Avon Fire and Rescue Service: Causes of concern revisit letter

Published on: 19 January 2024

Letter information

Wendy Williams CBE
His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary
His Majesty’s Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services

Simon Shilton
Chief Fire Officer/Chief Executive
Avon Fire and Rescue Service

Sent on
19 January 2024


We inspected Avon Fire and Rescue Service from May 2023 for seven weeks. During the inspection, we identified two accelerated causes of concern. On 16 August 2023, we issued these accelerated causes of concern and made the following recommendations:

Cause of concern

The service still doesn’t have an effective system to make sure it gathers and records relevant and up-to-date risk information to help protect firefighters, the public and property during an emergency. We found examples of risk information available not being effective, accurate or up to date. Concerningly, most operational staff haven’t been given the support they need to collect risk information, and there is limited strategic oversight in place to improve the risk information process.


By 19 September 2023, the service should provide an action plan to demonstrate how it will meet our recommendations, and it should have an effective risk information process in place. The service should make sure:

  • it has identified all those premises that require a site-specific risk visit;
  • staff are trained in how to carry out a site-specific risk visit and identify site‑specific risk information;
  • it has effective quality assurance and strategic oversight arrangements in place;
  • temporary risks, including individual vulnerabilities that are added onto the risk information system, are managed appropriately;
  • risk information is uploaded in a timely manner; and
  • fire control has access to relevant and up-to-date risk information, including evacuation strategies, in high-rise residential buildings.

Cause of concern

The service’s mobilisation system, which records information and dispatches resources to emergency incidents, isn’t reliable and crashes during emergency 999 calls. This unnecessarily delays the mobilisation of resources, which results in the public receiving a slower response to emergencies.


By 19 September 2023, the service should develop an action plan to make sure:

  • the mobilisation system is effective and that it doesn’t result in the public receiving a slower response to emergencies;
  • it has strategic oversight arrangements in place and that any faults are recorded regularly and escalated to senior leaders where necessary; and
  • fire control staff are provided with regular updates and welfare support is put in place.

On 19 September 2023, you submitted an action plan setting out how you would address these causes of concern and our recommendations.


Between 4 and 8 December 2023, we carried out a revisit to review progress. During the revisit, we interviewed staff who were responsible for developing the action plan, including you as chief fire officer. We also interviewed managers and staff with responsibility for the risk information process, and we spoke to staff in fire control together with colleagues from their teams. On 15 December 2023, we concluded the revisit process by giving you our initial findings. This letter provides an update in that respect.


We did find appropriate and clear governance arrangements in place to monitor progress of the action plan. These include:

  • regular meetings with the lead officers to make sure progress is being made;
  • regular reporting to the fire and rescue authority chair; and
  • a newly appointed improvement lead to oversee all aspects of the causes of concern.

Following the publication of our full report in November 2023, we recognise that the service will continue to strengthen its reporting arrangements to the fire and rescue authority.

The service has now added both accelerated causes of concern to its corporate risk register, which brings more focus and attention and provides greater scrutiny to the progress made.

Action plan

The service has an action plan that covers the accelerated causes of concern. The plan identifies senior responsible officers, deadlines and people assigned to each task. The plan includes updates on the progress of actions made against each accelerated cause of concern and the associated recommendations.

You have communicated with your workforce about the accelerated causes of concern and the plans to address them. This included holding staff engagement meetings and a service-wide question and answer session.

The service has consulted with the National Fire Chiefs Council and other fire and rescue services nationally on its action plan and its approach to resolving the accelerated causes of concern.

Progress against accelerated causes of concern

The service is reviewing all risk information records

The service has set an ambitious target to visit all 610 premises requiring site-specific risk information (SSRI) visits by 31 March 2024. This is to make sure that all risk information concerning buildings and places of risk is effective, accurate and up to date. We spoke to operational staff who felt this target was optimistic but achievable. However, we found that the premises weren’t prioritised by risk. The service would benefit from visiting its very high-risk and high-risk premises first.

The service told us that a further 200 premises have been identified as requiring SSRI visits. It will review this once the initial 610 visits have been completed. The service has created new templates to record the risk information. Staff spoke positively about the new templates and stated that they will improve consistency when compared to the different formats that have previously been used.

