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Royal Berkshire 2021/22

Effectiveness

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Good

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment

The service has identified and assessed a range of fire and rescue-related risks to its communities. It has used a range of information and consulted widely, to produce a comprehensive community risk management plan (CRMP), formerly known as its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). The consultation is well planned and supports the service to include the public in its decision-making.

The service continues to be good at preventing fires and providing the public with advice and guidance about fire safety. It also protects the public by ensuring it enforces fire safety regulation proportionately.

The service responds well to fires and other emergencies despite a reduction in its fire engine availability. Its incident commanders are well trained and prepared for major and multi-agency incidents, working well with other fire and emergency services.

Since our previous inspection in 2019, the service has addressed several of the areas for improvement that we highlighted. These include improving its operational debrief process, introducing quality assurance in its prevention and protection work and improving information provided to the public about incidents.

But there is still some work to do. The service should continue to evaluate its prevention and protection work to make sure it meets the needs of the community. And it should monitor its response standards and fire engine availability to make sure it continues to resource to risk.

Questions for Effectiveness

1

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

Good

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding risk.

Royal Berkshire 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 gathers and records relevant and up-to-date site‑specific risk information, to clear its backlog and help protect firefighters, the public and property during an emergency.

Innovative practice

The service undertakes constructive and continuous public consultation

The service has consulted with communities and its own staff, the six local authorities, third-sector organisations and other emergency services to both understand local risks and explain how it intends to mitigate them.

The service gives information and a range of change options for the public to choose from. This has supported the service to adapt its approach to unwanted fire signals. It has also helped the service to have constructive conversations with the public about the decision to close a station.

The service has also collated the data from all its public consultations and uses this to inform decision-making.

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

The service understands the risks it faces

The service has assessed an appropriate range of risks and threats after a thorough CRMP process. When assessing risk, it has considered relevant information collected from a broad range of internal and external sources and data sets. This includes analysis and validation of the last six years of its own, regional, and national incident data, flooding incident data, NHS Safer data, ONS data and Experian Mosaic data.

When appropriate, the service has consulted and had constructive dialogue with communities, its own staff, the six local authorities, third-sector organisations and other emergency services to both understand the risks and explain how it intends to mitigate them.

The service gives information and a range of change options for the public to choose from. This has supported the service to adapt its approach to unwanted fire signals. This has also helped the service to have meaningful conversations with the public about the decision to close a station.

The service has also collated the data from all its public consultations and uses this to inform decision-making.

The service is good at planning its resources to reduce risk

After assessing relevant risks, the service has recorded its findings in a CRMP that is easy to use. This plan describes how prevention, protection and response activity is to be effectively resourced to mitigate or reduce the risks and threats the community faces, both now and in the future. For example, the service has identified areas that sit outside its planned ten-minute response time and is targeting prevention and protection activity in these areas to reduce the likelihood and impact of an incident.

The service gathers, maintains and shares a good range of risk information

The service routinely collects and updates the information it has about the people, places and threats it has identified as being at greatest risk. This includes the reinspection of high-risk sites every two years at premises including high-rise residential buildings, commercial buildings and hospitals.

This information is readily available for the service’s prevention, protection and response staff, which helps it to identify, reduce and mitigate risk effectively. For example, the service recently minimised the risk in a hotel that provided temporary support for Afghan refugees. The service gave advice about physical fire safety measures and checked that their use was understood by both the hotel staff and residents. The service’s hub model promotes monthly risk analysis between prevention, protection and response teams. Where appropriate, risk information is passed on to other organisations, such as the local authority private-rented sector and housing teams.

The service builds its understanding of risk from operational activity

The service records and communicates risk information effectively. It also routinely updates risk assessments and uses feedback from local and national operational activity to inform its planning assumptions. For example, learnings identified in a recent incident on the new all-lane running motorway have resulted in a change to operational procedure and a quicker response for the public.

The service is improving risk information following the Grenfell Tower Inquiry

During this round of inspections, we sampled how each fire and rescue service has responded to the recommendations and learning from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service has responded positively and proactively to learnings from this tragedy. The service assessed the risk of each high-rise building in its service area by the end of 2021.

