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Tyne and Wear 2021/22


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

Last updated 27/07/2022

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is good at providing an effective fire and rescue service.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

It has improved areas of its prevention activity identified in round one, so we now grade it as good. But activity must be aligned to strategies and plans that are current and aligned to the integrated risk management plan (IRMP).

The service has adopted an approach to presenting its plans to the public that we found difficult to follow. From the plans presented it was difficult to understand how contributions from prevention and protection are fully represented in the IRMP. The service continues to be good at protecting the public by regulating fire safety measures and we are pleased to see it is on target to complete extra work required after the fire at Grenfell Tower.

The service has made improvements to its operational response, which we identified were needed in its round one inspection. It continues to have good plans in place to deal with major incidents and to work with neighbouring fire and rescue services.

Questions for Effectiveness


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


Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding risk.

Tyne and Wear 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 that the aims and objectives of prevention, protection and response activity are clearly outlined in its IRMP.

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

Good at identifying risk

The service has assessed an appropriate range of risks and threats after a thorough IRMP planning process. When assessing risk, it has considered information collected from a broad range of internal and external sources and data sets.

Information sources the service uses to identify and understand risk include:

  • national risk register;
  • census data;
  • social, financial and health data;
  • partner agency data and information;
  • incident data and information;
  • mapping and geographical information;
  • fire safety information; and
  • service data and information.

When appropriate, the service has consulted and undertaken constructive conversations with communities and other interested parties, such as local politicians, including local MPs, the police and crime commissioner and councillors. Consultation also used partner agencies and mainstream and social media to explain the risk to the public and how it intends to mitigate it.

Strategic commitments for managing risk need to be more clear

The community risk profile identifies risks to the public but strategic plans, including the IRMP, don’t clearly set out how risks will be managed through prevention and protection activities.

This makes it difficult for the public to understand how the service intends to use its prevention and protection resources to mitigate or reduce risks, both now and in the future.

The service is better at gathering and recording 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 tall buildings and buildings the service has assessed as being high risk.

This information is readily available for the service’s prevention, protection and response staff, which enables it to identify, reduce and mitigate risk effectively. For example, we saw how premises’ risk information for local risks are immediately available to operational crews when they are being mobilised to emergencies. Where appropriate, risk information is passed on to other organisations such as the local licensing authority and departments responsible for public health.

Operational activity is used well to build understanding of risks

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, the service identified an increase in rescues from open water so now works with the RNLI to improve education, training and lifesaving equipment in areas with a high risk of accidental drownings.

Service response to recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is good

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.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has responded positively and proactively to learning from this tragedy. At the time of our inspection, the service was on track to having assessed the risk of every high-rise building in its service area.

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


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


Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is good at preventing fires and other risks.

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

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

Areas for improvement

The service should develop and publish its organisational plan for prevention, to make clear to the public how prevention activity is driven and provided.

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

Prevention plans need updating

The Community Safety Plan for prevention was out of date at the time of inspection. This makes it difficult to see how prevention activity is aligned to the IRMP.

The service works well with other organisations on prevention, such as local authorities, and it passes on 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, supervisory managers run daily checks of recent incidents to identify where to target prevention work.

Good management of the effects of the pandemic on prevention work

We considered how the service had adapted its prevention work during our COVID‑19-specific inspection in September and October 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its public prevention work appropriately. Since then, we are encouraged to find that prevention work increasingly takes place in person, including operational crews making safe and well visits.

Improvements with targeting prevention activity need to continue

Targeting of prevention activity has improved. Now, the service clearly prioritises people most at risk from fire and other emergencies. For example, dedicated staff from the prevention and education team target the highest-risk members of the community through direct contact.

However, station activity for prevention work remains focused on achieving targets within station areas. This approach can leave higher-risk premises in neighbouring station areas waiting longer for prevention work, while crews carry out lower-risk work in their own area. Station-based targets should consider risks across the whole service area. For example, by crews working across station boundaries to tackle higher-risk areas.

The service takes account of a broad range of information and data to target its prevention activity at vulnerable individuals and groups. This includes information such as the age of any residents, history of fires, presence of working smoke alarms, and time since last visit by the service.

It provides a range of interventions that it adapts to the level of risk in its communities. While the main prevention activities are making safe and well visits, the service also carries out targeted activity to address deliberate fire setting.

