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Drivers for change

IO2: Focus on improving competence

The issue of operational competence emerged as a key finding in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report and in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report into fire safety in buildings. While these reports were published relatively recently, the issue of firefighter competence is not new and can be found in the 2002 Bain Report as the extract from para 4.11 below demonstrates. 

“Firefighters will be protecting and rescuing the community from a wide range of dangers. The Service will need a correspondingly wide range of skills and competences to meet these demands. It will no longer be the case that a single role, that of ‘firefighter’, can fulfil them all. Even the term is no longer appropriate to convey what they really do, though it is difficult to find a concise alternative.”

Bain wrote about the Integrated Personal Development System (IPDS) which he believed would, “have a profound and beneficial effect on the jobs of fire staff, their training, management and career prospects” (para 7.50). It originated in 1992 after the deaths of two firefighters highlighted that there were no occupational standards of performance. The roles of firefighters were defined within IPDS and set out in National Occupational Standards that still exist today. 

With the advent of the National Operational Guidance Programme in 2012, the issue of competence was front and centre of work to develop peer reviewed, modern operational guidance for all fire and rescue services to use. By 2018, the Programme was complete and fire and rescue service across the UK looked, in various ways, to implement national guidance at a local level.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick makes 46 recommendations in his 2019 phase 1 report. In that he makes a series of recommendations relating to competence of firefighters when dealing with high rise buildings – both in terms of response to incidents but also in preventative work carried out on a day to day basis through inspections. 

Dame Judith Hackitt published her interim report in December 2017 and final report in May 2018. To assist the process a number of working groups were established, one of which was focused on competence. The issue of competence went far beyond that of the firefighter and embraced all who are involved in the life cycle of a building. Since then, the Government elected in December 2019 confirmed in the subsequent Queens speech that a bill would be laid to create a new building safety regulator. The extent to which that will affect competence requirements for fire and rescue personnel more broadly is not yet known. 

The inspection reports on the whole tend to criticise fire and rescue services for running down their fire protection activities, with not enough competent staff in place to meet the demands of inspecting at risk buildings in their areas. In addition, the inspectors found in tranche 2 that in many services recording, evidencing and assurance of staff competence were not robust (p.38).