Response times to fire incidents have gradually increased over the past 20 years across England, according to the latest statistics released by the Home Office.

While the response to primary fires – potentially more serious fires that harm people or can cause damage to property – has not changed since 2016/17, they have increased, on average, by 34 seconds since 2012/3.

The latest figures concentrate on average fire incident response times between April 2017 and March 2018.

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has responded to the new statistics, stating that while it is encouraging that response times have not increased in the last 12 months, the increase over the past two decades maybe a cause for concern.

In total, 21 services have shown a decrease in average response times to primary fires, 23 have shown an increase and one showed no change.

Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council said: “Response times are important for public safety and have plateaued since 2014/15, but we can’t ignore the increase we have seen over the past two decades.

“We need to look in detail at the reasons behind this; including the the type of fires, the risk involved and any impact this may have.

“It is essential the public have confidence in their fire service and the response times, but just as important as averages is whether the local service is meeting its declared response time’.

“We have seen a 23 per cent reduction in fulltime firefighters since 2010 which needs addressing through appropriate government funding mechanisms. It is essential the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review takes resourcing to risk, as well as demand, into account. NFCC is working towards providing the government with a robust evidence case to support this.

“Fire services will be facing additional pressures including recommendations set out in the independent Hackitt Review into Building Regulations and outcomes of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, which also need to be appropriately funded to ensure a balance between Protection, Prevention and Response.”

Two types of primary fires have shown an increase in response times in 2017/8 (dwelling fires and ’other outdoor’ fires. This could be due to changing traffic levels, ‘drive to arrive’ policies which see driving modifying, depending on risk.

Call handling times have also plateaued, with a decrease in some areas, while crew turnout times have consistently decreased across all response times.

In previous years, the Home Office published the ‘total response time;’which is the minutes and seconds taken from the time of call to the time to arrival at the incident This data release includes detailed components including call handling time, crew turn out time and drive time.

Main findings

  • Overall, total response times to fires have increased gradually over the past 20 years. But have generally plateaued since 2014/15
  • The average total response time to primary fires (potentially more serious fires that harm people or cause damage to property) was 8 minutes and 45 seconds: no change since 2016/17 but an increase of 34 seconds since 2012/13
  • Two types of primary fires showed an increase in average response times in 2017/18 (dwelling fires by 2 seconds and ‘other outdoor’ 2 fires by 8 seconds), road vehicle fires were unchanged and ‘other building’ fires decreased by 1 second compared with 2016/17
  • Average total response time to secondary fires in 2017/18 (which can broadly be thought of as smaller outdoor fires, not involving people or property) increased by 1 second to 9 minutes 10 seconds compared with 2016/17 and increased by 48 seconds compared with 2012/13
  • Call handling times have followed a similar pattern to total response times (plateauing from 2014/15 with some signs of decreasing to 2017/18), crew turnout times have consistently decreased across all fire types but drive times have increased across all fire types
  • Fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) in predominantly urban areas had an average total response time of 7 minutes 39 seconds to primary fires in 2017/18: a decrease of 4 seconds compared with 2016/17 but an increase of 25 seconds since 2012/13
  • Average total response time to primary fires in significantly rural FRAs was 10 minutes and 6 seconds in 2017/18: an increase of 12 seconds and 1 minute 4 seconds since 2016/17 and 2012/13, respectively
  • Average total response time to primary fires in predominantly rural areas was 10 minutes 32 seconds: a decrease of 2 seconds since 2016/17 but an increase of 18 seconds since 2012/13
  • The average response time to dwelling fires involving casualties and/or rescues in England in 2017/18 was 7 minutes 33 seconds. This was a decrease of 9 seconds compared with 2016/17 but an increase of 28 seconds since 2012/13

The full report can be found at: