Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has published its latest findings following an inspection of Avon Fire & Rescue Service completed in the summer.
This new report follows on from the Service’s first HMICFRS inspection report published in December 2018 and the subsequent thematic review of its response to the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic published in January.
The latest findings show encouraging progress has been made since Avon Fire & Rescue’s last full inspection with the previous causes for concern and ‘inadequate’ ratings being resolved thanks to the hard work, determination and commitment of the whole workforce. In citing numerous areas of improvement, HMI Wendy Williams said she was “very pleased with the progress Avon Fire & Rescue Service has made” and specifically highlighted increased staffing in the Business Fire Safety department, better targeting of its fire prevention work on those most at risk, its continuing support to the ambulance service and NHS mass vaccination programme, and sound financial planning processes.
Following Avon Fire Authority’s declaration of climate and ecological emergencies towards the start of the year, Avon Fire & Rescue Service’s successful grant application totalling nearly £1 million from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme was highlighted for particular praise and noted as a coveted example of ‘innovative practice’. A dramatic reduction in the number of automatic fire alarms attended by the Service also drew positive acknowledgement from the inspectors, with firefighters now able to better use that time for uninterrupted risk critical training and community safety activities.
The report also included several areas for improvement which are already being addressed. The Service’s upgrade of its IT infrastructure is already well underway thanks to a £1.5 million investment agreed by the Fire Authority in October 2020, and its plan to improve the way in which risk information is gathered, stored and made available to firefighters was approved in September and is now being implemented.
Commenting on the Inspectorate’s findings, Chief Fire Officer Mick Crennell said: “While the absence of any further causes of concern or inadequate grades is not the bar against which we judge ourselves, we’re obviously pleased that the fantastic efforts made since our last inspection are resulting in significant improvements in so many areas. Our communities rightly deserve a fire and rescue service which is independently judged as ‘good’ across the board and our Service Plan is clear that we continue to strive for those grades – and this new report is an important stepping stone on our improvement journey.”
The Inspectorate grades the service as ‘good’ in four areas and ‘requires improvement’ in seven, but reflects significant improvement in the people pillar with HMICFRS’ assessment of promoting the right values and culture leaping two grades from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’. The report notes that “It is encouraging to see the extensive progress which the service has made in communicating its values and behaviours throughout the wider workforce” and praises the significant progress made in looking after the mental health and wellbeing of its staff.
Paying tribute to the hard work of staff, CFO Mick Crennell added: “Three years ago HMICFRS said that they did not underestimate how much improvement was needed and set us a huge challenge to make rapid and sustained progress to improve our service. They recognised that it takes time for new approaches to bed in – and longer still to change an organisation’s culture – but I’m immensely proud that we’ve risen to that challenge with this latest report showing just how far we’ve come.”
Councillor Brenda Massey’s election to Chair of Avon Fire Authority in June was followed in September by CFO Crennell’s announcement of his intention to retire at the end of March next year. Paying tribute to Mick’s contribution since joining Avon in August 2017, Cllr. Massey said: “The solid progress reflected in this latest report is testament to Mick’s strategic vision and leadership which have been instrumental in driving the service forward. While we have further work to do to get us to ‘good’ across the board, I’m certain that Mick’s legacy will provide a solid base on which our new Chief Fire Officer can build and take us onto greater things in the future.”
Many of the improvements implemented over the last two years have led to Avon Fire & Rescue Service being recognised as a finalist in the “Emergency Service of the Year” category at the seventh annual Fire and Emergency Awards which were held in London on 3 December 2021.
You can read the full report here: Avon – HMICFRS (justiceinspectorates.gov.uk)