London Fire Brigade (LFB) has been “slow to learn” following the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster, the industry watchdog has said.
A review into LFB found that important projects, including reviews of staffing arrangements and emergency response using specialist equipment and personnel, have either stalled or are behind schedule.
The root-and-branch examination by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) also found the LFB attends a disproportionately high number of false alarms, while some fire engine drivers have not received refresher training for 20 years.
The HMICFRS said: “The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 was one of the biggest challenges London Fire Brigade has ever had to face.
“The incident has had a profound effect on how the brigade now performs.
“Although our findings are broadly consistent with those of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, it must be emphasised that this was an inspection of the brigade in 2019.
“We found that, while the brigade has learned lessons from Grenfell, it has been slow to implement the changes needed.
“This is unfortunately typical of the brigade’s approach to organisational change.”
The assessment identified areas of strength within LFB, such as being well-resourced with staff and exceeding its own standards on response times.
But the report was particularly scathing of its current effectiveness for protecting the public through fire regulation, how it uses its resources, and said it is “worryingly inadequate” at “getting the right people with the right skills”.
The report also found that some fire engine drivers had not received refresher training for up to 20 years, despite national guidance recommending this takes place every five years.
Elsewhere, the inspectorate found most of the senior commanders said they had not had incident training “for several years”, while there is no systematic training programme for firefighters tasked with responding to terror attacks in the capital – with many frontline officers saying they do not have suitable personal protective equipment and “lack the confidence” to respond.
The report found that LFB had not done enough to “reduce the burden of false alarms”, in that it was only managing to weed out 3.7% of automatic fire alarm requests for assistance – much lower than the average of 30% across England.
Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said the report will be “deeply concerning for the Grenfell community and all of London”.
He said: “Grenfell must be a turning point for UK fire safety – anything less is completely unacceptable.”
LFB was one of three services across England to require improvement in three key areas, according to the HMICFRS.
The latest investigation, which analyses performance across one third of the country’s 45 fire services at a time, also found that Essex and Gloucestershire were under-performing in terms of the effectiveness and efficiency of their service, as well as how they treat their people.
Six of the 15 fire services were deemed “good” in all three areas: Cleveland, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Suffolk, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.
The report did not make explicit reference to the brigade’s much-condemned “stay put” policy, when Grenfell residents were told to remain in their flats by firefighters and 999 operators for nearly two hours after the blaze broke out.
Matt Parr, HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, said: “This is a disappointing report: there are too many areas where the London Fire Brigade needs to make improvements.”
He added: “Many of its projects are wasteful, projects get started and stalled.
“The organisation as a whole is slow to learn.
“We are absolutely not criticising every firefighter in London – there are lots of people who are very dedicated.
“But what it doesn’t leave you with is the impression that the organisation is well-run and where value for money is top of their agenda.”
Mr Parr described LFB response times – some six minutes and 39 seconds on average as of the year 2017-18 – as “excellent”, but said around 48% of its call-outs were false alarms.
He said: “The people driving those (fire engines) around – arguably unnecessarily – are years out of date for driving 15-tonne fire trucks. That speaks to me of a service which is woefully out of date.”
Dany Cotton, who will retire as London Fire Commissioner at the end of the month, had seen the report before she announced the decision to bring her resignation forward from April 2020, Mr Parr said.
Her replacement, Andy Roe, said: “I recognise that what’s been highlighted in the report isn’t good enough and, as the new Commissioner I am committed to making the necessary improvements when I take on the position in January.”
It comes as the London Assembly Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee votes on holding a confirmation hearing for Mr Roe to become new commissioner during a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday.