Fire service inspection “good” next time says commissioner

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Essex Fire and Rescue Service can expected to be rated ‘good’ at its next inspection – the county’s Police, Fire, and Crime Commissioner has said.

Roger Hirst told a meeting of the Essex Fire and Police Panel on Monday, January 13, that much has been done since the service was rated as ‘requires improvement’ across the board by inspectors.

While it was praised for its emergency responses, inspectors found “unacceptable” levels of bullying.

The report published last month also found that crews are completing less than half the national average of safety checks per 1,000 members of the population.

However, Mr Hirst said much progress has been made since the inspection was made in July last year.

Inspectors visited the fire service again in November 2019 and reported that “a good start” had been made on addressing concerns.

Mr Hirst said: “We have made a lot of progress in the six or seven months since this inspection was done.

“I am increasingly confident that when we get reinspected, even around the culture element of the people pillar, that the inspection will look at, then we will be in a much better place.

“And I like to think we will expect to be rated ‘good’ next time around.”

He said that the restart of recruitment following a nine-year freeze had also helped the service reset its culture because “new people helps move culture forward”.

He added: “The reality is having values and living values is not the same thing. The biggest challenge from my perspective in terms of embedding culture change is changing behaviour.”

Under the people category, the report highlighted issues with inappropriate behaviour and bullying, which was noted in an independent review back in 2015.

It then went on to say there was a cause of concern over sexism and bullying, and despite it being reported, at times these behaviours have not been challenged by managers.

Out of the 258 responses to the survey, 67 firefighters (26 per cent) said they felt “harassed or bullied at work in the past 12 months”.

Another area that was listed as requiring improvement was diversity, with claims the workforce did not reflect the wider community.

As of March 2018, 1.8 per cent of firefighters were from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and 3.3 per cent were female.

Mr Hirst said the fire service had come up against resistance from a representative body to having behaviour as an annual assessment criteria, with the view that the only thing that matters to a firefighter is technical competence.

“Well it’s not,” he added.

“If you are going to be a supportive organisation that doesn’t just excel at the moment of response to a tragedy but also excels in the down time as well and uses that non emergency time to make sure emergencies don’t happen in the first place, you need to change the way people behave to one another.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter