Office for National Statistics new analysis reinforces NFCC's position on resourcing to risk

The National Fire Chiefs Council has said that new analysis from the Office for National Statistics reinforces its position that services must be resourced to risk, as well as demand.

A new report published today: ‘Fires, false alarms and funding: how has the fire and rescue service changed and is it more productive?”, shows that since 2009, the workforce has reduced by 22 per cent, fire services have fewer resources to work with, but respond to fewer fires.

The analysis also states that the service is smaller and more diverse and there is evidence of increased productivity. It also suggests services now deliver similar activities as before, but with fewer resources and recognises the pay restraints over a number of years.

Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, commented: “While firefighters are attending fewer incidents, services must be resourced to meet the risks they face. Already this year we have seen several large-scale incidents putting additional demands on services across the UK. We have had more than one hundred wildfires this year already, before we have even hit peak the summer months. 

“Many of these incidents have seen fire services from across borders working together, ensuring the public receive a swift response, deploying the most appropriate resources. If finances continue to be reduced, this will undoubtedly have an impact on the response services can give, reducing the confidence the public has in their fire service.

“The 22 per cent staff reduction is a worrying figure; this covers up the higher reduction in fire protection staff which was a consistent theme in the first tranche of fire inspection reports, which also reported a 42 per cent reduction in the number of fire safety audits carried out over the last seven years. This trend is almost certainly to be repeated in next month’s HMICFRS inspection reports.

“I am pleased to see prevention work highlighted within the report, which shows how our messages and work are influencing people’s behaviour and attitudes towards fire safety. This is a vital part of our work, reducing fires and making communities safer. Prevention work helps reduce pressure on services, such as reducing the volume of calls, but it can be difficult to measure  

“However, we must not get complacent over the longer-term trend in fall in fires since 2009, as the latest Home Office figures show that there has been a two per cent increase in the total number of incidents attended by fire and rescue services in England, and a 5 per cent increase in the number of fires attended.

“I am encouraged to see there has been an increase in the number of female firefighters, with 5.7% of the workforce being female, an increase from 3.6% in 2009. In addition, 4.1 per cent of employees are from BAME backgrounds, which compares with 3.5% in 2011. While this is a step in the right direction, much more still needs to be done to ensure fire services are seen to be accessible for all, ensuring talent for the future are not put off from joining.” 

“The report also shows that there is evidence of productivity growth within the UK FRS by around 9 per cent. While this is reassuring to see, if we compare this against a backdrop of a reduction in time spent on prevention activities, coupled with the reduction in staff, it is difficult to see how this can be sustained if financial resources continue to be reduced, especially as we face new and challenging risks.

”It is likely that productivity is much higher than the reported nine per cent, however – as the report recognises - it can be difficult to measure the direct correlation between prevention activities and the reduction in deaths and serious injuries.

“NFCC also supported fire services undertaking the now withdrawn emergency medical response, which increased blue light collaboration, saved lives and prevented unnecessary long-term or life-changing illnesses. These accounted for a large number of the non-fire callouts in 2014/15 and 2016/17.”

Additional information:
  • ONS highlighted activities FRSs undertake to prevent or reduce the risk of fire: Home safety checks, arson prevention, work with young people, campaigns and fire safety initiatives. The analysis does show that fire services overall are spending less time on prevention activities than they were in 2009.
  • The report also shows non-fires incidents take up an increasing proportion of workloads, while activities aimed at preventing fires remain important, but less time is spent on them.
  • Fire false alarms continue to outnumber the total number of fires each year, accounting for around 40 per cent of all call-outs, with the majority (67%) being due to apparatus.
  • The fire service is smaller, fire incidents have fallen and there is evidence of improved productivity. It also highlights that the workforce is smaller and more diverse.The report talks about the UK FRS, but the majority of statistics are taken from the Home Office, which covers England.
  • ONS full report
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