West Midlands 2021/22
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure?
West Midlands Fire Service’s overall effectiveness is outstanding.
West Midlands Fire Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment
We are pleased to see that the service continues to improve across all areas of effectiveness.
We were particularly impressed with how the service uses a wide range of data and information to understand the risk of fire and other emergencies. And it continues to make sure that it can respond to incidents in the fastest possible time by using its resources in the most effective and efficient way.
The service continues to make sure that its prevention activity is targeted at those who are most at risk from a fire. We were impressed with the way the service evaluates the impact of its activity to make people safer.
Since our last inspection in 2019 the service has made sure it has enough resources to deliver its risk-based inspection programme (RBIP). We are pleased to see that the service can effectively meet all its responsibilities to protect people by making sure buildings are safe.
And we found that the service is well prepared to respond to major and multi-agency incidents and has addressed the areas for improvement that were identified in our last inspection in 2019.
How effective is the FRS at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies?
West Midlands Fire Service is outstanding at understanding risk.
West Midlands Fire 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.
The service used a community messaging platform to consult on its risk management plan
The pandemic prevented West Midlands Fire Service from carrying out its community risk management plan consultation in person. Instead it used West Midlands Now, a free community messaging platform with 80,000 subscribers, along with other digital and social media platforms. Of the 11,000 responses it received, 88 percent came from West Midlands Now. This meant the service could reach many sections of the community, including diverse and underrepresented groups. As a result, the service can be more confident that the risks and priorities set out in its community risk management plan reflect the issues that matter to the community.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
The service uses a comprehensive range of data and information sources and carries out a thorough analysis of these to identify risk
We found the service to be highly effective in how it understands and analyses risk. The service has assessed an appropriate range of risks and threats after a thorough integrated risk management planning process. When assessing risk, it has considered relevant information collected from a broad range of internal and external sources and data sets. This includes Office for National Statistics and census data and national, international, and global risk registers. The service also uses information to help it to understand the risks in premises, such as Care Quality Commission ratings from the healthcare sector, building heritage status, food hygiene scores, the number of fire alarm activations, and whether the building has a sprinkler system.
The service uses several sophisticated tools to analyse the data and information together with incident data. This helps it to identify risks and target its activity to mitigate those risks. For example, it has identified an increase in people in its community living in poverty, which in turn leads to health inequalities and makes people more vulnerable to the risk of fire. So, it is working with health and social care partners to reduce health inequalities.
We noted that in the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), the service leads on assessing community risk and vulnerability to improve the safety, health and well-being of communities.
The service is innovative in the way it consults communities to set its community risk management plan
As part of the process to set its integrated risk management plan, which the service calls its community risk management plan (CRMP), the service has consulted and undertaken constructive dialogue with communities and organisations to both understand risks and explain how it intends to mitigate them. For example, the building risk review team has worked with housing associations and business owners in response to emerging risks associated with flammable cladding. The service is part of several local and regional safety advisory groups and chairs the West Midlands Social Housing Group, which is attended by all seven local authorities in the area. The service is also part of the West Midlands Race Equality Taskforce, which aims to improve equality of opportunity for all communities.
Because of the pandemic, the service mainly carried out its CRMP consultation digitally. We saw how it made very effective use of a free community messaging platform with 80,000 subscribers. This accounted for 88 percent of all responses to the consultation and meant that the service could gather the views of many sections of the community, including those who have previously been harder to reach. The service also made its consultation document available in different versions, such as easy-read and audible, as well as different languages to make sure it was accessible to everyone.
The service received around 11,000 responses overall, which is almost double the response to its previous consultation. A good level of response means that the service can better understand the issues that are important to the community and make sure that its plans and priorities reflect them.
The community risk management plan clearly sets out how the service will use its prevention, protection and response activity to reduce risks
After assessing relevant risks, the service has recorded its findings in an easily understood CRMP. 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, it has identified that there is a growing number of small businesses that are less likely to have well established fire safety procedures. So, it is targeting fire safety visits, known as safe and strong visits, to those businesses.
The service has targeted its fire safety audits at care homes because during the pandemic it couldn’t visit them. And it had identified risks associated with the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, so it had prioritised inspecting hotels.
It has also identified other important risks from regeneration and development projects, such as the HS2 high-speed rail project.
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. For example, there is a dedicated team to assess the risks associated with the Commonwealth Games. The team is linked to the local resilience forum (LRF) to make sure that the information is shared with other agencies. The service also visits all high-rise buildings in its area to gather information about risks.
