Agenda item

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service Community Risk Management Plan


The Committee considered a report of the Chief Fire Officer, Steve Helps, which provided the Committee with background to the Fire Authority’s Community Risk Management Plan (CRMP) annual action plan for 2023-2026 (for copy see file of minutes).


The Chief Fire Officer advised that the service was required to develop a community risk management plan as set out in the Fire and Rescue National Framework and gave a detailed presentation of the Fire Authority’s CRMP, giving Members background information on the fire service across the County and highlighting the recent achievements of the service including a good achievement in the categories of effectiveness, efficiency, and people in a recent inspection. The Chief Fire Officer informed the Committee that the Service had won Fire and Rescue Service of the year at the Public Sector Transformation Awards for 2022 and he noted that the service had the fastest response times for a predominantly rural fire and rescue service with an average response time of 8.34 minutes. Members were informed that the service attended the second lowest number of dwelling fires and the third lowest nondomestic premises fires in England, and Fire Safety Audits were delivered at a rate of 6.12 per 100 know premises with the average rate across the Country at 1.70 per 100.


Members were informed of the ongoing consultation regarding the strategy and were invited to take part.  The Service had a series of proposals to consider over the next three years with the focus of the consultation in 2023/24 on the following options:

·        Review the proposal to crew all of the wholetime fire engines with four firefighters.

·        Review the Risk Based Inspection Programme

·        Monitor and review the Services response standards

·        Evaluate the staffing arrangements and application of Targeted Response Vehicles (TRVs)

·        Evaluate the changes through collaboration projects with local FRS and key partners.

 It was noted that views gathered from the consultation would be used to make sure:

·        The Service was doing what was being asked of it by Communities

·        Improve Prevention and Protection

·        The Service was doing it’s best to keep people safe

·        Providing the best response


The Chief Fire Officer further explained that the Fire Service were facing challenges with the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP), noting the significant shortfall of almost £1million for the service between 2023/24 to 2026/27 and has therefore had to consider how it delivers services in the future which has resulted in various options for the CRMP over the next three years.  Although the shortfall was better than expected, the financial pressures meant that alternative methods for delivering the service still needed to be considered.  The Chief Fire Officer informed the Committee that fire teams would now be operating as four person crews which had been in effect since 2019, this would not reduce cover for incidents but would help the service make a saving of around £750,000. In relation to Commercial premises, the aim was to make all properties safe and compliant with regulations with a focus on a review of the system.


Councillor E Mavin enquired about five man appliances and if they would be seen as a special case in relation to the proposal to reduce to four man crews.


The Chief Fire Officer noted that these had been historic vehicles with only two still in operation and could still be managed with a four person crew. The Committee was informed that across the County, Targeted Response Vehicles (TRVs) would be in operation to handle smaller incidents during the day and would be operated by two man crews, there was a clear demarcation as what vehicles attend which incidents.  The Chief Fire Officer advised there were 19 appliances which had been crewed by four firefighters safely since 2019.


In response to questions from Councillor C Martin, the Chief Fire Officer informed the Committee that the Fire Service would not be reducing to three man crews as not all equipment could be used with a three person crew. It was noted that TRVs  operated with a two person crew but that these only dealt with smaller incidents such as small fires or alarms. The Chief Fire Officer advised that should the need arise for a greater number of appliances at an incident, reciprocal arrangements were in place with neighbouring local fire and rescue services, there were also national assets available should the need arise such as the use of the large volume pump.  It was noted that the biggest difficulty facing the service at this time was sustainable funding with two thirds of the funding received from the precept, noting that a1% increase in precept was less than £200,000 whilst the service had an increase in wage bill of around £250,000. The Chief Fire Officer informed Members that high levels of arson in the east of the County were a particular concern, in addition to societal issues such as poor housing and homelessness and advised that these issues impacted on the ability to focus on other concerns.


Councillor V Andrews asked questions around the reduction in crew numbers and potential job losses and the continuation of the award winning apprenticeship programme.


