NEWS ‘Vital’ fire safety checks fall

FIRE SAFETY checks in England have fallen by 42% in the last seven years, according to the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). BBC News reported on the

statistics release from the new watchdog, which stated that while fire and rescue services (FRSs) ‘do a good job in emergencies’, cuts have reduced ‘vital’ prevention work, with Avon Fire and Rescue Service rated as ‘inadequate’ in its fire regulation work and ‘promoting the right values and culture’. In response, the Home Office said that it wanted FRSs to take ‘urgent action’ where any failings had been found. Only 14 ‘mainly rural’ FRSs

have been inspected so far, with eight of these told to improve checks: Bedfordshire, Cornwall, Hampshire, Isles of Scilly, Isle of Wight, Lincolnshire, Surrey and Warwickshire. The remaining five inspected were rated ‘good’ for safety audits, including Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Herefordshire and Worcester, Hertfordshire, and Lancashire. HMICFRS praised ‘heroic

rescues’ including at Grenfell Tower, but said that the number of buildings that have had safety checks ‘has been falling steadily’, with inspector Zoe Billingham stating that FRSs might not know risks exist in their local areas, and adding: ‘A vital part of a fire and rescue service’s role is to ensure that premises are being kept safe, but protection work is not a priority currently.’ She noted in turn that FRSs

have different definitions of high risk buildings that are necessary to inspect, ‘making it hard to draw direct comparisons’, with the number of audits carried out dropping from 84,575 in 2010-11 to 49,423 in 2017-18. The report mentioned that ‘the consequences of long-term under-investment in this critical area are too often evident’, and that ‘protection teams are not

given a sufficiently large share of the service’s resource to do their work’.

HMICFRS also criticised

the 14 services’ culture, with a quarter of staff suffering bullying in the last year, and some having ‘no dedicated provision’ for female firefighters to change or shower. Ms Billingham added: ‘We were also concerned to find fundamental cultural problems in too many services. Too often these outdated practices are not occurring under the radar – most worryingly they are seen as the norm. Swift and sustained action is required for fire and rescue services to create a modern, inclusive environment, where everyone feels welcome.’ In response, a Home Office

spokeswoman stated: ‘We are pleased most of the services were judged to be effective at keeping people safe from fire and other risks. However, we are extremely disappointed that HMICFRS found that some services require improvement in how they look after their staff and raised concerns about how some carry out their protection duties. We expect fire and rescue services to take urgent action to address these failings and will be engaging with the sector on next steps.’ Avon Fire Authority responded that the assessment represented a ‘further challenge’, but that the

‘report findings reflect what we already know and are working on’. Jonathan O'Neill, managing director of the Fire Protection Association (FPA), commented: ‘Integrated risk management planning should ensure that fire and rescue services are able to balance activities between prevention, fire safety activity and response. ‘We are concerned that

this fall is due to budgetary constraints and certainly does not reflect any fall in risk. If the Hackitt Review taught us anything it was the importance of effective enforcement. We are concerned that unless and until fire and rescue services are allocated the sufficient additional resources that have been highlighted as required so far, enforcement activity will continue to fall and rogue landlords and building owners could continue to act unhindered.’ Dr Jim Glockling, technical

director of the FPA, added: ‘We know the fire and risk service is suffering at both ends due to budget constraints. Local services often have to decide between prevention and intervention, and we find it particularly worrying if preventative visits are reduced – as nothing can beat educating people on a face to face basis.’ FEBRUARY 2019 11

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