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Where we are now

IO4: Innovative approaches to prevention


Prevention activity

The fire and rescue service has been striving to reduce risks in communities through a wide range of prevention work. There is no doubt that despite the recent upturn, the likelihood of incurring a loss from a fire has reduced very significantly in the last ten years. But we are now looking to the next step in prevention.  There is certainly a correlation between the effort expended by the service and the reduction that has been achieved. It is challenging, by the nature of prevention to make a direct causal link between fire prevention activity and incidents that did not occur. This and other issues that surround evaluation are addressed further in Improvement objective 8

The work done by the fire and rescue service in prevention can largely and currently be categorised in two broad ways:

  • Direct intervention: This involves identifying who is at risk and targeting direct safety advice to those at-risk groups. All fire and rescue services conduct Home Fire Safety Checks. These are generally targeted to achieve maximum impact, although the number of checks has been falling in the last five years, as services become more focused on those who are most at risk in our changing communities. In the vast majority of cases, risk control measures are installed during these checks ( a domestic smoke alarm).
  • Upstream intervention: The vast majority of fires are the result of some form of human factor, situation or failure. Certain groups of people can behave in a particular way or be placed in a particular situation that leaves them vulnerable. The fire and rescue service has been exploring ways to continue to reduce fires, alongside other social risks for certain groups. Examples of this are the involvement of the fire and rescue service with young people within their communities. Firefighters are uniquely respected as people who are there to help. This can be in stark contrast to the way that Police or other law enforcement agencies are regarded. Fire and rescue service engagement with young people has resulted in some very significant success stories and as well as improving fire safety has contributed to improving social cohesion, self-confidence and respect for authority. 

More and more, these two categories of prevention work are being brought together in recognition that it is the same social groups who are a concern for many local agencies trying to improve community cohesion, safety and welfare. To be efficient, local services cannot work in isolation from each other. Collaboration is key with all investing in each other’s agenda so that the overall outcome is achieved for all. This integration with other public service partners makes the fire and rescue service a part of the ‘system’ of public service with partners working together to use combined resources to address societal issues.

“Safe and well” visits are an excellent example of this. Health services, social services and fire services all recognise that the elderly frail is a significant “at risk” group. Some firefighters are visiting older people to check on their health, welfare and ensure their safety from fire. This is being reciprocated by visits from health and social services who are dealing with health and support whilst also ensuring safety from fire. This builds on excellence in one of the core responsibilities and extends the reach of the fire safety and prevention message well beyond that which the fire and rescue service could achieve alone. This helps maintain the quality of life and reduce the cost of care in an aging population. Fire and rescue services want this type of work to continue, built upon and further extended

Questions are being asked about the value of some of these causation activities. Early evaluation work on safe and well visits has shown a positive economic impact and a wider evaluation is now beginning.  The lack of cohesive, standard data combined with the issue of establishing the cause for the absence of something is making this very difficult to establish. The fact that it is challenging to prove the value of this work does not however mean that it doesn’t have value, which is addressed in Improvement objective 8. However, the situation is clearer in respect Emergency Medical Response where an independent national cost benefit analysis was commissioned by the NJC, undertaken by New Economy and provided to the Home Office.

Many fire and rescue services are already confident of the importance of this work, which needs to be allowed to continue. It should not be restricted to volunteers and needs to form a part of the basis for the way that resources are deployed within each IRMP. The freedom to do this and to expect employees to participate in these activities needs to be firmly established. This does need to be done, though, ensuring that the justification for such work is rooted in evidence; that what is asked of employees is reasonable within their roles, skills and training; is supported by appropriate professional standards; and going forward is specifically included within the IRMP.