It has carried out a fire safety audit and collected and passed relevant risk information to its prevention, protection and response teams about buildings identified as high risk and all high-rise buildings that have cladding similar to the cladding installed on Grenfell Tower.

2

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

Good

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires and other risks.

Royal Berkshire 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 evaluate its prevention work, so it understands the benefits of its safe and well targeting approach better.
  • The service should develop a clear process for post incident prevention activity.

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 strategy is reducing risk

The service’s prevention strategy is clearly linked to the risks identified in its CRMP. The key aim for the service is to reduce the number of people injured or killed by fires occurring in the home. In the year ending March 2021, over 80 percent of its completed safe and well visits were carried out for those identified as being more vulnerable to fire and other risks.

The service’s teams work well together and with other relevant organisations on prevention. It also shares relevant information when needed. Information is used to adjust planning assumptions and direct activity between the service’s prevention, protection and response functions. For example, staff moved between hubs to reduce a backlog of safe and well visits. Local station plans align to hub plans and the service’s CRMP.

The service adapted its prevention activity during the pandemic

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. Since then, we are encouraged to find that the service continues to triage its referrals over the phone and has resumed face-to-face safe and well visits. The service gives training and education both in person and virtually.

The service has changed its approach to targeting activity

Prevention activity is clearly prioritised using a risk-based approach towards people most at risk from fire and other emergencies. For example, all referrals received by the service are triaged and those of highest risk are visited promptly.

Following feedback from its staff, the service has recently changed its approach to targeting its safe and well visits. The previous approach took account of a broad range of information and data to identify households that could be at risk. As we established in our previous inspection, this meant that the service conducted a higher number of visits overall, but they knew some were lower risk.

The service has decided to focus on increasing the number of referrals for safe and well visits it receives from partner organisations such as community mental health teams and local authorities. It is training professionals in these organisations to support this focus. The service needs to make sure it is also taking a balanced approach and visiting people most at risk from fire based on local needs and intelligence, which might not be known to other organisations.

The service should also review its process for giving post-incident prevention activity. We reviewed several incidents where we would have expected a safe and well visit to have been carried out but there were no records of a visit.

Staff are well trained to provide safe and well checks

Staff told us that they have the right skills and confidence to make safe and well visits. These checks cover an appropriate range of hazards that can put vulnerable people at greater risk from fire and other emergencies. This includes things like mobility, smoking and other health-related concerns. The service also signposts people to other organisations that may be better able to meet their needs.

We were pleased to see that the service has developed an approach to quality‑assuring its safe and well visits. This was an area for improvement identified in 2019. The service has identified both individual and organisational learning through this process and we look forward to seeing further progress in this area.

The service is good at responding to safeguarding concerns

Staff we interviewed told us about occasions when they identified safeguarding problems. They told us they feel confident and trained to act appropriately and promptly. When staff raise a concern, they are given feedback on the progress, when appropriate. The service has made an increasing number of safeguarding referrals through its strong partnership with local safeguarding boards.

The service collaborates well with others to prevent fires and other emergencies

The service works with a wide range of other organisations, such as the local authorities, Thames Valley Police, South Central Ambulance Service and the Canal & River Trust to prevent fires and other emergencies.

The service routinely exchanges information with other public sector organisations about people and groups at greatest risk. It uses the information to challenge planning assumptions and target prevention activity. For example, a co-ordinated approach to campaigns raises awareness for water or road safety.

The service is good at tackling fire-setting behaviour

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 training staff in providing FireSafe, an intervention to educate children and young people. Crews will also conduct local visits to areas in the community when intelligence suggests there could be increased anti-social behaviour.

Where appropriate, the service routinely shares information with other relevant organisations, including Thames Valley Police, to support the prosecution of arsonists. A joint approach between the emergency services is increasing the number of accredited and trained staff in fire investigation.

The service has developed its approach to evaluation

While the service has made some progress in developing evaluation tools, the following area for improvement identified in 2019 remains. The service should continue to evaluate its prevention work, so it better understands the benefits of its safe and well targeting approach.

