Avon Fire and Rescue Service deemed 'inadequate' in damning report

Government watchdog HMICFRS assessed how well AFRS performed in 11 areas and rated it as inadequate in four. Credit: AFRS

Avon Fire & Rescue Service has been given the worst possible rating when it comes to keeping people safe from fires, a damning report has found.

The service is “inadequate” at responding to emergencies according to Inspector Wendy Williams.

She also has “serious concerns” about Avon Fire & Rescue Service's method of dispatching firefighters and fire engines and said it “isn’t reliable and crashes during 999 calls”.

The report says the service does not have an effective system to maintain up-to-date risk information on tower blocks, to help protect firefighters, the public and property during an emergency.

The inspection took place in June and July, and the service will be reinspected next month to review progress. Credit: AFRS

Ms Williams, who conducted the report on behalf of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, raised concerns after discovering that the service did not prioritise residents at greater risk from fire for home safety visits.

Ms Williams was also concerned about the service’s culture and said staff in some teams demonstrated “unacceptable behaviours, such as using sexist or inappropriate language and disguising this as banter”.

“Worryingly, some staff don’t have the confidence to report these issues,” the inspector’s report added.

Avon Fire & Rescue Service was assessed in 11 areas and rated as “inadequate” in four: understanding fire and risk, preventing fire and risk, responding to fires and emergencies, and promoting values and culture.

Five other assessment areas “require improvement” and two were judged to be adequate, with none “good” or “outstanding”.

As a result of the report, Avon Fire & Rescue service has been placed in an enhanced level of monitoring.

“Concerningly, some operational staff told us it was more of a risk to use the risk information during their response.” Credit: AFRS

Chief Fire Officer, Simon Shilton has apologised and has said steps are already being taken to make improvements.

He said: “There can be no denying that His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services’ inspection report into the service makes for uncomfortable reading.

“That said, as a service we welcome the challenge and support to ensure we are the best service we can be, however, I’m sorry if local people feel let down.

“It is disappointing, despite the hard work undertaken by our staff to deliver the best possible service to our communities, it’s clear the pace of change has not been sufficient against the challenging financial and political backdrop we’ve faced this past year.

“However, I feel strongly that the findings do not represent who we are as a service.”

Avon Fire & Rescue Service said it has already addressed concerns over the reliability of its dispatch software, which is used by about 80 per cent of UK fire and rescue services.

It also said the organisation continued to meet its response standards and that the report acknowledged it had effective arrangements for dealing with multi-agency incidents.

1 in 5 firefighters have lost their position since 2010 across the UK, and in October Avon's fire authority announced that it will lose 40 more to cuts.

Dave Roberts, Fire Brigade Union, South West regional secretary said: "This austerity is leaving our service severely under-resourced, putting homes and lives at risk.

“To bring our service back from the brink, we need urgent investment and leadership. Avon fire authority must reverse the decision to cut 40 firefighters from our region as the first step.”

Avon Fire & Rescue Service has drawn up an action plan based on the report’s recommendations.