What next for UK fire and rescue services?
Key themes we might see in the White Paper
There’s broad agreement that the fire and rescue service needs reform. The latest assessment of the sector in England by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services reinforces this point. A new white paper is due later this year with recommendations from the Home Office about changes.
What might we see in that white paper? Here at FlamePro we’re not experts in governance (just in protective kit), but we’ve listened to the sector and some key themes have emerged.
The changing role of the modern firefighter
From providing extra capacity to move dead bodies to giving vaccines and delivering PPE, the fire service played a critical role during the pandemic. The international emergency allowed fire brigades up and down the country to demonstrate, once again, they can do more than just put out fires.
Firefighters have been much more than the name suggests for many years. While tackling blazes will always be a priority, prevention work is now a central part of the brief. So is working alongside other emergency services at incidents such as terrorist incidents, floods, and road traffic collisions.
Is “firefighter” even the right term any more? Fighting fires is absolutely a core part of the role, but it’s not where the majority of brigades spend their time.
We’re not just saying that. In 2020, tackling fires only accounted for 29% of the incidents attended in England, the same percentage as non-fire incidents. This compares to fires being 35% of incidents ten years ago. The rest of the incidents in 2020 were false alarms (42%).
Efficiencies in fire and rescue structures and lines of command
Scotland has one fire and rescue service. The previous eight regional brigades were merged in 2013.
The latest report by HM Inspectorate of Fire and Rescue services in England lists national reform as a priority. It says changes should address “the deficit in the fire sector’s national capacity and capability to support change”. And that precise definitions of the role of fire and rescue services and the people who work within them should be created.
The report also calls for “greater clarity on activities such as co-responding (supporting the other emergency services), responding to floods, responding to terrorist attacks and wider public safety”. We don’t think frontline firefighters would disagree.
Will a similar structure to Scotland be on the table? Or will Government see the available efficiencies in sharing HR, finance, and other central services with, for example, regional police forces as a route to reform?
Risks and threats to fire brigades
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it; or so they say. The issue for England’s fire and rescue services, according to HM Inspectorate, seems to be that brigades measure the same things differently. A common approach to assessing, measuring, and managing risk is called for.
One of the emerging risks is contamination, especially from particulates, which can be carcinogenic. This is already high on the agenda in the US and mainland Europe; the industry in the UK is just developing its understanding of these risks. What’s clear is that protection can be provided by kit. But behaviour is also a critical piece of the jigsaw.
Not long ago, firefighters would have put their dirty gloves in their helmets after a shout. Now we know the gloves are likely contaminated with particles which can seep through the head’s thin skin. The kit didn’t need to change to address this risk, behaviour did.
With most brigades having a mix of retained and full-time firefighters, training to build a mutual understanding of risks and how to manage them will be more important than ever.
Here at FlamePro we’re keen to see whether Government makes any bold moves to remove barriers and enable the Fire and Rescue service to adapt. As demands change, so should the industry’s ability to respond.
To discuss your requirements and learn more about the range, give one of our friendly team a call on +44 (0) 1332 341030.