These tools measure how effective the service’s work is. This helps it to know what works and make sure that its communities get prevention activity that meets their needs. For example, the service has decided to carry out ongoing, follow-up safe and well visits for those they identified as very vulnerable within the last year.

3

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

Good

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

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service was good 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 monitors and evaluates its revised approach to the burden of false alarms (termed ‘unwanted fire signals’).

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 protection strategy is aligned to its risk management plan

The service’s protection strategy is clearly linked to the risk it has identified in its CRMP. Staff across the service are involved in this activity, with information effectively exchanged as needed. For example, crews and protection staff complete joint visits to improve staff awareness of building construction and safety measures. Information is then used to adjust planning assumptions and direct activity between the service’s protection, prevention and response functions. This means resources are properly aligned to risk. For example, as well as staff based in its local delivery hubs, the service has a dedicated built environment project team to review the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations. It also has a separate enforcement hub to keep people safe and secure from the risk of fire.

The service adapted its protection activity during the pandemic

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 had adapted its protection work well. Since then, we are encouraged to find that the service has resumed face-to-face audits. It has also digitised some of its processes and revised its Risk Based Inspection Programme (RBIP).

The service has improved its approach to identifying risk

The service’s risk-based inspection programme is focused on the service’s highest‑risk buildings. It has recently reviewed its methodology for identifying risk and explained that it has reduced the number of very high and high-risk premises from over 12,000 to 5,616. The service aims to have visited all its 518 very high-risk premises by March 2023. We look forward to seeing the progress the service makes with this target.

Audits of high-rise buildings with interim measures continue

Audits have been carried out at all high-rise buildings the service has identified as using similar cladding to that installed on Grenfell Tower. Information gathered during these audits is made available to response teams and control operators, enabling them to respond more effectively in an emergency. The service continues to monitor and advise on buildings with interim measures.

The service has developed a quality-assurance process for fire safety audits

We reviewed a range of audits of different premises across the service. This included audits as part of the service’s RBIP; after fires at premises where fire safety legislation applies where enforcement action had been taken; and at high-rise, high-risk buildings. Not all the audits we reviewed were completed in a consistent and systematic way, or in line with the service’s policies.

Following the area for improvement identified in 2019, the service has very recently introduced a quality-assurance approach for protection audits. The service identified that it isn’t consistently recording and completing audits in the buildings it has targeted in the timescales it has set. Individual and organisational learning from the new quality-assurance approach has been included in an improvement plan. We look forward to the progress the service makes with this approach.

The service evaluates its revised RBIP

The service has good evaluation tools in place 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. We look forward to the service completing further evaluation of its revised RBIP.

The service takes appropriate enforcement action

The service consistently uses its full range of enforcement powers and, when appropriate, prosecutes those who don’t comply with fire safety regulations. The service was pursuing a prosecution at the time of inspection. Operational crews are notified of enforcement activity in their station area to maintain a good understanding of risk.

In the year to 31 March 2021, the service issued:

  • 4 alteration notices;
  • 158 informal notifications;
  • 30 enforcement notices;
  • 4 prohibition notices; and
  • undertook 2 prosecutions.

It completed 8 prosecutions of offences in the 5 years from 2016 to 2021.

The service has well-trained staff in protection

The service has enough qualified protection staff to meet the requirements of the service’s revised RBIP. It has secured funding for an additional 10 protection staff and has plans to help its built environment audit work to become business as usual from 2023. This helps the service to provide the range of audit and enforcement activity needed, both now and in the future.

Staff get the right training and work to appropriate accreditation. For example, the service has invested in staff completing master’s qualifications in fire engineering.

The service works well with others to share information

The service works closely with other enforcement agencies to regulate fire safety and routinely exchanges risk information with them. This includes organisations such as the Office of Rail and Road, Trading Standards, Ofsted, Care Quality Commission and local councils. The service is also agreeing a memorandum of understanding with local authorities to share information and conduct joint enforcement activity in houses of multiple occupation.

