Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service revisit: Cause of concern – progress letter

Published on: 19 January 2024

Letter information

Roy Wilsher OBE QFSM
His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary
His Majesty’s Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services

Andrew Hopkinson
Chief Fire Officer
Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

Sent on
19 January 2024


Between 6 February 2023 and 20 April 2023, we inspected Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. Following our inspection, we identified the following cause of concern and made the accompanying recommendation:

Cause of concern

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service cannot assure itself that operational members of staff meet the minimum fitness requirements to perform their role.


Within 28 days, the service should provide an action plan that details how it intends to make sure all staff meet the minimum fitness requirements.

On 14 September 2023, you submitted an action plan setting out how you intended to address the area of concern and our recommendation.

Between 27 November 2023 and 1 December 2023, we carried out a revisit to review progress against the action plan and the arrangements for overseeing it.

During the revisit we interviewed the staff who were responsible for implementing the action plan. On 19 December 2023, we shared our initial findings with you. This letter provides an update on our findings.


We found appropriate and sufficient governance arrangements in place to monitor progress of your action plan.

For example, a principal officer now has strategic oversight of and responsibility for the plan. This person provides regular updates to Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Authority on the progress made.

Action plan

A senior responsible officer is responsible for monitoring progress on the inspection improvement plan. This officer reports to the corporate management team. The action plan includes a risk rating, target delivery date and specific action owners.

Progress against the cause of concern

The service has made good progress against its action plan, supported by senior leadership.

In the last inspection, the service provided fitness data. This showed that, in 2022/23, only 33 percent of firefighters had completed fitness testing. Since then, the service has used an external provider to address the backlog of fitness tests.

During our revisit the service told us that 390 operational firefighters needed to complete a fitness test. The service provided data which showed that, between 1 April 2023 to 1 September 2023, 366 operational firefighters had completed this test.

We found that the service applies the testing programme in line with its fitness policy. Only one firefighter didn’t reach the standard set by the service. The service safeguards the public by removing from operational duties any firefighter who doesn’t reach the required standard. The firefighter is then placed on a fitness programme and retested.

The service has appointed a fitness adviser to maintain and co-ordinate fitness testing. At the time of our revisit, it had three qualified and competent physical fitness instructors to test operational firefighters.

As part of our inspection, we reviewed fitness records. We found that documentation clearly shows whether a firefighter has met or failed to meet the required standard. The occupational health team monitors the annual programme. It tracks which firefighters are due to be tested and keeps them updated.

We note that the records of fitness tests are kept on a paper-based system before they are transferred to the occupational health team. Staff told us they would like to see a more secure way to store medical information.

We were assured that the service consistently applies fitness tests to both wholetime and on call firefighters. However, we found that its policy requires different levels of testing for different ranks. We note that as part of the action plan, the service’s new fitness adviser will review the current fitness policy.

The service’s fitness instructors work closely with staff who need extra support. Each person receives a detailed improvement programme tailored to their needs. The service makes reasonable adjustments where needed.

As part of the fitness test, each firefighter completes a pre-health questionnaire to make sure they are fit to participate. The questionnaire covers whether they may need any reasonable adjustments for the test. We found that the service could keep a more accurate record of the reasonable adjustments requested or considered.

We found that some documentation could provide more detail about the relationship between protected characteristics and fitness testing. For example, the health and safety risk assessment doesn’t consider the effect of menopause symptoms depending on gender.

We found that some staff hadn’t been consulted on the content and design of the action plan. Most staff told us that the service hadn’t explored or used the skills or ideas of the wider workforce.

The service has recently approved a paper that proposes to re-introduce the physical training instructor role on each fire station. This will involve recruiting staff from across the service, and will make sure the service’s plans are more resilient and robust. The funding will be taken from the external training budget. We look forward to seeing the progress of this in our next inspection.


During our revisit, we were pleased to see the significant efforts Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service has made in response to the cause of concern. It has improved the way in which it assures itself that operational members of staff meet the minimum fitness requirements to perform their role.

We recognise the considerable work that the service has carried out to improve. As a result, we now consider this cause of concern to be discharged.

We will continue to monitor the service’s progress as part of our next scheduled inspection of the service.

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Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service revisit: Cause of concern – progress letter