Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) have today, Friday 22 January 2021, published the results of its inspection of fire and rescue services’ response to the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic.

In August 2020, HMICFRS were commissioned by the Home Secretary to inspect how fire and rescue services in England were responding to Covid-19, including looking at how fire services are dealing with the problems they face and what changes are likely as a result of the pandemic.

Today, HMICFRS have released the individual findings for every English fire and rescue service, as well as a national report which highlights the “additional and positive contribution” made by the fire service during the initial stages of the national emergency between April and June last year.

Covering HMICFRS’ overall assessment of the effectiveness of Avon Fire & Rescue Service’s (AF&RS) response to the pandemic, the report welcomes its planning for a pandemic and the dynamic way in which the Service adapted to continue to deliver its full range of activities including community safety, business fire protection as well as responding to emergencies.

Commenting on HMICFRS’ findings, Chief Fire Officer Mick Crennell said: “I’m delighted that the Inspectorate has acknowledged the fantastic work of all our staff during such a challenging time for the whole nation. Their response has been amazing and I couldn’t be prouder of the way they stepped forward with such enthusiasm – often in highly uncertain circumstances and over a prolonged period of time – to work alongside our partners in the NHS and meet the needs of our communities.”

Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, overall fire engine availability was up compared to the same time the year before, response times were down and staffing in all areas of the Service was managed effectively.

Councillor Donald Davies, Chair of Avon Fire Authority added: “We are all immensely proud of the way our staff have responded to the coronavirus pandemic and for everything they have done to keep the people of Avon safe these past many months. This new inspection report from HMICFRS highlights just how well the Service responded to such unprecedented challenges in the best traditions of the fire and rescue service”

The report also highlights two areas of focus for continuous improvement. As well as adopting the new and innovative ways of working during the pandemic into future ‘business as usual’, HMICFRS also recommends a continued focus on IT system improvements.

In the AF&RS Service Plan 2019-2022, ‘Investing in digital technology for continuous improvement of our organisation’ was identified as a key objective for the Service. Part of the work that had been undertaken to achieve this, prior to the HMICFRS Inspection, included identifying the gaps in the Service’s IT provision, creating a plan as to how to address this, as well as Fire Authority approval of the significant investment into the Service’s IT infrastructure and the Transformation modernisation programme.

In welcoming the recommendation, Director of Corporate Services, Angie Feeney said: “We really value the benefits of an agile workforce and a modern IT infrastructure is vital for our flexible working arrangements. We’re very pleased that HMICFRS has acknowledged and welcomed our comprehensive IT infrastructure and Transformation modernisation programme which the Fire Authority will be investing £1.5 million over the next five years.”