Staff competence has improved with providing safe and well checks

Staff told us they have the right skills and the confidence to make safe and well visits. They also said that their competence has improved since our previous inspection. These checks cover an appropriate range of hazards that can put vulnerable people at greater risk from fire and other emergencies. Staff told us that, because of the pandemic, these checks are made in a doorstep questionnaire, but staff are trained to know when to enter a property to do an individual risk assessment.

Staff are good at identifying and responding to safeguarding concerns

Staff we interviewed told us about occasions when they had identified safeguarding problems. They told us they feel confident and trained to act appropriately and promptly. All staff in operational roles, including on-call firefighters, could give at least one example of having identified safeguarding issues. Their examples often involved people with mental health problems and how staff had been able to use local procedures to request support.

Collaboration with other agencies and voluntary sector are good

The service works with a wide range of other organisations such as local health authorities and adult and child services to prevent fires and other emergencies.

We found 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 adult and child services and GPs. Arrangements are in place to receive referrals from others. Third party referrals come through a dedicated email address that is monitored by staff from the prevention and education team. The service acts appropriately on the referrals it gets. For example, it has a target of ten days to respond to any requests but prioritises requests based on risk.

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, the service works with the RNLI to reduce the risk of drowning along the two main rivers in the area.

The service also runs the community education and support centre known as SafetyWorks! This is in partnership with the Northumbria police and crime commissioner and a local transport company. SafetyWorks! is an interactive centre to educate young people and support community groups, including vulnerable people and those with disabilities and drug and alcohol problems.

The service is active 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 local crews monitoring antisocial fires in their area and being responsible for tailoring the advice and education to reduce these fires through local schools and youth clubs. The service also supports the juvenile firesetters education programme and receives referrals from parents, carers, social workers and other professional bodies.

When appropriate, the service routinely shares information with other partners, to support the prosecution of arsonists. It works closely with Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service and Northumbria Police to help investigate deliberate fires.

The service still needs to get better at evaluating its prevention activity

The service has some evaluation tools in place. For example, it reviewed over 3,000 partner referrals and identified that most were low risk. This is now being addressed with the referring agency to improve the referral process.

We also found that performance monitoring had improved. But we didn’t see how this informed planning assumptions to improve future activity.

Also, we didn’t see how the service uses feedback from the public, other organisations, and other parts of the service to continuously improve its prevention activities.


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


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

Tyne and Wear 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.

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

There are good links between the RBIP and the community risk profile

The service’s RBIP is clearly linked to the risks identified in its community risk profile.

But links between the IRMP and the RBIP are not clear. At the time of inspection, the organisational plan for community safety was not yet published. This made it difficult to follow the strategy for protection, through to frontline delivery.

Staff across the service are involved in the RBIP, with information effectively exchanged as needed. For example, we saw that operational crews pass risk information to protection teams so they can identify issues with high-rise buildings. Information is used to adjust planning assumptions and direct activity between the service’s protection, prevention and response functions. This means that resources are properly aligned to risk.

Protection work adapted well during the pandemic

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

Protection work has clear links to local risks

The service’s RBIP is focused on the service’s highest-risk buildings. We saw how the service uses a range of data to determine risk. The service approach is in line with national guidance and is supported through local knowledge and experience of premises, including previous enforcement history and incident data, to inform the overall risk.

The audits we reviewed were completed by the deadlines the service has set itself. Audits are generated quarterly, with inspectors prioritising workloads based on local knowledge to complete audits within three months.

The service is on target to complete audits of buildings identified through the building risk review programme

Audits have been carried out at premises with cladding similar 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.

At the time of our inspection, the service was on schedule to audit all high-rise, high‑risk buildings it has identified in its service area.

Fire safety audits are completed to a good standard

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.

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.

Quality assurance arrangements are appropriate

Quality assurance of protection activity takes place in a proportionate way. Line managers sample a minimum of four audits each year, including on-site visits, and have full access to all audit reports for desk-based quality assurance.

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.

The service takes a proportionate approach to enforcement

The service recognises it is better to gain compliance through education and advice. It is willing and able to prosecute where appropriate. In the year to 31 March 2021, the service issued 3 alterations notices, 98 informal notifications, 5 enforcement notices, 8 prohibition notices and had 1 prosecution underway.

Resourcing problems need to be addressed

The service has allocated appropriate funding to protection but at the time of inspection was struggling to recruit and retain suitably qualified staff. When all posts in fire protection are filled, the service will be able to provide the range of audit and enforcement activity needed, both now and in the future.