It has a good process to quality assure operational risk information with station managers reviewing all very high and high-risk premises. This information is readily available for the service’s prevention, protection and response staff, which enables them to identify, reduce and mitigate risk effectively. For example, risk information is sent automatically to the control room so staff there can update the mobilising system, and to response crews and protection staff. Firefighters could demonstrate how they can easily access risk information.
Because firefighters carry out prevention and protection activity in addition to responding to incidents, risk information is shared well across the three functions. This is further helped by fire safety officers and prevention staff based at stations working closely with response crews. Where appropriate, risk information is passed on to other organisations such as the LRF and local authorities.
During the inspection we found some risk visits were overdue. We noted that the service took immediate action to address this. The service should also make sure that all buildings have the correct risk level assigned to them.
The service uses learning from operational activity to build its understanding of risk
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, it uses national learning from significant incidents together with local incident data trends and risk mapping. This led to the decision to enhance the technical rescue capability at Sutton Coldfield fire station, which was identified as the best location to mitigate the identified risk.
The service has taken action to address the recommendations from 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.
West Midlands Fire Service has responded positively and proactively to learning from this tragedy. The service identified that there were 707 high-rise buildings in the service area. It has visited all buildings, often with local councils, which meant that minor works could be quickly carried out. It also works well with housing associations and business owners.
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.
How effective is the FRS at preventing fires and other risks?
West Midlands Fire Service is good at preventing fires and other risks.
West Midlands Fire 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.
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 targeted at those people who are most at risk from fire
The service has an effective prevention strategy that is clearly linked to the risks identified in its CRMP. The service reviews and analyses incident data to identify those people that are most at risk from accidental fires in the home. It routinely carries out serious incident reviews so it can learn from fires that have resulted in a death or serious injury.
The service has identified that there is a direct link between health inequalities and the risk of being injured or killed in a fire. So, it is working proactively with partner organisations to reduce the health inequalities that people face. An example of this is the service’s participation in integrated care systems, a partnership between the NHS, local authorities and social care that aims to make sure services are co-ordinated to improve the population’s health.
The service’s teams work well together and with other relevant organisations on prevention, and it 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, operational station-based staff carry out safe and well visits to homes in addition to safe and strong visits to businesses. There are also complex needs officers and fire safety officers based at stations who have a higher level of training and deal with more complex cases. This means that the activities of prevention, protection and response are well co-ordinated. Safe and well visits are often carried out jointly with partners such as social care. And the service carried out safe and well visits at the same time as reviewing the risks in all its high-rise buildings.
Staff gave good examples of how they build relationships with local community groups including food banks, church groups and mental health drop-in centres to make sure they can support those people who are most vulnerable.
The effect of the pandemic on prevention
We considered how the service had adapted its prevention work during our COVID-19 specific inspection in September 2020. At that time, we found it had adapted its public prevention work appropriately. Since then, we are encouraged to find that the service has resumed carrying out face-to-face safe and well visits and has increased the overall number of visits from 18,422 in 2020/21 to 36,997 in 2021/22.
The service is good at targeting prevention activity at people most at risk
Prevention activity is clearly prioritised using a risk-based approach towards people most at risk from fire and other emergencies. The service has found that this is most effectively done by working closely with organisations already in contact with people who are vulnerable and most at risk of fire. It works well with organisations to make sure that they understand the link between vulnerability and the risk of fire.
As a result, the service gets referrals for safe and well visits from thousands of organisations. This ranges from large organisations such as Western Power and Birmingham City Council to small charities and voluntary groups. The service has a system for scoring referrals so that it can prioritise those that are the highest risk. These are then passed to stations for operational crews to carry out the safe and well check.
Stations have targets for completing safe and well checks, but we found they could be better directed towards specific risks.
In the year ending 31 March 2021, the service carried out 6.3 safe and well visits per 1,000 of the population, which is well above the rate for England of 2.8 visits per 1,000 of the population. At the time of our inspection, the service had around 3,700 safe and well visits waiting to be allocated. We were assured that in each case at least one attempt has been made to contact the individual.
The service makes sure that its safe and well checks are accessible to everyone. There is comprehensive information about the checks on its website for individuals, their carers and professionals, including a learning portal. It can translate information into many different languages and the website includes screen reading software and videos with sign language.
