Since the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010 Fire and Rescue Service budgets have significantly reduced. The substantial cuts in funding, brought about by austerity, have left Chief Fire Officers with incredibly difficult decisions in how to apportion their limited resources. In this blogpost we examine some of the key themes emerging in the Fire Sector during this period.

 

Fewer Wholetime Firefighters leading to longer response times

Over the last decade the number of Wholetime Firefighters in England has reduced by over 25%, from 30,580 in 2008 down to 22,580 in 2018. Losing 1 in every 4 Wholetime Firefighters will undoubtedly have had an impact on Fire and Rescue Service’s ability to deploy to incidents in a timely manner. There are considerable differences in the way that each Service measures performance, the general trend is that Services are taking longer to get to incidents and performance against targets has tended to deteriorate.

 

Fire and Rescue Services becoming more reliant on On-Call Firefighters

While there have been reductions in both Wholetime and On-Call Firefighter numbers across England, the national proportion of On-Call resources (% total FTE) has risen marginally to 30.2%. There are however regional variances, with some Fire and Rescue Services, becoming more and more reliant on the support provided by On-Call Firefighters. Historically On-Call Firefighters have been a tremendous resource that has provided communities, predominantly in rural areas with Fire support. However, more recently many Services have raised concerns about levels of On-Call availability having seen levels of availability deteriorate sharply. When On-Call appliances go ‘off the run’ overall coverage levels diminish, potentially leading to decisions in the Control Room which may include standby moves or mobilisation of available resources.

Reduced levels of Prevention and Protection activity

Faced with finite resources, many Services have seen largescale reduction in the number of people working in the Prevention and Protection areas. This has generally led to a drop in the volume of Home Fire Safety Visits being carried out by Fire Services in England. The Home Office data shows a decline of over a quarter of annual visits in the last decade.

Similarly, the number of Fire Safety Audits has also dramatically reduced. As demonstrated by the 41.6% reduction since 2011/1

The general reduction in Protection and Prevention activity was a key area referenced by HMICFRS in the two initia tranches of their inspections, which stated:

“We found that, too often, it is under-resourced and not always as effective as it could be. In many of the Fire and Rescue Services we inspected, budget restrictions have disproportionally fallen in protection teams. Services told us they are struggling to recruit, train and retain staff with the specialist skills they need to carry out the complex technical protection work. This means that important protection work to improve standards of fire safety in premises such as hospitals and care homes isn’t always being done as often as it should”

“In summary, 45 different ways of defining and doing things is not helpful in some situations. There should be more consistency, for example, in how fire and rescue services define risk and calculate and communicate response standards to the public.”

Summary

Undoubtedly budget cuts have had a massive impact on Fire and Rescue Services and their ability to respond to incidents and deliver critical services. The steer from the HMICFRS inspections shows a need for greater consistency with Fire and Rescue Services to better understand Risk and Vulnerability, with a need to place greater focus on Protection and Prevention activities.