Working with others should be developed to improve public safety

The service works closely with other enforcement agencies to regulate fire safety and routinely exchanges risk information with them. During inspection we saw evidence of how the service shares information with the local licensing authorities and social housing providers.

The service has a programme of joint visits with police and local licensing authorities to inspect night-time venues. But it doesn’t routinely inspect these venues during normal operating hours, so it can’t properly assess the risks to the public.

Good at responding to building regulations and licensing consultations

The service responds to all building consultations on time, so consistently meets its statutory responsibility to comment on fire safety arrangements at new and altered buildings. In 2020/21, the service responded to 95 percent of building regulations consultations within the 15 working days time limit and 98 percent of licensing consultations within the time limit.

Support for local businesses is active and proportionate

The service proactively engages with local businesses and other organisations to promote compliance with fire safety legislation. Although the service doesn’t have a dedicated business support team, it has a communications team that supports fire safety campaigns and messaging. We saw examples of how the service used traditional and social media to share messages about fire doors, cooking safely, and balancing COVID-19 risk assessments with fire safety risk assessments.

The service is active at reducing unwanted fire signals

An effective risk-based approach is in place to manage the number of unwanted fire signals. The service hasn’t introduced a cost-recovery scheme for attending unwanted fire signals but has stopped immediate attendance at certain premises during normal working hours. The list of premises they don’t go to immediately is reviewed frequently, with more premises recently added after consultation with responsible persons.

It gets fewer calls because of this work. In 2020/21, the service received 336 fewer calls from automatic fire alarms than in 2019/20. Fewer unwanted calls means that fire engines are available to respond to genuine incidents rather than responding to a false one. It also reduces the risk to the public if fewer fire engines travel at high speed on the roads.

The primary authority scheme is active and continues to grow

At the time of inspection, the service was the lead authority for 14 local and national businesses through the primary authority scheme. The scheme benefits businesses by reducing bureaucracy and providing a single point of contact for compliance with fire safety regulations. The scheme is self-funding and pays for two full-time employees in the service, supporting the service and local economy.


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


Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

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

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

Response improvements are a priority for the service

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 to enable the service to respond flexibly to fires and other emergencies with the right resources. For example, the service has changed crewing arrangements at two fire stations and enhanced its response to the west of Newcastle. It has also improved its response to tall buildings.

The service is quick at responding to fires

There are no national response standards of performance for the public. At the time of inspection, the service was piloting a standard for response times, but this standard was yet to be agreed and published at the time of inspection.

However, the service does have one of the fastest response times in England. In the year to 31 March 2020/21, the service’s average response time to primary fires was 6 minutes and 28 seconds. Only 2 fire and rescue services in England recorded an overall faster response time in 2020/21.

In 2020/21, the service had an average response time of 5 minutes and 56 seconds to dwelling fires. This is the fastest average response in England to this type of incident.

Overall good availability of fire engines

To support its response strategy, the service aims to have all fire engines available in daytime hours and a maximum of two fire engines unavailable during night-time hours, replaced by smaller fire engines. This gives a target availability of 94 percent for all fire engines. In 2020/21, the service’s overall availability was 99 percent. While most fire engines exceeded their target for availability, the single on-call fire engine was available for only 79 percent of the time. This needs to improve.

The service is recruiting and training wholetime firefighters to increase availability.

Incident command has improved

The service has improved training for incident commanders who are assessed regularly and properly. The service now has a system in place to make sure all incident commanders are trained and assessed in line with national guidance. This is an improvement from our previous inspection. It enables the service to safely, assertively, and effectively manage the whole range of incidents that it could face, from small and routine ones to complex multi-agency incidents.

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

Control is well integrated into operational response

We are pleased to see the service’s control staff integrated into the service’s command, training, exercise, debrief and assurance activity. During inspection, control staff told us how they have been involved in training and exercises relating to recommendations from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and terrorist related scenarios. We also saw how the operational learning process had supported staff in control with handling calls from members of the public who are in emotional crisis.

Control staff are well prepared to handle multiple fire survival guidance calls

The control room staff we interviewed are confident they could provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously. This was identified as learning for fire services after the Grenfell Tower fire.

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

We saw how the service had developed a system to achieve this using existing technology that staff are already familiar with.