Staff are competent in providing safe and well checks
Staff told us 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. Operational staff carry out safe and well checks. When there are additional vulnerabilities identified, or the case is more complex, they can refer these to a complex needs officer who has a greater level of training. There are also staff trained in British Sign Language.
Staff can respond well 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. Staff complete a mandatory safeguarding awareness training package. There is also a safeguarding toolkit on the service’s intranet site. Complex needs officers and station commanders provide more support to staff when needed. The service also has a representative on each of the seven local authority safeguarding boards in its area and is working with them to make the referral process more efficient.
The service collaborates well with other organisations
The service works with a wide range of other organisations, such as local authorities and other emergency services, to prevent fires and other emergencies.
We found good evidence that it routinely refers people at greatest risk to organisations that may be better able to meet their needs. The service has well established arrangements in place to receive referrals from a wide range of other organisations, including the ambulance service, oxygen suppliers and telecare providers. The service has developed many referral partnerships, such as with local playgroups, which some of the most vulnerable people attend. And it acts appropriately on the referrals it receives by assessing the risk and prioritising them.
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 has effective arrangements in place to share information with other organisations on serious incident reviews carried out after there has been a serious injury or fatality from a fire. This means that the service, together with other organisations, can identify policies and practices that need to be changed or improved to reduce the likelihood of such incidents reoccurring.
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. It has a learning centre, Safeside, which schoolchildren attend to learn about the dangers of fire and other risks. The service gets referrals from the police, schools and local authorities and operational staff work with people who show signs of fire-setting behaviour.
The number of deliberate fires in the service area has steadily declined over the last 10 years from nearly 10,000 in 2010/11 to nearly 3,000 in 2020/21 and is below the rate for England.
When appropriate, the service routinely shares information with other relevant organisations to support the prosecution of arsonists. The service investigates fires where the cause is deliberate and contributes to the coroner’s court process in cases when there is a death or serious injury.
The service is good at evaluating its prevention work
We were impressed with the way the service evaluates prevention activity. The evaluation methods measure how effective its work is so that the service knows what works, and its communities get prevention activity that meets their needs.
Prevention activities take account of feedback from the public, other organisations, and other parts of the service.
Feedback is used by the service to inform its planning and amend future activity, so it is focused on what the community needs and what works.
The service has given out items such as smoke alarms, hearing impaired alarms, fire retardant bedding and mailbox protectors, which it states have contributed to a 7.7 percent reduction in the number of casualties.
The service sent out a questionnaire to people who had received a safe and well visit and received over 1,400 responses in a 6-month period. This identified changes in behaviour that indicated that people were more likely to be safer. For example, of 101 referrals to smoking cessation services, 48 people said they had stopped smoking. A housing association now asks tenants who have received a safe and well visit to complete the questionnaire on behalf of the service. The service has been told by housing inspecting officers that of 33 responses to the survey, 7 people had stopped using chip pans.
How effective is the FRS at protecting the public through fire regulation?
West Midlands Fire Service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation.
West Midlands Fire 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 is an effective protection strategy aligned to the community risk management plan
The service’s protection strategy is clearly linked to the risks it has identified in its CRMP.
Staff across the service are involved in this activity, with information effectively exchanged information as needed. Fire safety staff are based at stations and operational staff carry out visits to commercial premises so identified risks are easily communicated between protection and response staff. 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, if an inspecting officer identifies risks or hazards at a building, this instigates a site visit by the local crew. A risk critical notice, an urgent message sent to all operational staff, is immediately circulated.
The effect of the pandemic on protection
We considered how the service had adapted its protection activity during our COVID-19 specific inspection in September 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 all on-site protection activity. The service has also communicated effectively with business owners, particularly those for whom English is their second language. It gave advice to businesses on how they can operate safely as they re-opened when the restrictions were lifted.
The service’s protection activity is aligned to risk
The service’s RBIP is focused on the service’s highest risk buildings. It uses data from a wide range of sources to inform the programme, including previous incidents, building complexity and occupancy. It also includes information from other organisations, such as the Care Quality Commission for healthcare settings, and the Food Standards Agency for restaurants. It then categorises premises based on the hazards they present, which in turn informs how often they should be inspected. This information is held on a database that creates the inspection schedule.
The focus on the highest risk premises and complaints from the public means the service targets premises based on the risk identified within the RBIP. In the year 2020/21, it carried out 0.25 audits per 100 known premises compared to the England rate of 1.70 audits per 100 known premises. Based on this targeted approach to risk, it is identifying more unsatisfactory audits. In the year 2020/21, 59 percent of audits were unsatisfactory compared to the England rate of 25 percent. This means that the service is better at targeting its audit activity at the highest risks. However, the service should assure itself that it has visited all its highest risk premises.
