Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service responds to fire inspection report

Cornwall's residents should have continued confidence in their fire and rescue service to respond to emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, following an independent inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

The inspection report, issued today, rated Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) as 'good' in several areas including the training and skills of firefighters and its response to major incidents, such as the Coverack floods in 2017. The inspection team rated the service as ‘inadequate’ for responding to fires and other emergencies and also noted some areas for improvement including incident response times, the use of paper records and IT systems.

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Prior to the inspection last July, CFRS had self-identified and taken steps to address many of the areas which were later highlighted by the inspectors for improvement. Following a subsequent revisit by HMICFRS in October, Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, acknowledged in a letter to CFRS; “Overall, we were encouraged by what the inspection team found on the revisit… I am pleased to say we found that the service had made a very good start to improving the outcomes to the communities against the areas raised.

”While the report highlights the service's average response time to house fires of 12.5 minutes, it should be noted that response times are measured in different ways across the country. 

Cornwall's Chief Fire Officer Paul Walker explained: " Our firefighters will arrive within ten minutes on three out of four occasions, and within an average of 12.5 minutes across the whole of Cornwall. Residents can be assured that when they call us to report a house fire, a fully equipped fire engine and five firefighters will be on the scene. In the last five months we have increased the availability of appliances with five firefighters across Cornwall from 84% to 93%."

Cabinet portfolio holder for environment and public protection, Sue James said: "I have every confidence in our fire and rescue service in being able to keep our residents safe during their hour of need. This is supported in the report which highlights that 92% of our residents have confidence in the service provided by CFRS. We have been providing this service for the last 70 years in Cornwall. Our on call firefighters live and work in the communities they serve - many have been in the job for more than 20 years. 

“We know the risk factors which make someone more vulnerable to a fire. This local knowledge and this experience, combined with their training, is invaluable to a prompt response, and to helping protect those more at risk from fire. 

"External scrutiny of our operational practices and performance is welcome. The HMICFRS report broadly reflects our self-assessment and we have made recognised good progress against the areas identified.

“This is the first time that HMICFRS have carried out inspections of fire and rescue services. From the report we can see it has been challenging for them to understand the nature of our rural and coastal risks and the wider role of CFRS in keeping residents safe. Our fire and rescue service staff work with other Council teams to engage with businesses and vulnerable residents and alongside other emergency services. It's a shame that the criteria set out for the inspectors did not allow them to fully explore the way we operate locally, as it enables us to be more joined up in profiling and addressing risks. This approach contributes to our effectiveness and efficiency but that could not be fully assessed.”

CFRS receives more than 6,000 999 calls each year, most of which are responded to by on call firefighters. The service has 31 community fire stations, two of which are crewed 24 hours a day, five are permanently crewed between 7am and 7pm (and on call overnight) and 24 are on call stations, crewed by on call firefighters who live or work less than five minutes from their station. During the summer Newquay Community Fire Station is crewed 24 hours a day to reflect the vast influx of visitors to the town. 

Following July's inspection, CFRS set up an improvement board to address the inspection team’s recommendations. The board includes representatives from the fire service who can provide local expertise, as well as independent members who can bring additional insight and challenge to this process.

Improvements made by CFRS since July’s HMICFRS inspection include:

  • Increase in availability of fire appliances crewed by five firefighters from 84% to 93%
  • £260,000 invested in new Mobile Data Terminals which are due to be in place in mid-2019
  • Training in critical control functions has led to staff reporting improved confidence in IT systems