More fire appliances are now more regularly available to respond to incidents in Northamptonshire and they are responding more quickly as a result of an improvement plan put in place following an inspection of Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Services, published in June 2019.
The inspection took place in November 2018 and the report that followed included an assessment of how effectively and efficiently NFRS protects the public and responds to fires and other emergencies. That report was critical of Northamptonshire FRS’s ability to respond to incidents as it did not consistently have its minimum number of fire engines available. However, during a second visit in June 2019, HMICFRS acknowledged that the Service had made ‘significant improvements’.
Since the report, NFRS has focussed on these areas of work to improve the service to local people by introducing new management arrangements and scrutiny, to ensure that issues that may effect on call and whole time firefighter availability are quickly identified and dealt with. There has also been a focus on recruitment and retention.
As a result, the Fire and Rescue Service has achieved:
• A continuous improvement in appliance availability since November 2018, where the number of fire engines available was regularly below 50% of the fleet, or less than 14 appliances. This is now on average 18-20 appliances. Between 7pm and 7am this is often around 20 – 24 appliances, which is particularly important as the evenings present the greatest risk while everyone is at home cooking or asleep.
• Average response times have reduced from 11 minutes 15 seconds to just over 10 minutes
These improvements will be further enhanced by the recruitment of 20 new whole-time firefighters due to start training in February 2020, and an additional 12 whole-time firefighters who have been specially recruited to support daytime availability. This will increase the whole-time strength of NFRS to 254 from 242 fire fighters.
NFRS is also continually recruiting on-call firefighters and has recruited 40 more during both 2018 and 2019, making a massive difference to improving appliance availability.
At the same time, NFRS is purchasing seven new vehicles – four fire engines, a new aerial appliance and two water rescue vehicles – to replace aging and outdated equipment. Some of the fire engine fleet is currently more than 18 years old.
Northamptonshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Stephen Mold took over governance of the Fire and Rescue Service in January 2019 and enabled this investment in firefighters and equipment.
Stephen Mold said: “Our Fire and Rescue Service has already made tangible strides forward – that is really encouraging and good for the safety of the people in this county. I am grateful for the focus that the Chief Fire Officer and his team have brought to improving the service, making the best use of resources and responding flexibly to give the best possible cover. Moving to my Office has brought stability and certainty that has allowed NFRS to plan and develop and we are already seeing the results of that.
“I am excited that this puts NFRS in a strong position to innovate and look at ways to benefit from even closer working with Northamptonshire Police to further enhance the service that the public receive. I don’t underestimate the challenges that the staff have faced in making these improvements so quickly, but they have risen to the challenge, and I thank them on behalf of the public.”
Darren Dovey, Chief Fire Officer, said: “We have worked very hard to make improvements in our service, creating a bank of daytime staff and changing our approach so that we can respond more flexibly and quickly. Our focus is on providing the best possible service to the people of this county and we are proud to be a service the public can trust to save lives and keep them safe.
“We hope that the inspectorate will see the huge amount of work everyone has done to improve appliance availability and reflect that in their report of the Service next time they visit. I am proud how all our staff continue to work together to protect the public, especially our on-call staff, who often provide cover against competing personal pressures. I am continually grateful for their hard work and commitment.
“One year on from the change in governance, we are in a more stable position, able to invest and make the innovations that we want to make. There is still more work to be done but we are now able to plan for our own future and that is clearly bringing progress that embeds us as a strong, resilient fire service.”
These improvements will be reported to the Northamptonshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel later today (January 6).