The audits we reviewed were completed to a good standard and within the timescales the service has set itself.
The service has completed its audits of aluminium composite material clad buildings
Audits have been carried out at all high-rise buildings the service has identified as using cladding that is similar to the cladding 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 identified that there were 707 high-rise residential buildings in its area. All have been audited and inspected by a safety inspection officer in the last 18 months. This included external wall assessments. As a result, there are five waking watches in place and one building had an informal notice suggesting safety measures. All data has been submitted to the Home Office.
The quality of audits is good
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.
The service quality assures protection activity
Quality assurance of protection activity takes place in a proportionate way. The process is led by the team leaders in each command area. These leaders have fewer audits allocated to them so they can accompany inspecting staff on audits and quality assure them as they are taking place. We saw evidence of workplace assessments taking place in the files we reviewed.
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 is good at taking enforcement action when appropriate
The service consistently uses its full range of enforcement powers, and when appropriate, prosecutes those who don’t comply with fire safety regulations. We saw evidence that the service had taken enforcement action in response to referrals and complaints about failures to comply with fire safety regulations. This included a care home that had been referred to the service by health and social care regulator the Care Quality Commission.
In the year to 31 March 2021, the service issued:
- 1 alteration notice;
- 247 informal notifications;
- 3 enforcement notices; and
- 8 prohibition notices.
The service also prosecuted 2 businesses that failed to comply with fire safety regulations. It completed 51 prosecutions in the 5 years from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2021.
The service has a well-resourced protection function
The service has enough qualified protection staff to meet the requirements of the service’s RBIP. Since our last inspection in 2019, the service has recruited an additional 11 members of staff. Fire safety inspectors have a monthly audit target allocated to them. This target is adjusted for staff who have to maintain their operational competence and for the team leaders who carry out quality assurance. There is a team dedicated to legal case management for enforcement activity, which also supports neighbouring fire and rescue services.
The service has put in place measures to make sure it has enough qualified staff in a timely way. This includes reducing the time taken for staff to become competent, giving operational staff the opportunity to become qualified before they join the protection team and re-engaging qualified staff who have retired. The service also provides opportunities for staff to gain the fire engineering degree qualification.
All these measures mean that the service can provide the range of audit and enforcement activity needed, both now and in the future.
The service works well with others
The service works closely with other enforcement agencies to regulate fire safety and routinely exchanges risk information with them. The service worked with local authorities in its high-rise buildings risk review. This meant that minor defects could be identified and quickly repaired.
As part of our inspection, we spoke to some partner organisations, including the police and county council. They described a good working relationship with the service and gave examples of where they have worked together effectively to regulate fire safety.
The service meets its statutory duty to respond to building consultations
The service responds to almost all building consultations on time, so consistently meets its statutory responsibility to comment on fire safety arrangements at new and altered buildings. And the service now has a dedicated team that deals with complex consultations, such as those related to the high-speed rail project, the Commonwealth Games and high-rise buildings. This team shares information and carries out joint visits with operational staff.
The service works well with businesses
The service proactively engages with local businesses and other organisations to promote compliance with fire safety legislation. Firefighters carry out safe and strong visits to businesses that it has identified from incident data as being more likely to have a fire. Firefighters provide education and advice and can also determine where intervention from a fire safety inspector might be needed.
The service has approximately 18 primary authority schemes in place with a range of large organisations. They can access tailored advice on complying with fire safety legislation. Fire engineers act as a single point of contact for those schemes.
There is comprehensive information on the service’s website on how businesses can comply with fire safety regulations, including carrying out fire risk assessments, and booking a safe and strong visit.
The service is working to reduce the burden from unwanted fire signals
An effective risk-based approach is in place to manage the number of unwanted fire signals. Around a quarter of the calls the service received in 2020/21 were unwanted fire signals. This is above the rate for England. But the service doesn’t attend around two-thirds of these calls, which compares well to the national rate of 37 percent. This was reflected in the relatively low proportion of incidents attended that proved to be false alarms.
The service’s CRMP has identified false alarms as a priority area, and it has put measures in place to address them, including control staff questioning callers and responding with dedicated support vehicles rather than full crews. Fire safety staff also attend so they can give immediate advice to businesses on managing false alarms. The service has also categorised the risk of premises to make sure that full crews only attend those that are higher risk. These measures mean that fire engines remain available to respond to a genuine incident. It also reduces the risk to the public if fewer fire engines travel at high speed on the roads.
