Fire and Rescue Services inspection finds 'postocde lottery'

By agency reporter
June 24, 2019

Most fire and rescue services are good at responding to emergencies, but there is too much variation in how well the public are protected, how quickly emergencies are responded to and how well services look after their staff, according to a new report.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspected 16 fire and rescue services, as well as producing a national summary report. The report found that most fire and rescue services showed strengths in the way they prepared for and responded to fires and other emergencies, like road traffic collisions.

It also said services rightly focused on prevention activities, with the best adopting innovative practices to protect those most at risk from fire, including the elderly and people with disabilities.

However, it warned that more than a decade of localism had led to marked differences between services: for example, in how they have determined their response standards and record them; how they identify and mitigate risk; and how they define and audit high-risk premises.

It also raised a particular concern with Greater Manchester’s inability to respond effectively to terror-related incidents – with the service reliant on firefighters travelling from Merseyside to provide this specialist support.

The report warned that some services have faced significant funding reductions, hampering the service they provide the public. It highlighted that Northamptonshire and Northumberland services may not be able to absorb any further reductions without adversely affecting their service.

HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, Zoë Billingham, said: “We are pleased that fire and rescue services show real strengths in training for and responding to emergencies – this work undoubtedly saves many lives.

“However it is concerning that there is too much variation in how fire and rescue services operate, resulting in a postcode lottery in the standards of service the public receives.

“We were particularly concerned about a serious gap in one fire service’s ability to respond to a terror attack. Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service does not currently have its own specialist capability in place to respond effectively to terror-related incidents. This must change.

“In this inspection it was encouraging to find that more services have a strong culture and values, where staff are well looked after and are proud to work for their service.

“Some services are using new and innovative ways to increase the diversity of their workforce and accessing the widest talent pool possible, but we still found some severely outdated practices including a lack of changing facilities and kit for women firefighters. Sustained action is required for fire and rescue services to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome.”

Cllr Ian Stephens, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Fire Services Management Committee, which represents 48 fire and rescue authorities in England and Wales, responded saying: “This report reaffirms that the key strengths of fire and rescue services are their dedicated staff respond effectively to emergencies to help save lives and prevent fires, the public’s great respect for them, and the increasing priority given to support services for their workforce who have to deal with traumatic incidents.

“Improvements have been made in the short period since the first tranche of inspections, including significant and ongoing sector transformation. However, with nearly half of those fire and rescue services inspected relying on old and unreliable equipment, and some unable to absorb any further budget cuts, it is clear that more funding is essential if they are to modernise and deliver these improvements to their full potential.

“We therefore support the report’s call – in particular in its recommendations - for the Home Office to consider resourcing issues.

“The report’s recommendations in respect of consistency are ones we can support, however defining high-risk premises and related auditing processes should be considered in accordance with the recommendations of the Hackitt Review. We already work very closely with the Home Office and the National Fire Chiefs Council and look forward to discussing how we can take these recommendations forward.

“Although funding cuts have limited recruitment of firefighters in recent years, most fire services in England are now actively recruiting, which is already helping to develop and retain a more diverse workforce.

“With local government facing an £8 billion funding gap by 2025, the Government needs to use the Spending Review to ensure fire and rescue services are properly resourced and funded to ensure they can continue to protect the public in all circumstances.”

* Read the report here

* Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/

* Local Government Association https://www.local.gov.uk/

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