FIRE reports on the Fire Related Research and Developments event which took place at West Midlands Fire Service headquarters on November 13.
The winners of this year’s FIRE Magazine/Gore Research Excellence Award for best presentation went to Essex County Fire and Rescue Service working with the University of Essex. Their paper focused on how to embed evaluation as part of delivering safe and well visits (see pg 25 for an exclusive report from this year’s award winners). It was one of a strong collection of papers that covered a wide range of Fire and Rescue Service related topics at RE19, which was once again hosted by West Midlands Fire Service.
Research Excellence Award Winners
Gina Yannitell Reinhardt is a senior lecturer in the Department of Government at the University of Essex. She has been working with the prevention team at Essex County Fire and Rescue Service to look into the impact and effectiveness of safe and well visits. She reported that staff were reluctant to integrate evaluation into their work, suspicious about the motivation for it, worried that it would perhaps be linked with performance or it would take time away from delivery.
By testing out evaluation methods through a small pilot project, Gina helped the staff at Essex to rethink their safe and well offer to the point now where they always start with the data and embed it into their decision-making. Using Results Based Accountability, they are now able to shape their evaluation activity by analysing how much they did, how well they did it and whether anyone is better off. From that they have a set of performance measures that are assisting their strategic planning and risk modelling as well as into staff performance measures to reflect the importance of evaluation in their programming. As a result of this new approach to evaluation, the project team found a notable increase in confidence by staff when carrying out safe and well visits.
Two papers focused on deliberate firesetting. The first came from Katie Sambrooks who is a research associate in forensic psychology at the University of Kent. Katie carried out a meta-analysis of the reoffending rates for both juveniles and adults. Interestingly, she told the audience that there is no single definition of recidivism, the act of reoffending, so getting a considered view on the rates of it is even harder. Indeed, she said that literature in this area found rates of repeated firesetting varied from four per cent to 60 per cent and used different types of samples so it was difficult to compare like with like.
Katie went on to say: “It is rare to find a pure firesetter who doesn’t engage in any other anti-social behaviour.” Deliberate firesetting is, she argued, a persistent problem and needs a collaborative approach to research to better understand it. She recommended a partnership between academics, clinicians and fire and rescue services.
Joanna Foster, who used to be Head of the Juvenile Firesetters Intervention Scheme at London Fire Brigade and now runs her own company called Fabtic, shared the initial findings from her Masters research. She is carrying out an exploratory study of how practitioners in UK fire and rescue services work with children and young people who set fires identify clients requiring psycho-social interventions. Staff working in this area are able to offer education as an intervention but how do they know which is best?
“There is no national guidance, standards framework, screening tools or risk assessments to help fire and rescue practitioners identify when clients need more specialist treatment programmes.” Joanna shared this surprising fact and went on to describe the online questionnaire that she sent to all fire and rescue services to find out how firesetting interventions work across the UK. With an impressive 100 per cent return rate, Joanna’s findings are a rich source of data for her research.
She found that 11 per cent of fire and rescue services do not provide training to staff involved intervention work, citing a lack of funding or that it was not in the gift of the particular fire and rescue service to do so. Joanna reported that some fire and rescue staff felt that others (outside of their own organisation) were more professional and able to deal with cases, especially complex ones.
“There is no national guidance, standards framework, screening tools or risk assessments to help fire and rescue practitioners identify when clients need more specialist treatment programmes”
Since carrying out the fieldwork, Joanna says that some of the respondents are now asking questions as to how to improve their offer and she is also working with the National Fire Chiefs Council. This is a work in progress and like many papers given at this event, a follow up paper next year will be of great interest1.
1 Joanna has just published her first book, Children and teenagers who set fires: why they do it and how to help. This will be reviewed in the next issue of FIRE.
Turning to the operational response side of fire and rescue services, RE19 had plenty to offer. Alison Brown is a business psychologist from Coventry University and worked with West Midlands Fire Service on a situational judgement test to assess mindsets of firefighters. Reminding the audience of criticisms levelled at fire and rescue services for failing to learn from incidents, Alison’s work focused on the development, initial validation and rollout of a Situational Judgment Test (SJT) to assess mind sets of firefighters.
The SJT was administered to all operational staff in West Midlands Fire Service in November 2018. A total of 163 responses were obtained. The mean mind set score was 73.01 out of 100, where a higher score indicates more of a growth mind set and a lower score a fixed mind set. Alison said that elements of the fixed mind set can manifest themselves. “As rumination and personal shame and are likely to have a negative impact on the firefighter’s ability to learn from personal errors.”
A particularly interesting aspect of Alison’s work came from the women firefighters, where she found that they possessed “significantly stronger growth mind sets than their male colleagues.” She said that this is contrary to the evidence found in the literature on this subject where ordinarily there is no gender difference in the results. Asked why this might be so, Alison suggested that this could be because women who apply tend to have a growth mind set which has motivated their decision to apply and their subsequent development once in the workplace.
The numbers in this study are small so it is hard to draw any firm conclusions, but with a larger dataset, the results could be of real use to assisting recruitment and retention approaches in the future.
Frank Long is a Crew Manager with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service. He is studying part time for a PhD with Imperial College London where he is looking at casualty behaviours during mass decontamination operations. He is collaborating with Public Health England and the NFCC National Resilience Team. He said that the literature review he carried out as part of his PhD revealed that casualty behaviour is a critical factor in a CBRN incident but that training and planning materials used by emergency services do not appear to take it into account.
He described a scenario where a CBRN incident occurs, that the assumption is that casualties will stay within a police cordon until decontamination has taken place. The reality is likely to be quite different, where people leave the scene and potentially spread any contaminants to their own homes or to hospitals if they present to A&E. He referred to the time it takes to set up decontamination facilities at an incident and the low throughput of people meaning that where there are large numbers of casualties, they can be waiting around for a long time – and that becomes problematic over time. It is early days for Frank’s research and with more evidence from closer to home, from the Ocado warehouse fire, he hopes to develop models that can assist planning and training in the future.
Other strands of work focused on dynamics of fire and fire behaviour; fire engineering and infrastructure safety; and on governance and regulation in UK fire and rescue services.
As in previous years, this RE19 attracted papers from a diverse range of organisations and people working in different fields. Those attending came from fire and rescue services, representative bodies, academia and from industry. It remains a very special event with a vibrant community welcoming anyone with an interest in fire-related research to share their work regardless of what stage it is at or where it is from. The organisers will be advertising in the spring for papers to be submitted for RE20.
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