Fire inspector’s report finds Norfolk inadequate on prevention

06:00 July 27, 2022

The Norfolk Fire Department was heavily criticized in an official inspection report for not doing enough to stop the fires from breaking out.

The organization has been found to be “inadequate” when it comes to fire prevention, with inspectors calling failures to identify those at risk a “matter of concern”.

The Inspection by Her Majesty’s Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service found that 15 areas “requiring improvement” had not improved since the last inspection in 2019.

The Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) said the report shows more needs to be done, but some key areas are at a “good” level.

Firefighters are on scene to tackle the blaze
– Credit: Gavin Dudeney

The report comes just days after the NFRS declared a major incident, meaning there were not enough resources to meet demand as it dealt with 300 fires at the height of the heatwave in last week.

Inspectors carried out their investigation before the recent fires.

They praised the fire service for its ability to respond to fires and other emergencies, as well as its lessons learned from domestic incidents such as the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Other findings of the assessment include:

  • The service does not always conduct serious incident reviews following fatal fires, meaning there is no learning from the event

  • The department needs to do more to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination – 16% of staff surveyed said they had experienced harassment and 15% experienced discrimination

  • Vulnerable people were not referred to other organizations that might be better able to care for them

  • Firefighters are not conducting “safe and well visits” or person-centered home fire hazard checks and no face-to-face activities have been conducted during the pandemic.

  • Culture and behaviors need to be improved to make staff feel valued

  • Operational performance ratings are ‘inconsistent’

Brancaster Aftermath

A burnt-out van that was destroyed in the blaze
– Credit: Chris Bishop

Inspector Roy Wilsher said: ‘I am concerned about the performance of the NFRS in protecting people from fire and other hazards.

“In particular, I have serious concerns about the way he is ensuring public safety through his prevention activity.”

The inspector added that he was “disappointed” that the service had not made more progress since the 2019 inspection.

Responding to the report, Acting Fire Chief Tim Edwards said: “We welcome the report and are pleased that four areas of our work have been recognized as good, two of which have improved since our last comprehensive inspection in 2019 and I am proud of the work our department has done over the past three years and continues to do every day.

“As a learning organization, we have already taken steps to improve some of the other areas highlighted in the report, since the inspectors’ visit last fall.

Tim Edwards

Tim Edwards, acting fire chief at the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service
– Credit: Norfolk County Council

“We are of course disappointed with some of the findings of the inspection and are committed to reducing risk and creating a safer Norfolk for all.”

Mr Edwards said some of the problems with fire prevention were due to the coronavirus pandemic, which forced attention to focus on the “broader response” in the county rather than organizational improvements.

“We deliberately reallocated resources during the pandemic, but because of that we didn’t do as much prevention work as we would have liked.”

Mr Edwards said vulnerable people were still being supported, but further work was needed to better identify where those in need are, with staff receiving training to help them.

On staff worried about bullying, the fire officer said he didn’t think the service had a specific problem but needed to better ensure staff knew how to behave and that it was clear that the problems would be solved.

The next steps will see an improvement plan presented to councilors in September, Mr Edwards pointed out, as services continue to make behind-the-scenes changes to better serve Norfolk.

What are the politicians saying?

Margaret Dewsbury, Norfolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Partnerships, said the authority was committed to supporting the improvements needed and had already taken steps to address some areas.

Margaret Dewsbury, Chair of Norfolk County Council's Communities Committee.  Photo: Sean Owen (Reflecti

Margaret Dewsbury, Chair of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee. Photo: Sean Owen (Reflective Arts)
– Credit: Sean Owen (Reflective Arts)

“We have committed additional resources to increase the number of staff within the prevention and protection services. I was pleased to see that improvements in certain areas were recognized, which shows the commitment of the team.

Labor leader Steve Morphew said last week’s fires show how vital the service is.

Steve Morphew, Norwich.  Photo: DENISE BRADLEY

Steve Morphew from Labor
– Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

He said: “The inadequate assessment of fire prevention is particularly shocking, but it is not the only critical area. The service has not only failed to improve, but has declined since the last inspection.

“It’s just not good enough, the County Hall Cabinet needs to acknowledge Norfolk’s failure.

“Firefighters are doing top-notch work but have been let down by the under-investment and political failure to provide the leadership needed to ensure we have the fire and rescue service we need.”

How was the service rated?

  • Efficiency – Needs Improvement (2019: Needs Improvement)

  • Understanding fires and other hazards – Good (needs improvement)

  • Prevention of fires and other risks – Insufficient (needs improvement)

  • Protection of the public by fire regulations – Good (requires improvement)

  • Fire and Other Emergency Response – Good (Good)

  • Respond to Major and Multi-Agency Incidents – Good (Good)

  • Efficiency – Needs improvement (Needs improvement)

  • Make the best use of resources – Needs improvement (Needs improvement)

  • Future affordability – Needs improvement (good)

  • People – Needs improvement (Needs improvement)

  • Promote good values ​​and culture – Needs improvement (Needs improvement)

  • Getting the right people with the right skills – Needs improvement (Good)

  • Ensuring Equity and Promoting Diversity – Needs Improvement (Needs Improvement)

  • Managing Performance and Developing Leaders – Needs Improvement (Needs Improvement)

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