On 15th January 2020, HMICFRS published the ‘State of Fire and Rescue’: The Annual Assessment of Fire and Rescue Services in England 2019. This is the first assessment of efficiency and effectiveness of all 45 of England’s fire and rescue services in over a decade. Within this post, we cover the key themes outlined in Sir Thomas Winsor’s report and comment on how the findings sit against our experiences within the Fire Sector.

  • Operational response is strong, but many services need to improve their protection work
  • The degree of variation between services is undesirable
  • The future of the On-call model needs attention
  • The sector is missing opportunities to use data and technology effectively

Operational response is strong, but many services need to improve their protection work

Tends to be pretty good but incident response has been prioritised by many services during the times of austerity. Although most services do attend incident in a reasonable time, the general trend in performance against locally set response standards that we have seen is downwards – austerity has meant spreading less resources across the service and has generally led to an increase in response times. Even in the light of services prioritising response, time taken to attend is increasing nationally.

In response to reducing budgets, many of the Fire and Rescue Services which we have worked have used our FIRS tool to provide an evidentially supported approach to understand the implications that resourcing decisions would have. HMICFRS’s report highlights a need for fire services to improve protection work referencing recommendations from the initial Grenfell Tower inquiry and a reduction in the size of protection teams. Throughout our experience protection teams tend to be under-resourced. It is not unusual to find teams Protection teams with significant vacancies or large backlogs of work.

Our experience has shown a disconnect between the protection plans outlined within services’ IRMP and the trained firefighters available to carry out these duties. One option of sizing resource requirement for protection is through the use of Workload Profiler tool which also allows for the testing of alternative processes and working practices.

The degree of variation between services is undesirable

Having 45 different services with 45 sets of response standards makes benchmarking comparisons between services difficult with each organisation having a subtly unique perspective on its priorities. It is our belief that the application of consistent metrics across the fire sector would help to improve transparency when it comes to performance. Developing the rationale for consistent fire standards would be challenging, but initial research that we have undertaken suggests some statistical relationships could be derived. Gaining agreement to such metrics would be also be challenging(!);  national organisations such as the National Fire Chief’s Council may be well placed to lead such a task.

In our experience, there is considerable variability in the way in which risk is identified, graded and resourced across different fire services. We have worked with various services to help them identify different risk factors using our HARM tool. Using the HARM-enabled approach may enable a flexible standard to be developed that permits benchmarking but would also help address the fears of more rural services being expected to adhere to standards that are only achievable in more urban services.

The future of the on-call model needs attention

The state of fire report references the fact that many fire and rescue services are struggling to recruit and retain on-call firefighters. There have been substantial changes over the course of the last decade in working habits, lifestyle and general mobility with fewer people consistently in the vicinity of on-call stations many services are finding it challenging to make their current on-call model work with appliance availability being a key factor.

Process Evolution has worked with fire services to size their on-call availability issue, identify the key risks through station profiles and considered how best to appropriately resource the demand placed on the service. Greater flexibility of contracts would appear to be required if sufficient on-call firefighters are to be attracted and retained to service the current model; combining this approach with increased flexibility within the wholetime model may also be required.

The sector is missing opportunities to use data and technology effectively

Although some organisations have built-in analytical support, others are reliant on council departments to do this type of work. This can be a real challenge for some fire services as they don’t have the capability to perform the necessary analysis to process their own data into meaningful management information.

Process Evolution has worked with various services in bringing together their raw data into meaningful analysis, giving decision-makers the ability to make informed evidence-based decisions using our suite of bespoke Fire software tools

To find out more about the work that Process Evolution does within the Fire Sector please contact us