Fire chiefs reassure public after inspectors say service 'requires improvement'
The leader of the Labour opposition has called for ‘urgent action’ from Northumberland County Council on the fire service’s ‘worrying’ inspection.
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service has been rated as requires improvement in a report published by HMICFRS, the national inspectorate.
HMICFRS inspections assess how effectively and efficiently fire and rescue services prevent, protect the public against and respond to fires and other emergencies, as well as how well they look after their workforce.
Northumberland was rated as requires improvement for each of the three main areas – effectiveness, efficiency and people, but work to ‘take positive action to address the issues’ started immediately after the inspection team visited in autumn last year.
The report found that the fire service was good at responding to national risks, highlighting its efforts during the Beast from the East last year as ‘a good example of the wider role that a fire and rescue service can play in supporting its communities’.
It also accepted that one of the biggest challenges is managing an operational response across a large, sparsely-populated county.
However, it also raises concerns about fire engines being unavailable, increasing response times and commanders lacking appropriate training, while saying that the service needs to improve the way it uses resources and the affordability of what it provides.
Chief Fire Officer Paul Hedley said: “What we tried very hard to do was take an honest look at ourselves and we had identified areas for improvement.
“I would much rather be good and it’s a bit disappointing, but as a service, you are always trying to improve.
“What it doesn’t say is we are running an unsafe service or that people are at risk. We are well-equipped, well-trained and have a workforce which punches well above their weight.”
Coun Nick Oliver, the county council’s cabinet member for corporate services, added: “We will continue to invest in the fire service, we will continue to protect front-line services and make resources available for the senior officers to make improvements to take the service from where it is now to being a good service.”