‘Serious concerns’ over fire service

AVON Fire & Rescue Service is “inadequate” at responding to emergencies – the worst possible rating – according to a damning report.

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services says it has “serious concerns” about how the service keeps people safe from fire and other risks.

A report said its mobilisation system, which records information and dispatches firefighters to incidents, “isn’t reliable and crashes during 999 calls, which results in the public receiving a slower response to emergencies”.

On one occasion it crashed during a request for help from the ambulance service following a serious road traffic collision.

Crashes had been reported 20 times in a year but had “happened many more times”, with some workers no longer formally reporting them. 

In her report inspector Wendy Williams said the service does not have an effective system to record up-to-date risk information, including details of tower blocks.

She raised concerns about fire prevention work after finding that residents at greater risk were not prioritised for home safety visits, which were decided instead on location and convenience.

Ms Williams also raised concerns about service culture and said staff in some teams demonstrated “unacceptable behaviours, such as using sexist or inappropriate language and disguising this as banter”, adding: “Worryingly, some staff don’t have the confidence to report these issues.”

The report was published days before an employment tribunal found a female firefighter based at Avonmouth fire station had been subjected to sex discrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal.

The government watchdog assessed how well AFRS performed in 11 areas and rated it as inadequate in four – understanding fire and risk, preventing fire and risk, responding to fires and emergencies, and promoting values and culture.

Five others “require improvement” and two were rated “adequate”, with none “good” or “outstanding”.

The inspectorate has placed the service in an enhanced level of monitoring to help it address “causes of concern”.

Chief Fire Officer Simon Shilton admitted that the report “makes for uncomfortable reading”.

He said: “I’m sorry if local people feel let down.

“I accept these are the Inspectorate’s findings, and I want to reassure our local communities we have already put plans in place to address some of the concerns raised.

“However, I feel strongly that the findings do not represent who we are as a service.”

Avon Fire Authority chair Brenda Massey said: “It is regrettable that these are the Inspectorate’s findings, despite how much work staff have put into making continual improvements across the service since the last inspection.”

The inspection took place in the summer; the service is now due to be reinspected to review progress.

In respect to the employment tribunal, Mr Shilton said it was “deeply regrettable” that the female firefighter had experienced “inappropriate and unwanted behaviour”.

He added: “The individual who displayed much of these inappropriate behaviours…no longer works for the service and hasn’t for a period of time, after robust action was taken to dismiss him following an internal investigation.”

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service