in control. But they should be involved more in the planning, provision and debriefing of operational training and exercises.

Limited actions in response to Grenfell recommendations

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.

We heard how Northumberland doesn’t have any buildings that meet the accepted definition of high rise. But the service has arrangements to accept calls in its control room from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, which does have high-rise buildings. Also, the current staffing model has two staff on a night shift. So there is a risk of receiving more calls than can be easily handled.

Plans for training control staff in handling multiple fire survival guidance calls were put on hold at the start of the pandemic. This training had not taken place at the time of inspection.

The service has developed a Grenfell Action Plan that outlines actions and decisions made against all the recommendations from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. It has recorded against a number of recommendations that it is awaiting national guidance, or that the recommendation applies only to incidents involving high-rise buildings.

We feel the service should be more proactive in using the lessons from Grenfell to consider its operational arrangements. It should implement interim, local actions quicker. The service questioned the relevance of the Grenfell recommendations to its own area. But it should be more challenging and ambitious when considering these recommendations.

Risk information needs further improvement to keep up to date

We sampled risk information from sites that the service considers to be high risk. These include a major hospital and a national heritage site. Information included what is in place for firefighters responding to incidents at high-risk buildings, and what information is held by fire control.

We found varying levels of detail, with some very good examples. But we saw examples where information was not up to date. We found examples of local risk information that had not been updated since 2015. We heard that risk information is now easier to access and understand than it was last time we inspected. But the unreliability of mobile data terminals causes frustration.

Gathering up-to-date risk information remains an area for improvement for the service, despite some progress from our 2019 inspection.

Improved evaluation of operational performance

We were pleased to see evidence of improvement in how the service follows its policies to assure itself that staff command incidents are in line with operational guidance.

The service updates internal risk information as a result of information received. For example, we saw evidence that the service updated operational guidance notes for the requesting of an aerial appliance. And we saw an operational bulletin about new pumps.

The service exchanges this information with other interested partner organisations where relevant. One example was that it gave information to another fire and rescue service on the use of appropriate protective equipment during a water-related incident.

The service has responded to learning from incidents to improve its service to the public. For example, it recommended the local authority improve warning signs at a ford where cars were becoming stuck during floods.

Operational learning needs to be better understood and evaluated

During inspection, we found improvements to how staff receive and record operational learning. But very few staff could tell us the details of any recent operational learning outcomes. This suggested the sharing and recording of learning had become a tick-box exercise.

This remains an area for improvement from 2019. The service needs to assure itself that it communicates operational learning effectively. And it needs to assure itself that operational learning is fully understood by operational staff.

The public needs to be better informed of incidents

The service doesn’t have good systems in place to inform the public about ongoing incidents. This would help keep people safe during and after incidents. The service limits most of its messaging to major incidents and incidents that affect the public. It doesn’t yet have a live feed of operational incidents the public can access.

It has made some improvements to the use of social media and it plans to improve its website. But this remains an area for improvement from our inspection in 2019.


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


Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to major and multi‑agency incidents.

Northumberland 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).

Areas for improvement

  • 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 participates in a programme of cross-border exercises, with learning from them captured and shared.
  • The service should make sure it is well prepared to form part of a multi-agency response to a terrorist incident, and that its procedures for responding are understood by all staff and well tested.

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

Preparedness for major and multi-agency incidents

The service has effectively anticipated and considered reasonably foreseeable risks and threats it may face.

These risks are listed in both local and national risk registers as part of its integrated risk management planning. For example, the community risk register for Northumbria (that includes the areas covered by Northumberland, and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue services) includes details of plans for:

  • flooding;
  • pandemic influenza;
  • industrial accidents;
  • adverse weather; and
  • hazardous transport.

The service is familiar with the significant risks that neighbouring fire and rescue services could face and that it might reasonably be asked to respond to. These include Newcastle Airport and other risks in Tyne and Wear. The service has good arrangements to share up-to-date risk information and plans for these.

Ability to respond to major and multi-agency incidents

We reviewed the arrangements the service has in place to respond to different major incidents, including major flooding and wildfires.

The service has a good understanding of national support arrangements for major incidents. These are well understood by staff. For example, they had a good understanding of how to request national assets for large, complex and protracted incidents, where local resources could become exhausted or simply unavailable.

More required to prepare for marauding terrorist attacks

We found plans for responding to a marauding terrorist attack (MTA) are not fully understood by operational staff. They are most likely to be first in attendance at this type of incident. For example, we heard staff had received limited training for MTAs. They were not fully briefed on updates to local procedures in light of recent changes in national guidance.

Good at working with other fire services

The service supports other fire and rescue services responding to emergency incidents. For example, the service shares a border with four other services, across three different regions. During our inspection, we heard from staff at fire stations who work across all these borders. They all reported that arrangements were good. The service is intraoperable with these services and can form part of a multi-agency response.

Cross-border risk information needs improving

We were told that the service shares a mobilising system with Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service. So it has full access to all Tyne and Wear’s risk information. And the service has agreements to receive updates for risk information with the three other cross-border services, for up to 10 kilometres.

From the examples we inspected, we found the cross-border information with Tyne and Wear was comprehensive and in date. But the examples we looked at for other services were dated, with one site being uploaded in 2008 and others being more than five years old, with no apparent review or update.

Providing good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information for cross-border risks remains an area for improvement from our inspection in 2019.

Cross-border exercising needs implementing

The service has a cross-border exercise plan with neighbouring fire and rescue services. These plans should enable the services to work more effectively together to keep the public safe. But the plan was all but stopped due to COVID-19.

We understand how COVID-19 has hit all services but the service could have achieved more in this area. There are alternative methods to keep crews briefed and prepared, such as desktop exercises and walking through site-specific scenario plans.

The service is already starting its new cross-border exercise plan and we look forward to seeing how this progresses.

Good understanding of JESIP

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

This includes the application of JESIP principles, and the use of a decision-making model shared across all other blue light services and the local authority.

Good working with other partner organisations

The service has good arrangements to respond to emergencies with other members of the Northumbria Local Resilience Forum (LRF). These arrangements include the use of strategic and tactical co-ordinating groups, as well as sub-groups to support a local response.

The service is a valued partner and active member of the strategic and tactical co‑ordinating groups. The deputy chief fire officer chairs the emergency services liaison group. The service is a member of the communications, social care, and training and exercising groups. The service also took on the difficult task of leading the excess deaths logistics group during the pandemic.

The service takes part in regular training events with other members of the LRF. It facilitated the debrief of a public health exercise to test arrangements for COVID-19 surge testing. The service is also involved in the testing and exercising of plans for a wood processing plant, the only risk within Northumberland that comes under the regulations for the control of major and hazardous sites. So it has met its statutory duty.

National learning

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