Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service: Cause of concern revisit letter
HMI Wendy Williams CBE
His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary
His Majesty’s Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services
Chief Fire Officer
Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service
Councillor Martyn Alvey
Portfolio Holder for Environment and Climate Change
15 February 2023
Between March and May 2021, we inspected Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. We identified a cause of concern and made the following recommendations:
Cause of concern
The service still does not have effective systems in place to manage risk-critical information to make sure it is collected, shared and reviewed in a consistent and timely manner.
By 31 August 2021, the service should:
- have a plan in place to manage the backlog of outstanding site-specific risk visits;
- make sure that it regularly updates risk information on mobile data terminals, so that firefighters responding to incidents can see the most up-to-date information;
- make sure that the systems it has in place to share risk-critical safety information between departments are effective; and
- review the plans it has in place to undertake site-specific risk visits to make sure they are achievable with quality assurance and strategic oversight arrangements in place.
You submitted an action plan, setting out how you would address the area of concern and the recommendations.
We have been in regular contact with you to review progress on your action plan. You updated me about the improvement work when I visited Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service in October 2022. This has helped us oversee the improvements you are making.
Between 16 and 19 January 2023, we revisited the service to review progress on your action plan. We interviewed staff involved in developing the action plan, including you as chief fire officer. We interviewed managers and staff with responsibility for the service’s improvement plan. We interviewed staff based at stations and headquarters. On 6 February 2023, we concluded by giving you our initial findings.
This letter provides an update on our findings.
The service has developed a comprehensive action plan. The plan clearly sets out how the cause of concern and associated recommendations will be addressed. Specific tasks were allocated to named members of staff. The service has set a realistic timescale to address the recommendations and achieve improvements.
There were clear oversight and governance arrangements in place to monitor and scrutinise the plan and progress. Internal monitoring takes place through the risk information steering group, strategic quality assurance board and strategic leadership team. In your role as the chief fire officer, you report to the director of neighbourhoods and the chief executive of Cornwall Council. Councillors review the action plan and receive progress reports through the neighbourhoods oversight and scrutiny committee.
During the revisit we found that the improvement plan was largely complete. However, some elements of the recommendations, outlined below, hadn’t been fully addressed. The service should consider how it can introduce additional, more robust assurance to make sure its work is achieving the expected results.
Progress on the cause of concern
The service has made a determined effort to address the cause of concern, including a new team to manage the risk inspection process and complete some visits, and new electronic reports to monitor and support the new inspection programme.
The service has prioritised clearing the backlog of overdue site inspections. Wholetime firefighters completed most of the reviews, prioritising them in their workloads to provide the extra time needed. The service therefore met its target to finish this work by the end of March 2022.
Because of the size of the backlog and the extent of its area, the service decided to complete some assessments by telephone review rather than physically visiting all sites. However, staff weren’t given guidance about which sites should be visited in person, so the service can’t be certain it has accurate information for its highest risk sites. It has started to check the backlog sites and will be making further visits where required to make sure it has accurate information.
Updating risk information on mobile data terminals
The service has set clear timescales for each stage of its inspection programme. This is to make sure inspections are completed, quality assured and loaded on to mobile data terminals (MDTs) promptly. Extra staff have been trained to load information to avoid future delays. A reporting dashboard is used by the central risk management team to monitor progress and take action if there is a risk of delay.
Although the process has improved considerably, more work is needed to make sure the latest correct information is consistently available on all MDTs. We found different records for the same site on two different units. One record was nearly ten years out of date. The service started to check its records to make sure they were consistent after our revisit. It told us this work would take approximately one week to complete.
Sharing risk information between departments
An online form is used to record and share risk information between the prevention, protection, operations and risk departments. Staff we spoke to understood the process. There is a dashboard report that tracks the sharing of risk information. Each department takes responsibility for making sure the information is noted and appropriate action taken. This is a notable improvement in how risk information is shared between departments.
However, we found that some information recorded using this system wasn’t being shared with firefighters sent to an emergency. There was limited awareness of this problem. The service should make sure this issue and the interim solution are communicated quickly to all staff while it seeks a permanent solution to the problem.
Plans for future risk inspections
The service now has a robust and well-resourced plan for site inspections to collect risk information. It monitors its plan to make sure it stays on track.
It has introduced a new policy and created a team to make sure site inspections are completed and risk data managed better. It has set out an achievable programme to inspect all its risk sites over the next five years. Inspection work is allocated to staff in time for it to be planned and completed, and new information loaded onto the MDTs, before its due date.
Responsibility for assuring the quality of risk information is held by station managers and the central risk team. Extra staff have been trained to make sure there are no delays because someone is on leave or away from work. The inspection programme is monitored by the central risk team using a new dashboard report. This makes sure inspections are completed on time and steps are taken when needed so the plan stays on track. The senior risk manager reports progress to a steering group and the strategic quality assurance board receives an update every six weeks.
Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has recognised the problems with its risk information collection and sharing process. It has committed to resolving these and is improving the risk information it provides for its firefighters.
The revisit team was pleased to see the notable progress the service has made. The inspection backlog was cleared, and a new team is managing the inspection programme. Staff we spoke to knew about our concerns and welcomed the new approach to collecting and sharing risk information.
MDTs are being updated promptly with new and revised risk information. There is an effective process for collecting and sharing risk information between departments. A clear and achievable programme for inspecting sites in the future has been developed.
While the service has made positive progress overall, we found some areas that need further attention to make sure reliable, accurate and consistent information is recorded and given to firefighters.
We will continue to monitor progress against the cause of concern through updates from the service and during our next scheduled inspection in 2023.