How effective is the FRS at responding to fires and other emergencies?
West Midlands Fire Service is outstanding at responding to fires and other emergencies.
West Midlands Fire Service was outstanding 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.
The service manages its resources so it consistently responds effectively to incidents
We found that the service continues to be highly effective in the way that it manages its resources and capabilities. It consistently responds to incidents in the most effective way to keep the public safe.
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 enable the service to respond flexibly to fires and other emergencies with the appropriate resources.
The service uses a dynamic cover tool in its control room that helps it both to move resources according to changing risk and respond to incidents in the fastest time. The control room also uses a tool called 999eye, which enables the caller to send it footage of the incident. This helps the control room decide on the most appropriate resources to send.
The service carried out a detailed analysis to determine the best location for a new technical rescue unit that would only be available to respond to the highest-risk incidents. It identified that placing the unit at Sutton Coldfield station would significantly improve the spread of cover and it would be able to respond within 30 minutes to all key sites in accordance with the Home Office model for response.
The service consistently meets or betters its response standards
There are no national response standards of performance for the public. But the service has set out its own response standards in its CRMP. It bases its response standards on academic research into the likelihood of a person surviving a fire depending on several different factors. It specifically considers the impact the time taken to respond to a fire has on a person’s survival where they are unable to evacuate without help. The service is updating this piece of work to make sure that its response standards continue to be relevant to risk.
The service consistently meets or betters its standards. It sets a response standard of five minutes for the highest-risk calls. In the year to 31 March 2022 it achieved an average time of 4 minutes 42 seconds. It also bettered its response times for all other categories in that year. Home Office data shows that in the year to 31 December 2021, the service’s average response time to primary fires was 6 minutes and 32 seconds. This is the fastest of all services in predominantly urban areas in England.
The service makes sure it always sends the right resources to incidents
To support its response strategy, the service makes sure it uses resources in the most efficient and effective way.
After a successful pilot, it has introduced a system of risk-based crewing. Previously it had a standard crew size that attended incidents, so it often had to move staff around stations to fill gaps. Now fire control and operational officers can make risk-based decisions about the right level of resources to mobilise to an incident. This will further improve how it responds because the service won’t have to wait until a fire engine has a full crew to deploy it to a minor incident; it can send smaller vehicles with fewer staff.
In the year to 31 March 2021 the service’s overall availability was 88.4 percent. The service mobilised to every incident.
The service commands incidents well
The service has trained incident commanders who are assessed regularly and properly. Incident commanders record their competence against national operational standards. They have a performance review of their command every two years, which takes place at an incident. This is reviewed by the line manager. There is a station peer assessment team that provides quality assurance on command competence. This enables the service to safely, assertively and effectively manage the whole range of incidents that it could face, from small and routine to complex multi-agency incidents.
As part of our inspection, we interviewed incident commanders from across the service. They were 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).
Control staff are fully integrated in the service
We are pleased to see the service’s control staff integrated into the service’s command, training, exercise, debrief and assurance activity. The use of digital technology now makes it easier for control staff to be involved in debriefing because they don’t need to leave the control room. The service has also simplified the process for completing a debrief form.
The service is good at handling fire survival guidance calls
The control room staff we interviewed are confident they can provide fire survival guidance to many callers simultaneously. This was identified as learning for fire services after the Grenfell Tower fire. Staff have been trained and there are clear systems in place for gathering and sharing information from callers.
Control has good systems in place to exchange real-time risk information with incident commanders, other responding organisations and supporting fire and rescue services. It has set up a dedicated communication channel to exchange information and a dedicated team in the control room is set up to manage the incident. Maintaining good situational awareness helps the service to communicate effectively with the public, providing them with accurate and tailored advice.
Risk information is easily accessible
We sampled a range of risk information including for neighbouring fire services that West Midlands would support during an incident. And we looked at 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 both by operational crews on the mobile data terminals on fire engines and by incident commanders and control staff. And staff told us they understood the information. Encouragingly, it had been completed with input from the service’s prevention, protection and response teams when appropriate.
The service is very good at evaluating operational performance and national operational guidance
As part of the inspection, we reviewed a range of emergency incidents and training events. These include incidents at domestic and commercial premises and those where a person has been killed or seriously injured. We reviewed training events that had taken place with other organisations and other fire and rescue services.