The Chief Fire Officer noted that any job losses would be through natural loss such as retirements and that the service was looking at a loss of about 16 posts, with a hope for an apprenticeship drive in the summer which would cover the service as a whole and not just in relation to fire fighters.


Councillor D Sutton-Lloyd praised the service for their pro-active prevention workq undertaken in relation to Home Safety Visits and the impact on communities and questioned what more could be done.


In response, the Committee was informed that home safety visits were critical noting that County Durham had the second lowest dwelling fires in the Country which was a real credit to the service, adding that people had never been safer in their home.  Considering that County Durham and Darlington were areas of high deprivation this was even more of an achievement.  The service were in homes everyday undertaking this preventative work and that going forward the service  is looking at working with further new partners to keep everything fresh.


Councillor L Fenwick enquired about what impact the cuts would have on the Cadet programmes particularly the one in her ward of Peterlee.


The Chief Fire Officer informed the Committee that there was an ongoing review looking at the cadet programmes to see which ones were well supported and attended, noting that Peterlee Cadets was well attended. He explained that there would be some impact on this service across the County but engaging with young people was still an important issue.


Councillor D McKenna enquired about the use of electric appliances and vehicles.


In response the Chief Fire Officer informed the Committee that there were some electric appliances in use in Scotland and London, but the running of these vehicles came with a very high cost of £1 million per vehicle noting that it was likely in the future they would be in use but the infrastructure for running the vehicles and the cost would have to be right before they were more widely used.  It was noted that the Service did use electric vehicles in their fleet however there would be no electric appliance in the next 18 months.



Councillor D Nicholls raised concerns regarding the accessibility of the public consultation, noting that some of the questions were problematic and that members of the public would need more information before responding and asked if the questions could be made simpler and more accessible for the general public.


The Chief Fire Officer thanked Councillor Nicholls for his input, noting that the booklet and the web link provided more background information for all questions in the consultation and that the questions being asked were complex.


The Chair questioned if there would be an increase in the use of Targeted Response Vehicles (TRV)


The Chief Fire Officer noted that there was one in use in the Consett and High Handen Hold area which had attended around 500 incidents, noting however that an increase would incur a cost and that the vehicle had only been used to attend smaller incidents.


The Chair suggested the use of TRVs in the east of the county where there is a high incidence of arson to free up appliances.  She then referred to commercial premises visits and raised concerns around the frequency of the safety check visits, noting that she could not recall the last time her own business had a fire safety check and asked what the criteria is to warrant a visit by the service.


The Chief Fire Officer advised that there was a clear national definition of high risk and all premises were assessed on this. Properties such as corner shops and hair salons were deemed a lower risk and visited less regularly. He advised that recently, if premises had a lower hygiene rating, this implies that the business are not good at complying with legislation and this would impact on the risk rating and therefore the premises would be visited more frequently.  He added that it was a complex issue.


The Chair raised concerns over the reduction of face to face Home Safety Visits and the negative impact this could have on vulnerable people. In response the Chief Fire Officer informed the Committee that online home visits had been a method used during the pandemic but visits were now back to face to face.


Councillor D Nicholls queried the use of smaller vehicles being used to respond to arson and bonfires, asking if a two person crew were more at risk of abuse given the incidents they were attending. Councillor Nicholls also enquired if the crews were accompanied by any other services or if a record of any incidents were kept.


The Chief Fire Officer informed the Committee that the main incidents TRVs attend were alarms and small fires, noting that from the moment a call was received to the time of dispatch, all of the relevant information was gathered and a risk assessment approach was used to ensure that the right appliance was sent to the call. The Chief Fire Officer also noted that all appliances had CCTV and all staff had body camera to record incidents but stated that these types incidents were in the minority.   


Councillor D Mckenna asked if the recent ambulance strikes had put any extra pressure on the service as emergency responders. The Chief Fire Officer informed the Committee that there had been no increase to the pressure on the service to date.


In response to a request from the Chair the Chief Fire Officer advised that papers copies of the survey were available.



(i)The Content of the report and presentation be noted.

(ii) That the comments made by members at the meeting be compiled into a formal response to the consultation from the committee and shared with the Service.

Supporting documents: