Oxfordshire County Council’s Fire and Rescue Service has received praise from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) following an inspection that assessed its response to COVID-19.

The inspection assessed how effectively and efficiently the service prevents and protects the public against fires and how well it looks after staff.

Her Majesty’s Inspector, Matt Parr, commented in his findings: “The service responded well during the pandemic and provided additional support to its community.

“It used its wholetime and on-call firefighters to respond to emergencies, and the increased availability allowed the service to support its partners, especially the local ambulance trust. This meant the people of Oxfordshire were well supported through the pandemic.”

Rob MacDougall, Oxfordshire’s Director of Community Safety and Chief Fire Officer, said: “Our service puts the safety of Oxfordshire residents at the heart of everything we do.

“Our teams work around the clock, not only during a global pandemic but every single day of the year to support those in need. When things go wrong and residents require our support, we respond quickly and effectively.

“When the pandemic first peaked in 2020, we began working with South Central Ambulance Service and we continue to support it by providing firefighters to drive ambulances and assist their crews. These firefighters are all volunteers from within the service and we thank them for their tremendous effort.

“Our officers and support teams also used their command and project management skills to support the wider Oxfordshire response to the pandemic and were at the heart of many initiatives that supported our communities.

“The recognition from HMICFRS, following our response to the pandemic, is welcomed. I would like to thank everyone who contributes and works hard as a member of our service to protect our communities every day.”

Yvonne Rees, Chief Executive of Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council, said: “The message to our communities in Oxfordshire is that we have one of the best fire and rescue services in England here in our county upon which residents can rely every day to protect, prevent and respond in times of need.”

Councillor Judith Heathcoat, Deputy Leader of Oxfordshire County Council and Cabinet Member for Fire and Rescue, said: “Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is a key partner amongst our regional emergency services. I am proud to see that the hard work of our staff, particularly to all those who supported our ambulance service has been recognised in this inspection.

“Inspections are an important way to get objective feedback on how a service has responded and continues to respond to the pandemic. We are grateful to HMICFRS for its time and commitment throughout this inspection.”

Due to the current lockdown and pressure on the National Health Service, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service remains available to support South Central Ambulance Service.

The inspectorate also recognised the work the service carried out alongside the county council’s emergency planning team in supporting the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum. This involved putting in place necessary command structures to respond to the pandemic and to continue providing services to members of the public.

The pandemic has resulted in unprecedented changes to the way many organisations deliver services and the use of digital technology is no exception. The inspection found that Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is continuing to improve and use technology to ensure it is working in the most effective and efficient way.

The service adapted its free safe and well visits to telephone calls, working with residents to help reduce the risk of fire in the home. During these calls, firefighters provide advice and support to reduce any immediate risk from fire, flooding or power cuts. It also provides advice on health and crime prevention.
The service confirmed that it is still conducting high risk safe and well visits in a COVID-19 secure way. Residents can request a safe and well assessment using the form on the council’s website.