Managing information about temporary risks needs to improve

We sampled a range of risk information from the central database and fire stations to see what information is available to staff at an incident. We found that, for permanent sites, risk information is good, and the service had put considerable effort into making recent improvements. Information included 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. Encouragingly, it had been completed with help from the service’s prevention, protection and response functions when appropriate.

But for temporary risks, information isn’t always available to everyone who might need it and isn’t kept up to date. Arrangements are ad-hoc and rely on individuals updating the system when information is no longer relevant.

The service is good at evaluating operational performance

As part of the inspection, we reviewed a range of emergency incidents and training events. These included two large fires, one of which required multiple rescues, and another that was protracted over several days. We also reviewed an incident where operational procedures may not have been followed.

We are pleased to see the service routinely follows its policies to assure itself that staff command incidents in line with operational guidance. Internal risk information is updated with the information received. This information is exchanged with other interested partners such as members of the local resilience forum (LRF), where relevant.

The service has responded to learning from incidents to improve its service for the public. We saw, for example, how training for control staff was provided to help assist with distressed members of the public.

The service keeps the public informed about incidents

The service has good systems in place to inform the public about ongoing incidents and to help keep them safe during and after incidents. This includes an active communications team who make use of traditional and social media outlets to provide information on a range of incidents that may be of interest, or concern, to the public.

It was also good to see that incident commanders, from station manager and above, get media training so they can give informed and relevant updates when they need to.


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


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

Tyne and Wear 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.

Preparedness for major and multi-agency incidents is good

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 IRMP. For example, the recently updated risk register now includes a wider range of scenarios and events, such as cyber-attacks and malicious attacks.

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. These include marauding terrorist attacks (MTAs), major flooding and industrial sites covered by regulations for major incidents.

Firefighters have access to risk information from neighbouring services. Tyne and Wear shares a mobilising system with its neighbours, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, and each has full access to the other’s risk information. Tyne and Wear also has access to risk information up to 10 miles into Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service.

The service has good arrangements for responding to major and multi-agency incidents

We reviewed the arrangements the service has in place to respond to different major incidents, including incident sites covered by the Control of Major Accident Hazard (COMAH) regulations, terrorist related incidents and major flooding.

The service has good arrangements in place, which are well understood by staff. For example, we saw how the service has a dedicated member of staff to work with all 11 COMAH sites in the service area. We also saw how the service has trained its non-specialist staff to respond to an MTA.

At the time of inspection, the service had never needed to host national assets for a major incident in its own area. However, it has developed plans to accommodate national assets at a pre-planned strategic holding area and told us these plans had been tested and exercised.

The service is good at supporting other fire services

The service supports other fire and rescue services responding to emergency incidents. For example, it provides an aerial appliance to Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service when requested. It is intraoperable with these services and can form part of a multi-agency response.

The service has successfully deployed to other services and has used national assets, such as the high-volume pumping capability for both flooding and tackling large wildfires in the summer.

Cross-border exercise plans are returning to on-site activity

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 assistance from neighbouring services. We were encouraged to see that feedback from these exercises is used to inform risk information and service plans. During inspection, we saw evidence of cross-border exercising with Northumberland for responding to a COMAH site and with Durham and Darlington for dealing with an MTA-type incident.

JESIP are established at all levels

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

The service provided us with strong evidence that it consistently follows these principles. This includes providing training on JESIP at all levels and assessing for incident command. We also saw how the operational learning process has a dedicated section for reviewing how JESIP are applied to multi-agency incidents.

The service works well with other partners

The service has good arrangements in place to respond to emergencies with other partners that make up the Northumbria LRF. These arrangements include a recent review and update of the community risk register and regular testing and exercising of plans. All members of the LRF are involved in regular meetings to hep understand each organisation’s capabilities and limitations.

The service is a valued partner of and contributes to the strategic and tactical co‑ordinating groups of the LRF. It also chairs the LRF Risk Management Group and is represented at the LRF Training and Exercising Group, as well as at other groups as required.

The service takes part in regular training events with other members of the LRF and uses the learning to develop planning assumptions about responding to major and multi-agency incidents. Recent examples include the joint and continuing response to COVID-19, where the service contributes to the local effort to support testing and vaccinations.

National learning is adopted in the operational learning cycle

The service keeps itself up to date with national operational learning updates from other fire services and joint organisation 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.

However, we didn’t see examples of the service contributing to national or joint learning through its own debrief processes.