Norfolk fire service rated 'inadequate' at preventing blazes in critical report
Norfolk’s fire service has been heavily criticised in an official inspection report for failing to do enough to stop blazes from breaking out.
The organisation was rated as ‘inadequate’ at preventing fires, with inspectors branding failures to identify people at risk as a “cause of concern”.
The inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service found 15 areas ‘requiring improvement’ had not improved since the last inspection in 2019.
Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) said the report shows more needs to be done but some key areas are at a ‘good’ standard.
The report comes just days after NFRS declared a major incident, meaning there was not enough resources to meet demand as it dealt with 300 blazes at the height of last week’s heatwave.
Inspectors carried out their survey before the recent fires.
They praised the fire service for its ability to respond to fire and other emergencies, as well as its learning from national incidents such as the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Other findings from the evaluation include:
- The service does not always carry out serious incident reviews following fatal fires meaning there is no learning from the event
- The service needs to do more to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination – 16 per cent of staff surveyed said they experienced harassment and 15 per cent discrimination
- Vulnerable people were not being referred to other organisations that may be better able to care for them
- Firefighters are not carrying out ‘safe and well visits’ or person-centred home fire risk checks and no face-to-face activity was carried out through the pandemic
- Culture and behaviours need improvement to make staff feel appreciated
- Evaluations of operational performance is ‘inconsistent’
The inspector, Roy Wilsher, said: “I have concerns about the performance of NFRS in keeping people safe and secure from fires and other risks.
“In particular, I have serious concerns about how it keeps the public safe through its prevention activity.”
The inspector added he was “disappointed” that the service has not made more progress since the 2019 inspection.
Responding to the report, interim chief fire officer Tim Edwards said: “We welcome the report and are pleased that four areas of our work were recognised as being good, with two of these improving since our last full inspection in 2019 and I am proud of the work our service has done over the past three years and continues to do each day.
“As a learning organisation, we have already taken steps to improve some of the other areas highlighted in the report, since the inspectors’ visit last Autumn.
“We are of course disappointed with some of the inspection findings and are committed to reducing risk and creating a safer Norfolk for all.”
Mr Edwards said some of the issues surrounding fire prevention were due to the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the focus to shift onto the “wider response” in the county rather than addressing organisational improvements.
“We did deliberately reallocate resources during the pandemic but because of that we haven’t done as much prevention work as we would have liked.”
Mr Edwards said vulnerable people were still supported but going forward work was needed to better identify where people in need are, with staff receiving training to help this.
On staff raising concerns about bullying the fire officer said he did not think the service has a specific problem, but it needed to better at ensuring staff know how to behave and making it clear issues will be addressed.
The next steps will see an improvement plan go before councillors in September, Mr Edwards stressed the services continues to make changes behind the scenes to better deliver for Norfolk.
What are politicians saying?
Margaret Dewsbury, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for communities and partnerships said the authority was committed to supporting the improvements required and has already taken steps to address some areas.
“We have committed extra resources to increase staffing within the prevention and protection departments. I was pleased to see that improvements in some areas have been recognised, which is testament to the commitment of the team.”
Steve Morphew, the Labour group leader, said last week’s fires show how vital the service is.
He said: “The inadequate rating of fire prevention is especially shocking but that isn’t the only critical area the service has not just failed to improve but gone backwards since the last inspection.
“This simply isn’t good enough, County Hall cabinet has to own up to failing Norfolk down.
“Firefighters do a first-rate job but have been let down by underinvestment and political failure to provide leadership required to ensure we have the fire and rescue service we need.”
How was the service graded?
- Effectiveness – Requires improvement (2019: Requires improvement)
- Understanding fires and other risks – Good (Requires improvement)
- Preventing fires and other risks – Inadequate (Requires improvement)
- Protecting the public through fire regulation – Good (Requires improvement)
- Responding to fires and other emergencies – Good (Good)
- Responding to major and multi-agency incidents – Good (Good)
- Efficiency – Requires improvement (Requires improvement)
- Making best use of resources – Requires improvement (Requires improvement)
- Future affordability – Requires improvement (Good)
- People – Requires improvement (Requires improvement)
- Promoting the right values and culture – Requires improvement (Requires improvement)
- Getting the right people with the right skills – Requires improvement (Good)
- Ensuring fairness and promoting diversity – Requires improvement (Requires improvement)
- Managing performance and developing leaders – Requires improvement (Requires improvement)