This is Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services’ report to the Secretary of State under section 28B of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. It contains his assessment of the sector in England, based on the inspections that were carried out during 2020.
The report draws on findings from inspections in the 45 fire and rescue services in England, to provide an overall view of the state of the fire and rescue sector.
It is noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the practical implications of outdated and inflexible working arrangements in the fire service, reinforcing the need for national reform.
In his annual assessment of England’s fire and rescue services, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, Sir Thomas Winsor, found that:
Fire services rose to the challenge of the pandemic, with many fire and rescue staff taking on additional activities.
Changes to improve fire and building safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire are necessary and welcome.
Progress has been made on introducing a code of ethics to address toxic working cultures found in a few fire services.
However, the Chief Inspector said fire leaders were not always able to quickly deploy firefighters to support the pandemic response – for example the COVID-19 national vaccination programme – because fire National Employers and the Fire Brigades Union failed to reach a national agreement.
In his report, Sir Thomas questions why such an agreement was even necessary during a public health emergency, given there were strong safety protections in place for all fire and rescue staff.
The Chief Inspector has previously made six recommendations for national reform of the fire service, which he said remains necessary and needs to accelerate.
In the second ever State of Fire and Rescue, Sir Thomas re-emphasised his recommendations for fire service reform, including:
Improving a woeful lack of race and gender diversity. Only five percent of fire and rescue staff are from a minority ethnic group, compared to 14.6 percent of the total English population.
The government should change the law to give chief fire officers operational independence, which if put in place before the pandemic, could have helped them deploy firefighters more quickly to do tasks beyond their normal duties.
The way the government allocates funding to the fire sector should be reviewed, as fire services are worried about their long-term financial future once the full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are known.
The full report is available here.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services March 2021