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Cornwall fire service not reaching emergencies fast enough

Cornwall fire service not reaching emergencies fast enough

Published by the Pirate FM News Team at 6:45am 20th December 2018. (Updated at 9:57am 20th December 2018)

By Local Democracy Reporter, Richard Whitehouse

A first ever inspection of Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has found that its response times to fires and emergencies are “inadequate”.

The inspection report has been published today and has graded the service under three headings; effectiveness, efficiency and people. The ratings are on a scale of one to four.

The inspection was carried out in July by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMIC).

After the initial findings were given to Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) there was a follow-up visit in October to see what had been done to address any issues and assess an action plan which was drawn up in response.

Under effectiveness and efficiency the service has been given a rating of two - "requiring improvement" - while for people it is rated as three - "good".

There are 11 specific areas which the fire and rescue service has been inspected on. Six were rated "good", four were rated "requires improvement" and one was rated "inadequate".

The inadequate rating was for responding to fires and other emergencies about which the inspectors said they had "serious concerns".

In the 45-page report it states: "We have serious concerns about Cornwall FRS's response to incidents. The service consistently doesn't meet target response times for fires, especially in remote areas served by on-call stations".

The report adds: "The service is consistently failing to meet target response times for fires, especially in more remote areas covered by on-call stations.

"Data supplied by the service shows it is achieving 74% attendance against a ten-minute target which it has undertaken to meet on all occasions.

"Response times have been increasing. In the 12 months to 31 March 2017, the average response time to primary fires in Cornwall was 12 minutes 28 seconds, which was an increase from the same period in 2016.

"This is the highest response time of all services in England".

CFRS chief fire officer Paul Walker said that while the service always wanted to improve response times he believes the inspectorate had not fully recognised the challenges which face the service due to Cornwall's geography and rurality.

He said: “I think the inspectors are city-centric. The inspectors are from metropolitan brigades, there isn’t a clear understanding of rural risks.”

Mr Walker said CFRS had set itself a target of getting to every call within 10 minutes and was currently meeting it between 75% and 80% of the time.

He added: "We understand that we didn't hit the target and we can and will do something about that".

Mr Walker defended the 12 minutes and 28 second average response time saying it was due to the rural nature of the county and the way the fire service is run in Cornwall.

He highlighted that there are 126 full-time firefighters in Cornwall and 400 retained on-call firefighters who responded to 6,000 calls.

This is also highlighted in the report which states that 34% of the CFRS is full-time firefighters compared to 70% for other fire services in England.

"We allow two minutes for call handling to get the information to operators. Five minutes for on-call staff to respond to calls from work or home. Across Cornwall we have an average response time of around 12 and a half minutes.

"People in Cornwall understand and recognise the challenges that we face in our geography and the seasonal changes in the summer.

"They are very impressed that we hit 12 and a half minutes and that is reflected in the residents' satisfaction survey which shows 92% of people are happy".

Chief Fire Officer, Paul Walker

Mr Walker also said he was disappointed that there was not more mention in the report about some of the multi-agency work and innovations which CFRS has been involved with.

He highlighted the work which is being done with tri-service officers which have not only improved collaboration between fire, police and ambulance services but has also placed firefighters full-time in locations which would otherwise rely on on-call firefighters.

The chief fire officer also said the service had played a key part in Cornwall Council's safer towns partnership and had led on plans to install sprinklers in every new home that the council builds.

Mr Walker was also very pleased with the rating of "good" for the "people" category, saying he was "really proud about how we look after our people".

The report also praised CFRS for how it responds to major incidents - highlighting the response to the flooding in Coverack in summer 2017.

Since the initial inspection was carried out and following the October follow-up visit the HMIC issued a letter which gave an updated picture about CFRS.

"Overall, we were encouraged by what the inspection team found on the revisit.

"All staff we spoke to proactively told us that the areas identified for improvement in the first inspection were areas that they knew they needed to improve upon.

"They said the inspection had allowed them to refocus on their priority of serving the public.

"I am pleased to say that we found that the service had made a very good start to improving the outcomes to the communities against the areas raised".

Inspector Wendy Williams

What are the full inspection report ratings?

Effectiveness - Requires Improvement

Understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies - Requires Improvement

Preventing fires and other risks - Good

Protecting the public through fire regulation - Requires Improvement

Responding to fires and other emergencies - Inadequate

Responding to national risks - Good

Efficiency - Requires Improvement

Making best use of resources - Requires Improvement

Making the fire and rescue service affordable now and into the future - Good

People - Good

Promoting the right values and culture - Good

Getting the right people with the right skills - Good

Ensuring fairness and promoting diversity - Good

Managing performance and developing leaders - Requires Improvement

"We have concerns about the performance of Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service in keeping the public safe and secure.

"In particular, we have serious concerns about the service's effectiveness. In view of these findings, we have been in regular contact with the chief fire officer, as we do not underestimate how much improvement is needed.

"The service needs to be more effective. In particular, its response to fires and emergencies is inadequate. And it should improve its understanding of risks and the way it uses fire regulation to protect the public.

"But we found its prevention work is good, and it is ready to respond to national risks. The service's efficiency requires improvement, particularly in the way it uses it resources. It does, though, provide an affordable service".

Overall Report Summary

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