“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,” said Zoe Billingham, HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services speaking about the second tranche of 16 FRS inspections. The headline was that most fire and rescue services are good at responding to emergencies, but there is too much variation in how well the public are protected.
It is a contention that the Fire Brigades Union has long maintained in its stance of rejecting the inconsistency and local variations of integrated risk management plans in favour of national standards of fire cover. At this year’s FBU conference, members voted in favour of a motion stating that in the event of a Labour government the union would demand the implementation of UK-wide standards and structures, including minimum response times and a commitment to five firefighters on every fire engine.
In presenting the results of the second tranche of inspections, HMICFRS 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.
Recent research findings by Professor Pete Murphy, Head of Research: Nottingham Business School, found that IRMPs ‘vary and possibly vary significantly’. He says that fire and rescue services use a variety of reporting periods (from one to nine years) and they also use different names for their IRMPs. ‘This reflects the absence of existing national guidance on templates or standard formats for IRMPs’.
As Nottingham Trent University review the IRMP process, the National Fire Chiefs Council are undertaking a national review of community risk methodologies underpinning IRMPs. Allied to stinging criticism from HMICFRS, it is clear that a comprehensive review of the IRMP process and outcome is long overdue. But should that lead to reinstalling national standards of fire cover?
ORH has done its own research and discovered that a reduction in incident volumes has not translated into an improvement in response times. Looking at IRS data from 400,000 fire incidents to examine the relationships between response times and the effects of fires at a national level, ORH Principal Consultant Graham Holland reported in the June issue of FIRE magazine that there is a correlation between response times and the effects of fires at a national level.
Answering the question ‘do response times matter?’ Graham says they are fundamental to give the public an assurance about what to expect from their local fire and rescue service. ‘Sorting out the definition and the measurement will go a long way to improve the national view on the data so that it is transparent and comparable for all to see… it is timely for the government to update the economic cost of fire; it has been over ten years since the last version was published. We think that it will be useful to HMICFRS in terms of their efficiency assessment and those interested in using fire data to fully understand the impact of changes to not only response times but the whole range of fire and rescue service business’.
Correspondent Tony Prosser observes in the June issue of FIRE magazine: ‘The loss of national standards – speed and weight of attack, agreed crewing confidence levels – means the number of resources attending incidents and the consequential capabilities of those reduced assets can differ according to post code as well as managing expectations between neighbouring services’.
FIRE Editor Andrew Lynch comments in the same issue: ‘That a standardised template for producing an integrated risk management plan has never been produce is disappointing and astounding’.
The Fire Knowledge Briefing, Fire Risk Dilemma: Postcode Lottery or National Standards? will challenge the status quo and seek to answer the searching questions:
- Should we return to national standards of fire cover?
- Are integrated risk management plans fit for purpose?
- Do we need to completely overhaul the fire rescue service response to risk?
- Is speed and weight of operational response good enough?
- Are UK fire and rescue services facing irreversible decline?