The service has improved its response to building and licencing consultations

The service responds to most building consultations on time. As such, it meets its statutory responsibility to comment on fire safety arrangements at new and altered buildings. The response rate has improved since 2019, but we found that staff were having to extend the time frames due to high workloads.

The service provides useful information to businesses

The service proactively engages with local businesses and other organisations to promote compliance with fire safety legislation. The service’s web pages hold information about compliance and fire safety, which staff can direct responsible people and business owners to via a QR code.

The service has made some progress to reduce unwanted fire signals

The service has made some progress to reduce the burden of unwanted fire signals. However, the following area for improvement identified in 2019 remains: The service should make sure it monitors and evaluates its revised approach to the burden of false alarms (termed ‘unwanted fire signals’).

To March 2021, 48 percent of incidents attended (3,243) were false alarms. This is higher than the national rate of 42 percent. In addition, 63 percent of the false alarm attendances were due to faulty apparatus. This means that engines may be unavailable to respond to genuine incidents because they are attending false alarms. It also creates a risk to the public if more fire engines travel at high speed on roads to respond to these incidents.

4

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

Good

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies.

Royal Berkshire 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.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure its mobile data terminals are reliable so that firefighters can readily access up-to-date risk information.
  • The service should monitor and review its response model with reduced availability of its fire engines and in line with its community risk management plan.

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

The service response strategy is based on an understanding of risk

The service’s response strategy is linked to the risks identified in its CRMP. Its fire engines and response staff, as well as its working patterns, are designed and located to help the service to respond flexibly to fires and other emergencies with the appropriate resources. For example, its new station at Theale has been located to provide a better response for communities in the west of the county.

The service consistently meets its response standards

There are no national response standards of performance for the public. The service has set out its own response standards in its CRMP. The service aims to respond to incidents within 10 minutes on 75 percent of occasions.

The service consistently meets its standards. Home Office data shows that in the year to 31 March 2021, the service’s response time to primary fires was 7 minutes and 41 seconds. This is in line with the average for predominantly urban services. The service responded to incidents within 10 minutes on 78.2 percent of occasions. It has a low response time compared to other services, of 7 minutes and 3 seconds, to dwelling fires.

We are pleased that the service continues to meet its standards and provides a good response to incidents. However, it does this with reduced availability of its fire engines. The service should continue to monitor and review its response to efficiently meet the aims of its CRMP.

Fire engine availability isn’t in line with the service’s targets

To support its response strategy, the service aims to have:

  • 100 percent of wholetime fire engines available on 100 percent of occasions; and
  • on-call fire engines available on 60 percent of occasions.

The service doesn’t always meet this standard. In the year to 31 March 2021, data shows that wholetime fire engine availability was 96.8 percent. On-call fire engine availability was 54.5 percent.

The service has well-trained incident commanders

The service has trained incident commanders who are assessed properly at the relevant level every two years. An online system has recently been introduced for staff to log their ongoing learning in the command of incidents and at exercises. This helps the service to safely and effectively manage the full range of incidents that it could face; from small and routine incidents to complex multi-agency incidents.

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

Control is included in all aspects of the service

Thames Valley Fire Control is a joint control room for Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Services. This means control operators can deploy resources promptly and effectively across the three services’ borders.

We are pleased to see the service’s control staff are integrated into Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s command, training, exercise, debrief and assurance activity. Staff described taking part in recent high-rise exercises. Their feedback has supported the development of new processes.

The service is developing the way it handles multiple fire survival guidance calls

The control room staff we interviewed are confident they could give fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously. This was identified as learning for fire services after the Grenfell Tower fire. Staff interviewed described recent training exercises and the use of back-up control systems to support multiple fire survival guidance calls should this type of incident occur.

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

Risk information is easily understood, but not always quickly available

We sampled a range of risk information on the service’s mobile data terminals, including what is in place for firefighters responding to incidents at high-risk, high-rise buildings and what information is held by fire control.

The information we reviewed was up to date and detailed. It could be easily accessed and understood by staff on the mobile data terminals. The introduction of an electronic quick reference sheet to view information briefly has been well received by staff.