Wholetime operational staff have received comprehensive training

We were pleased to find that the service had increased staff resources within the risk information team. This has allowed it to provide training to operational staff, including operational wholetime firefighters as well as supervisory and middle managers. This has included a full day of training, including a practical exercise, and extra support and guidance from the risk information team during visits. The wholetime operational firefighters we spoke to were positive about the training they had received. But some firefighters told us that they may require further training and guidance, such as training in completing tactical plans for higher-risk sites. All guidance documents, newly created templates and risk information are stored on the service’s central SharePoint site.

The service sends a questionnaire to the premises owner/manager before an SSRI visit. But its completion requires a lot of information (29 pages), and some staff we spoke to expressed concerns that they may not always receive this information, which can delay the visit. The service would benefit from reviewing whether this process is still effective.

Although staff spoke positively about the new process for gathering and storing risk information and the service’s plans for the future, some felt that IT systems could still be improved. For example, staff felt that the process was still convoluted and that the transfer of risk information records should be automated rather than manual. This would lessen the risk of records being lost or deleted.

A new quality assurance process has been introduced and new mobile data terminals have been purchased

The service has introduced a new quality assurance process that involves the supervisory manager approving risk information records. The station manager then samples and quality assures the records. We recognise that this process is still new and limited records have been quality assured so far.

From the small sample of risk information visits completed, the service has been able to upload this information onto its newly purchased mobile data terminals almost instantly. This is still a manual process, but the service has now removed the software that was causing issues. This allows the administrator to upload this risk information within office hours.

At the time of our revisit, the service was planning to install its new mobile data terminals onto its fire engines. This will allow firefighters to access risk information more easily compared to the current tablets, which have been described as unreliable.

The internal risk-information-sharing process currently manages temporary risks (including individual vulnerabilities). Firefighters make sure that the information is still current and up to date, and other departments, such as fire control, update the temporary risks on a regular basis. We recognise that this process will take some time to complete to make sure that temporary risks are up to date.

Two dedicated officers in fire control upload risk information, such as evacuation strategies in high-rise residential buildings. During our revisit, we sampled one high-rise residential building that had a recent fire but didn’t have any risk information displayed. However, we recognise that this work is ongoing and progress is being made.

Improvements have been made to the mobilising system

During our last inspection, we reported that the mobilising system crashed on some consoles. This was while the fire control operator was taking emergency calls. This unnecessarily delays the mobilisation of resources, which results in the public receiving a slower response to emergencies. During our revisit, we were encouraged to find that the system was more reliable following escalation with the third-party supplier, but the system is still not free from technical faults.

The service had escalated the issues identified with the supplier to the highest level. Regular daily meetings took place to report on progress. Senior directors and engineers are now providing additional support. The managing director wrote to the chief fire officer confirming the actions they are taking to resolve the issues identified. The service has reviewed its contract with the third-party supplier, and the supplier’s response times are being monitored more regularly.

It is thought that the technical fault has been identified, but the service will be carrying out further tests to make sure the mobilising system is stable over a longer period. This is following three further incidents discovered in November 2023.

The operating system in fire control is being updated to Windows 10, which should help the stability of the system. At the time of our revisit, the service was considering the longer-term options of its mobilising system.

A control user group has been set up that allows two-way communication between fire control and senior staff to notify staff of any issues. Staff report issues using a reporting tool, and those we spoke to were confident in recording any issues onto the system. Staff can escalate any issues to senior managers where necessary.

The service has put control measures in place, such as providing staff with wireless headsets and asking fire control operators to log onto two consoles at the start of their shift. Fire control staff are given regular updates, and welfare support has been put in place. Members of the health and safety and well-being team have visited some fire control staff. The service will extend this so that all fire control staff, including managers, understand what welfare provisions are available to them.


We were pleased to see that the service has started to make good progress in relation to both accelerated causes of concern. We recognise that the service has invested time and resources to develop its action plan and has established appropriate and clear governance arrangements, which are being further strengthened following the publication of our full report.

Despite good progress being made, there is still more work to do. While the action plan is comprehensive, it is too early to determine how effective the plan will be in addressing the accelerated causes of concern. We look forward to seeing the future progress made, particularly once all SSRI visits have been completed and the service has tested the stability of its mobilising system over a longer period.

We will return to Avon Fire and Rescue Service on a date to be agreed in the near future. We will assess whether the service has made satisfactory progress with its action plan and whether the service it provides to the public has improved.

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Avon Fire and Rescue Service: Causes of concern revisit letter