What does good look like?

Last month FIRE looked at the first tranche of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspection reports and in many areas fire and rescue services were found wanting: it was a depressing and sometimes predictable read. It would be easy to focus on the negatives and gloss over the great work going on in services every day of the week. Here FIRE looks at some of the positive evidence drawn from different areas of the reports to get an overview of what good looks like.

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, Zoë Billingham


‘Outstanding’ Lancs

In theory there are no league tables based on the inspection reports, but that did not stop Lancashire announcing: ‘Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service leads in first round of government inspections’. They were rightly proud of being awarded an ‘Outstanding’ grade for promoting the right values and culture under the People inspection pillar.

What does that mean? Well, to start with it means that staff are well supported and there is a real emphasis on managing wellbeing. This is encouraging given the spotlight on mental health after the tragic Grenfell Tower fire. There is a reference to a health and wellbeing framework but a quick search on their website does not unearth it – it would be good to share this and for other fire and rescue services to see the broad range of support services offered to Lancashire staff.

Health and safety gets a good write up: ‘We were encouraged to note that the service clearly does not treat health and safety as a stand-alone item, but sees it as an integral part of all services provided for the public’. The factors leading the inspector to that conclusion include: a clear policy, training at different levels and a process for scrutiny and assurance. In terms of what good looks like, this seems to cover all the bases.

A brief look at how other fire and rescue services did in this area reveals a much more systems based approach where committees review policy but there is little about implementation on the ground. The other inspection reports refer to a lack of engagement with staff on health, safety and wellbeing matters.

But really the reason for the Outstanding judgement is centred on culture and values. The values of Lancashire are found front and centre of their Integrated Risk Management Plan and form a handy acronym, STRIVE (Service, Trust, Respect, Integrity, Valued, Empowered).

Values are lovely but they can be meaningless if they are not actually followed, believed in or have any effect on the way an organisation works. In the case of Lancashire, the Inspectorate found that they were well communicated, ingrained in staff appraisal and brought to life through examples of what each value means – not just words but actions. ‘They recognise that it (the culture based on these values) has been the most important enabler of the changes the service has made over the past decade’.

Completing the narrative for this section of the Lancashire inspection report, there is a strong focus on the relationship between staff and the leadership team; emphasising the importance of staff, representative bodies and all levels of management working hard with a shared purpose.

It is no surprise then that Chief Fire Officer Chris Kenny said on the day the report was published: “It is no accident that the culture and values of the service were rated as Outstanding – this is a reflection of the attributes I see in our staff every day.”

Next month FIRE focuses on Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, and as Chris Kenny prepares to retire at the end of April, he will be able to share his thoughts on what it takes to improve culture and values in an organisation and achieve an Outstanding grading.

“It is no accident that the culture and values of the service were rated as Outstanding – this is a reflection of the attributes I see in our staff every day”

CFO Chris Kenny, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service

Hidden Gems

Turning to a different topic entirely, arson prevention work gets some positive feedback from HMICFRS. Arson does not get a lot of attention these days; it is a bit of back water. But here in the inspection reports there are some gems.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is described as being at the forefront of activity to tackle arson and fire-setting behaviour. Cambridgeshire comes out really well from this inspection with ‘goods’ across the board and it is evidence like this from their prevention work that shows why. The Icarus Programme was introduced to Cambridgeshire FRS in 2014 when community safety officers went in to Peterborough Prison to work with arson offenders. Remaining in the Peterborough area, the programme then worked with the local probation service. It is a therapeutic programme working with offenders over a period of many months.

In June 2017, the scheme was expanded across the whole county. Wendy Coleman, Head of Safeguarding at Cambridgeshire FRS, said at the time: “The benefits of helping people like this are if we can work with these people to change their behaviour and enhance their life skills we will prevent them setting fires in Cambridgeshire in the future, endangering the community and firefighters, and thereby reducing our fire calls.”

There are further examples of arson reduction work cited in the inspection reports for Warwickshire, Lincolnshire, Hertfordshire, Hampshire and Cornwall. They all describe the under the radar work that continues through Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships. It seems old hat now, but the duty still exists and the work continues. The examples demonstrate collaboration with local partners at both a strategic and tactical level.

In a rare example of evaluation – noting that overall HMICFRS was pretty damning about evaluation in the areas of prevention, protection and collaboration as well as incident debriefing – the inspectors praise Hertfordshire FRS in particular. “Community safety staff identify trends in arson-related incidents, and voluntary and staff counsellors support those who have a history of fire-setting. According to evaluation data supplied by the service, 92 per cent of those who received counselling in 2016/17 and 85 per cent in 2017/18 did not reoffend.”

Using data to drive interventions is picked up by HMICFRS in the Hampshire report where deliberate fires have been on the increase. Hampshire FRS collaborates with Hampshire Constabulary (possibly helped by sharing an HQ building in Eastleigh) through its joint arson task force, carrying out fire investigations. The inspectors conclude: ‘The service informed us that the numbers of detections and prosecutions for arson offences in Hampshire is greater than elsewhere in England’.