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. For example, when crews identify a risk from an incident or a site visit, they inform the station commander who sends out an immediate risk critical notice to all staff. This information is exchanged with other organisations where relevant.
We were impressed with the process the service has in place to learn from incidents to improve its service to the public. Staff spoke positively about the service’s approach to sharing learning from incidents. They told us that they were encouraged to complete debrief forms so that the service can continually learn. For example, at a recent large incident the service identified learning for incident commanders to consider how electricity boxes can be bypassed by criminals growing cannabis.
The service has a dedicated team which collates and disseminates learning. We heard about how it works with others, for example the ambulance service, to make joint decisions at incidents.
We are encouraged to see the service is contributing to, and acting on, learning from other fire and rescue services or operational learning gathered from other emergency service partners. We heard of a recent exercise at Moor Street station where learning was identified about the time involved in dealing with an incident involving mass casualties. The service plans to make changes and test these out at another exercise with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue service.
The service is good at keeping the public informed
The service has good systems in place to inform the public about ongoing incidents and help keep them safe during and after incidents. This includes good use of social media about ongoing incidents and road closures. And it gives residents advice, for example about staying indoors and closing windows if there’s a large amount of smoke in the area. The service also uses the community messaging platform that it used to consult on its CRMP to give information to the public about incidents, safety advice, news and events.
How effective is the FRS at responding to major and multi-agency incidents?
West Midlands Fire Service is good at responding to major and multi-agency incidents.
West Midlands Fire 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).
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 identified a risk from protest activity at the five oil refineries in the West Midlands area. Together with other emergency responders, the service has assessed risks, identified hazards and developed response plans. It has also identified the forthcoming Commonwealth Games as a major risk and has put in place a dedicated team to assess and work with other organisations to effectively manage this.
It 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. It shares its control room with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and both work to make sure that the nearest resources are mobilised regardless of the incident location. This helps to make sure the public get the quickest response. We are pleased to see that since our previous inspection in 2019, firefighters have access to risk information from neighbouring services.
The service can respond effectively to major and multi-agency incidents
We reviewed the arrangements the service has in place to respond to different major incidents, including a marauding terrorist attack, large events or incidents involving chemical, biological or radioactive materials.
We were impressed with the arrangements in place, which are well understood by staff. For example, control staff could confidently describe the action plans and communications systems they have in place for major incidents, including requesting national assets. The service has the third highest number of high-rise buildings in the country. It has completed a full audit on each building, working with local authorities and housing associations. As a result, it has detailed plans in place for each building, including full evacuation plans.
The service works well with other fire services
The service supports other fire and rescue services responding to emergency incidents. For example, it recently assisted Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service with a large high-rise incident. 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. It has a range of assets that it can deploy to assist other services. These include:
- a detection, investigation and monitoring team;
- support in the event of a chemical, biological or radioactive materials incident;
- a mass decontamination unit;
- a high-volume pump; and
- technical rescue units.
The service carries out exercises with neighbouring services
We are pleased to see that since our previous inspection in 2019, 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 management and service plans.
Incident commanders understand how to work with other emergency responders at an incident
The incident commanders we interviewed have been trained in and were familiar with JESIP for working with other emergency responders at an incident.
The service could provide us with strong evidence that it consistently follows these principles. This includes ongoing training to ensure commanders’ skills are up to date and is carried out with other emergency services. We saw a joint letter from the three emergency services sent to all staff to inform them of a change in relation to the joint operating principles for a marauding terrorist attack.
There are well-developed relationships with other organisations involved in emergency response
The service has good arrangements in place to respond to emergencies with other partners that make up the West Midlands LRF. These arrangements include joint training and exercising to test arrangements for a range of incidents, including mass fatalities and collapsed structures.
The service participates in a multi-agency control room managers forum with police and ambulance to share learning and good practice. It is also the lead for the training and exercising workstream of the NFCC’s aviation working group. And it has been heavily involved in major exercises at Birmingham Airport.
The service chairs the LRF. Partners, such as the police and local councils, spoke highly of the contribution it makes to joint working, describing it as the driving force in forum activities. The service also participates in a wide range of subgroups and chairs some of these, including the risk assessment working group. 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. For example, the service had been involved in several training exercises to prepare for the Commonwealth Games.
The service is up to date with national learning
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 widely shared in the service and used to inform planning assumptions that have been made with those organisations.