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Drivers for change

IO5: Evolved role of protection

The duties relating to fire safety in non-domestic buildings for fire and rescue services are laid out in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Fire and rescue staff became enforcers of fire safety in non-domestic buildings and the Responsible Person carries out the risk assessment and ensures that necessary mitigation measures are in place. 

The Grenfell Tower fire placed fire protection firmly under the spotlight. Dame Judith Hackitt was asked by the government to look at the whole system of fire safety in buildings and her final report published in May 2018 provides evidence of the need to change the role of the fire and rescue service when it comes to fire protection of buildings. The existing system whereby the responsible person should have a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment also comes under scrutiny in Dame Judith’s report. The government accepted all the recommendations in Dame Judith’s report and work continues to implement these through a combination of legislative and policy changes. 

In October 2019 Sir Martin Moore Bick published his phase one report into the Grenfell Tower fire. The issues of competence for fire and rescue service personnel are covered above. The report goes much further and sets out what the owners and managers of buildings should be required to do and the impact that has on fire and rescue services. The report has implications far beyond the London Fire Brigade and a national response to the recommendations is encouraged. 

At the same time as the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was collecting evidence, HMICFRS was also looking at how fire and rescue services are carrying out fire protection work. They found that many fire and rescue services had run down their fire safety inspection teams as a response to austerity. Most protection teams interviewed by HMICFRS described themselves as under-resourced. The number of qualified staff working in services is low and the amount of resource allocated to both proactive inspection and reactive response in terms of enforcement does not fit the risk.

There is no national definition or standard to define what constitutes a high risk premises. “We saw evidence of services planning their risk-based inspection activity based on staff availability to carry out the work rather than the actual level of risk posed to the public”.

HMICFRS also spend some time in their reports highlighting alternative approaches to inspection that may assist in dealing with a lack of resources. Short audits, using firefighters to carry out low risk inspection and so on. 

In December 2019 HMICFRS published the results of the third tranche of inspections. Under the Effectiveness pillar of inspection, HMICFRS looks at fire protection activity. Out of 45 fire and rescue services, none were outstanding, 20 were good, 22 required improvement and 3 were inadequate.