Fire and rescue services in England are improving but further change is urgently needed – particularly on culture and diversity, according to a new report.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has reported on 15 fire and rescue services across the country in its second phase of its second round of inspections. It identified some encouraging improvements, but also said far more needs to be done to reduce risks to public safety.
HMICFRS found that:
- the sector generally continues to be well prepared to respond to both routine and major emergency incidents;
- there has been a positive shift in services prioritising fire protection, but some services (six out of 15) do not prioritise fire prevention activity enough;
- there were problems relating to values and culture in half of the services inspected (eight out of 15) with some evidence of poor behaviours in parts of the service. In two services, the cultures were found to be toxic;
- fire and rescue staff continue to have confidence in their services’ wellbeing and health and safety arrangements; and
- some services haven’t taken enough steps to promote and improve equality, diversity and inclusion.
The inspectorate has issued six new causes of concern, while three causes of concern for services from its first round of inspections in 2018 and 2019 remain in place. These concerns relate to fire prevention, values and culture, and fairness and diversity.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services Roy Wilsher said:
“In 2021, fire and rescue services attended more than half a million incidents. I am in no doubt of the incredible courage firefighters show each and every day and their dedication to keeping the public safe, and I want to thank them and the other emergency staff who worked so hard last week to protect us all during record breaking temperatures.
“It is encouraging to see many services that received causes of concern in our first round of inspections have taken meaningful steps to improve and act on recommendations.
“We have continued to see a general positive shift in services prioritising protection. The sector needs to continue this focus so the public can experience long-term safety benefits. This must include sustained Government funding to make sure the number of competent fire protection staff continues to increase.
“However, our second full assessment of inspections has continued to identify issues that need urgent attention.
“It’s troubling that some services have failed to act on the causes of concern we issued in 2018 and 2019. We have also issued six new causes of concern, making a total of nine across seven of the 15 services inspected in this phase. Whilst this is fewer than our previous tranche of inspections, it is too many.
“Four of these causes of concern relate to values and culture, and we saw some worrying examples of poor behaviour during our inspections. In two services, these cultures were found to be toxic and that is not good enough. We continue to find too many services haven’t taken enough steps to promote and improve equality, diversity and inclusion. Worryingly, too many services don’t prioritise fire prevention activity enough – this is crucial for public safety.
“While I am calling on services to tackle these issues as a matter of urgency, more needs to be done externally too. I welcome the White Paper on fire reform, published earlier this year, which addressed three of our four outstanding national recommendations, including determining the role of services and firefighters, reviewing terms and conditions, and providing operational independence for Chief Fire Officers.
“I hope the way these proposals are implemented will address those three recommendations and match the Government’s original appetite for reforming the fire and rescue service so they can provide an even better service to the public.”