Fire brigade needs to reform to provide ‘best possible service’ says report

Firefighters will not be able to provide the “best possible service” to people in need unless the fire service is urgently reformed, a report claims.

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services, Andy Cooke, said the service needs to change after his annual report found examples of bullying, harassment and discrimination among staff and brigade leaders.

The London Fire Brigade and Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service were placed in special measures in 2022 because of the way they handle these issues.

Bosses at the London brigade were said to not always act in line with its diversity and inclusivity standards.

Half of fire services were given requires improvement or inadequate grades for fairness and diversity.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Chief Fire & Rescue Inspector Andy Cooke interview
Chief Fire & Rescue Inspector Andy Cooke said the service needs to change after his annual report found examples of bullying, harassment and discrimination among staff and brigade leaders (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Staff surveys found ethnic minority, LGBTQ+, disabled and neurodiverse staff were significantly more likely to say they had been bullied or harassed at work.

The report also highlighted patient safety issues and said it would be a “challenge” to keep communities safe if firefighters vote to strike.

Inspections revealed 14 out of 44 services could improve how they respond to routine incidents while five of them were not ranked good or outstanding.

Fire-related deaths in the year to March 2022, had increased by 15% compared with the previous 12 months.

It added that “we can’t be fully assured” of how crews would respond to a major incident such as the Manchester Arena bombing and told ten fire services to improve how they respond to terrorist attacks.

Some crews were found not to have given their crews enough training on this change on how to help the ambulance service treat patients.

Response times were found to have improved by 13 seconds in the year to June 2022, compared with the previous year to eight minutes 52 seconds, but 11 of 37 services that have specific response standards are not meeting any.

Mr Cooke called for four of the six recommendations of the inspectorate’s previous report which have not yet been implemented to be put into place.

That report called on the Government to pass a law which would give chief fire officers operational independence.

It also urged the department to “precisely define” the role of fire and rescue services, remove variation between services in how they define risk and review how  pay and conditions are determined.

Recommendations in the earlier report which urged the Government to create a code of ethics for the service and  “address the deficit” in its capacity have been implemented.

Mr Cooke said: “Reform of the fire service is still urgently needed… I am frustrated at the lack of progress…. only two of our six recommendations have been implemented.

“I expect to see further commitments from the Government very soon. Both the public and fire and rescue services deserve better.”

Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “The FBU is disappointed with the new State of Fire and Rescue annual report.

“Despite the correct diagnosis, he doesn’t prescribe the correct course of treatment – national standards.

“Neither does the report address more than a decade of central funding cuts, 11,500 firefighter posts lost and years of pay cuts.’