However, we found that there are problems with the slow functioning speed of the mobile data terminals that provide firefighters with the information needed.

The service has improved the way it evaluates operational performance

As part of the inspection, we reviewed a range of emergency incidents and training events. These include the service’s structured incident debriefs. We are pleased to see that the service routinely follows its policies to assure itself that staff command incidents in line with operational guidance. This was an area for improvement identified in our previous inspection in 2019.

Internal risk information is updated with the information received from site visits, protection audits and structured debriefs. Staff can give immediate risk updates by email and contribute to the assurance process through an electronic feedback form. The service’s dedicated operational assurance team monitors all incident feedback and the structured debrief process. Staff are well trained in facilitating debriefs and can identify relevant learning. This information is exchanged with other interested partners such as other fire and rescue services, Thames Valley Police and the local resilience forum (LRF) partners.

The service learns from local and national incidents

The service has responded to learning from incidents to improve its service for the public. For example, the service completes joint operational information notes to align policies and procedures across the Thames Valley fire and rescue services.

We are encouraged to see that the service is contributing towards, and acting on, learning from other fire and rescue services or operational learning gathered from other emergency service partners. This includes giving feedback about a fault on a fire engine that is widely used in the United Kingdom.

The service is good at keeping the public informed about incidents

The service has made improvements in the way it informs the public about ongoing incidents following the area of improvement identified in 2019. The service now has good systems in place to help keep the public safe during and after incidents. This includes having an arrangement in place with the LRF’s warn and inform group, which helped prompt messages to be sent during the period of hot weather in July 2022. The service has trained staff in social media use and can provide an out‑of-hours response.

5

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

Good

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

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

All fire and rescue services must be able to respond effectively to multi-agency and cross-border incidents. This means working with other fire and rescue services (known as intraoperability) and emergency services (known as interoperability).

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

The service is well prepared for major and multi-agency incidents

The service has effectively anticipated and considered the reasonably foreseeable risks and threats it may face. These risks are listed in both local and national risk registers as part of its CRMP. For example, the service has highlighted the potential impact of seasonal disruption. Risks include hot weather resulting in increased wildfires or water-related incidents, or high rainfall resulting in wide-area flooding.

The service is also familiar with the significant risks that could be faced by neighbouring fire and rescue services that it might reasonably be asked to respond to in an emergency. Firefighters have access to risk information from neighbouring services within 10 km of the border via their mobile data terminals.

The service can respond to major and multi-agency incidents

We reviewed the arrangements that the service has in place to respond to different major incidents, including wide-area flooding, marauding terrorist attacks and
high-rise fires.

The service has good arrangements in place, which are well understood by staff. For example, an e-learning package has been completed by operational staff about the response expected should a marauding terrorist attack occur.

The service works well with other fire services

The service supports other fire and rescue services responding to emergency incidents. It shares a control room with the other Thames Valley fire services. This means that the nearest fire engine to an incident is mobilised independent of which service it comes from. The three Thames Valley services often jointly respond to incidents across their borders, using their aligned equipment and fire engines. It is intraoperable with these services and can form part of a multi-agency response.

Staff take part in cross-border exercising

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

Incident command training is aligned to JESIP

The incident commanders we interviewed had been trained in and were familiar with JESIP. The service gave us strong evidence that it consistently follows these principles. This includes the regular use of the JESIP mobile application by incident commanders. The service also suggested and volunteered to chair a new strategic JESIP subgroup in the LRF.

The service is actively working with other partners

The service has good arrangements in place to respond to emergencies with other partners that make up the Thames Valley LRF. These arrangements include preparing multi-agency response plans for high-risk sites, short-term events and major incidents. A critical event management team and operational support room are actioned at short notice. These were enacted to plan for and respond well to the demands placed on the service by the hot weather in July 2022.

The service is a valued partner and attends most of the 13 subgroups of the LRF, including the executive board; the training, learning and exercise group; and a newly established wildfire group. The service takes part in regular training events with other members of the LRF. It uses the learning to develop planning assumptions about responding to major and multi-agency incidents.

The service uses national and joint organisational learning to plan for incidents

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