Most fire and rescue services are good at responding to emergencies, but there is too much variation in how well the public are protected, how quickly emergencies are responded to and how well services look after their staff, according to a new report.
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspected 16 fire and rescue services, as well as producing a national summary report.
The report found that most fire and rescue services showed strengths in the way they prepared for and responded to fires and other emergencies, like road traffic collisions.
It also said services rightly focused on prevention activities, with the best adopting innovative practices to protect those most at risk from fire, including the elderly and people with disabilities.
However it warned that more than a decade of localism had led to marked differences between services: for example, in how they have determined their response standards and record them; how they identify and mitigate risk; and how they define and audit high-risk premises.
It also raised a particular concern with Greater Manchester’s inability to respond effectively to terror-related incidents – with the service reliant on firefighters travelling from Merseyside to provide this specialist support.
The report warned that some services have faced significant funding reductions, hampering the service they provide the public. It highlighted that Northamptonshire and Northumberland services may not be able to absorb any further reductions without adversely affecting their service.
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HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, Zoë Billingham, said:
“We are pleased that fire and rescue services show real strengths in training for and responding to emergencies – this work undoubtedly saves many lives.
“However it is concerning that there is too much variation in how fire and rescue services operate, resulting in a postcode lottery in the standards of service the public receives.
“We were particularly concerned about a serious gap in one fire service’s ability to respond to a terror attack. Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service does not currently have its own specialist capability in place to respond effectively to terror-related incidents. This must change.
“In this inspection it was encouraging to find that more services have a strong culture and values, where staff are well looked after and are proud to work for their service.
“Some services are using new and innovative ways to increase the diversity of their workforce and accessing the widest talent pool possible, but we still found some severely outdated practices including a lack of changing facilities and kit for women firefighters. Sustained action is required for fire and rescue services to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome.”
The 16 fire and rescue services were assessed against:
- how effective they are in keeping people safe from fire and other risks;
- how efficient they are in keeping safe from fire and other risks; and
- how well they look after their people.
Fire and rescue services were given overall graded assessments for each of these questions.
In this report, HMICFRS gave the 16 services the following overall grades:
In response to the concerns raised, the report makes two recommendations:
- Standards regarding performance in key areas should be established for fire and rescue services
- The Home Office should address the deficit in the fire sector’s national capacity and capability to support change.