Data sharing can be a blocker to prevention work, with organisations unable to share data without going through the sometime painful experience of negotiating data sharing agreements. In Cornwall the inspectors found the fire and rescue service is improving data sharing and targeting of support to tackle fire-setting behaviour.

Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Service, like Cornwall, is part of a county council. In its report, the inspectors note that Lincolnshire FRS shares data regularly with Lincolnshire County Council. It goes on to note that an over-reliance on particular partners for data may lead to a distortion of the service’s understanding of local risks. It is an interesting point about county council fire and rescue services that could do with some further probing to see if limited data sharing is common among all in this family group.

Data is a theme running through all the reports, mostly the references are negative but there are a few rays of sunshine around. Perhaps it is time to expose the ones that work to share more widely and get on top of what the problem is with data. It is a big part of the Digital and Data Programme that is being developed by the National Fire Chiefs Council – this is timely and needs to peer long and hard into the inspection reports to see what improvements can be made.

“Brevity of reports may be a reason why the detail is lacking in places, masking the reality of what is happening in fire and rescue services”


Learning on the Increase

It is interesting to look at how the 14 fire and rescue services in this tranche of inspections are learning from incidents. In a post Grenfell world, the spotlight is firmly on how each service is learning from what has happened before and making changes to ensure improved prevention, protection and response.

There are references to post incident debriefing remaining with the immediate crew involved but at the same time the inspection reports refer to evidence of learning emerging from individual services and being shared more widely within services, with neighbours and sometimes nationally. It is clearly a mixed picture.

The Lincolnshire report goes into some detail about the CLOE (circulars and learning outcomes from events) risk information system. Lincolnshire FRS is graded Good for understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies in this part of their report. The inspector notes: ‘This means the service can assess emerging or future changes in risk, and take early action to address them’.

There are references littered throughout the inspection reports about what good looks like. It is a precursor to what standards may emerge once the first inspections are complete. Telling other services what good looks like is a helpful output from the inspection process, but it is not done in a consistent way across all reports in this first tranche.

Lincolnshire is a case in point. On page 17, for example, there are detailed paragraphs on the learning activity going on around operational incidents that seems to provide evidence of what good looks like in terms of evaluating operational performance: recording, reviewing, agreeing actions, assigning responsibility, developing culture that promotes learning and improvement, case studies using a mix of media to suit different learning styles and so on. It begs the question that if HMICFRS do not say explicitly ‘good looks like…’ then does it mean that it is not good?

The National Operational Learning system was only launched by the National Fire Chiefs Council back in October 2018, but has already caught the eye of the inspectors. In Bedfordshire, the inspectors note: ‘We found positive examples of the service contributing to national operational learning (NOL) and joint operational learning (JOL), and of using e-learning to communicate to staff learning from other services’. There is a reference to national operational learning in the Lincolnshire report too.

Elsewhere in the Effectiveness pillar there is a judgement criteria called ‘Keeping the public informed’ and this is where the evidence about the work of communications and media teams is mostly found but in many reports the detail is scant. There is some depth in the Cheshire, Lancashire and Hertfordshire reports, but the detail is underwhelming in terms of describing the creativity and innovation that is exists within communications teams.

What does good look like when it comes to keeping the public informed? In fact, what does good look like when it comes to internal communications too? Only Warwickshire’s report includes evidence of internal communications where the CFO Andy Hickmott introduced the One Service Programme ‘which aims to improve staff engagement, communication and service culture’.

Based on the evidence provided in these reports, good looks like a media team that is available 24 hours a day and is one that uses Twitter and websites to inform the public. That simply is not the case as there are vast amounts of interesting and creative work going on in communications teams across the country as demonstrated at any FirePRO gathering. Hopefully the next tranche of reports will provide a more detailed view on this area of service activity.

What Good Looks Like

It is not possible to draw together all the good stuff in one article, but what the examples here prove is that there is loads going on and that a few lines in an inspection report is never going to do it justice. Brevity of reports (most come in at around 45-50 pages) may be a reason why the detail is lacking in places, masking the reality of what is happening in fire and rescue services.

HMICFRS has a huge responsibility to do justice to the inspection process and get the reporting right, knowing that their words will be pored over in great detail by not only the individual services but by a wide range of stakeholders who work with fire and rescue services every day. Balancing reports that highlight poor practice with good practice is hard but the emphasis so far is more the former than the latter.

Services need to know what good looks like if they are to emulate the best practice already taking place in the Service, so being a bit more explicit and a bit more detailed would be really helpful. The Fire Standards Board will look to the HMICFRS reports as part of the evidence base for its work so it is important if the standards are to drive improvement in the long term.

To be fair to HMICFRS, this is the first attempt at inspecting fire. Fire is most definitely not police, so there is a lot for them to learn too.

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