5 Emergency Response
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Assessment of Risk – Current Response Arrangements

The standards of fire cover that have been in place in Merseyside, along with all other fire services in the United Kingdom were set originally in the 1930’s but were firmly established in 1958 by the Home Office. They were subsequently more clearly defined, revised and consolidated in 1974 and again in 1985. Fire risk assessment, until the current year, has been based upon this guidance, which consists of a prose description of the risk categories and a formula designed to determine a points rating or fire grading of premises.

When the risk category of an area had been determined, the criteria set by the Home Office demanded that the fire service response to emergency calls met minimum requirements in terms of speed and weight of attack.

Category ‘A’

Built up areas in large cities containing large commercial and industrial premises or high rise property where there is a strong chance of fire spread. The recommended minimum first attendance was three pumps, two to attend within five minutes and one within eight minutes, to be achieved on at least 75% of occasions.

Category ‘B’

Areas in towns and cities such as smaller industrial areas, extensive shopping centres and factory estates. The recommended minimum first attendance was two pumps, one to arrive within five minutes and the other within eight minutes, to be achieved on at least 75% of occasions.

Category ‘C’

Extensive areas of residential dwellings such as terraced property, blocks of flats or light industry/commercial. The recommended minimum first attendance was one pump within eight to ten minutes, to be achieved on at least 75% of occasions.

Category ‘D’

Consisting of rural property, villages and farms. The recommended minimum first attendance was one pump within 20 minutes, to be achieved on 75% of occasions.

The majority of Merseyside (91%) is classed as C or D risk.

It is these old standards that have sparked much debate in recent years as they meant there was no need for a 24 hour a day immediate response from a number of fire stations on Merseyside. However, with new guidance recently published, it is right and proper for a reassessment to take place to consider if a delayed response is still appropriate.

The following chart compares the current allocation of resources (on a national basis) to fire deaths and illustrates that the majority of deaths occur in C risk areas but that the majority of resources are spent covering A and B risk. Merseyside’s own fatal fire analysis confirms that most fire deaths occur in C risk areas.

Fatal Fire Analysis

New Emergency Response Standards

Current standards achieve the highest levels of response to A and B risk areas. These areas are predominantly commercial risk when in fact the life risk in our community is concentrated around C risk areas. However, we do recognise the importance of protecting the community and business infrastructure that is vital to the prosperity of the region. For this reason, the new approach aims to have a better standard of response to life risk, whilst maintaining a high level of response to commercial risk. It is also proposed to put in place a higher level of achievement of new responses so that the new approach represents a clear improvement on the current national standards overall.

Moving to the new approach will be done on a phased basis.

During year one, as a result of our risk assessment work, we will seek to categorise areas as high, medium or low risk. We recognise that intervention time is important to a successful outcome and in particular, the speed with which the first fire engine arrives. Our aim is to produce attendance times for these new risk categories.

The important issue for this plan is that we should set out what standards we intend to put in place for the future in the communities of Merseyside, and the overall effect of our standards should be improved safety.

In the previous approach we were set times of response we had to achieve on 75% of occasions. As stated above, around 91% of Merseyside came within two categories of risk, namely C risk and D risk. Around 95% of all homes are what was previously classed as C Risk. In this category (C Risk) we had to send one fire engine in a maximum of 10 minutes on 75% of occasions. In D Risk we had to respond with one fire engine in 20 minutes on 75% of occasions.

We have already stated our commitment to improve something now, if we believe that immediate change makes you safer, and one example of this is our response to fires in these homes. We will change. We have produced a range of interim attendance standards which we will aim to achieve until the new risk map of Merseyside is produced and associated new attendance targets set for this. Details of the interim standards are detailed in the Year One Action Plan and these standards are an improvement on the national standards that Government now propose to withdraw.

These “interim” standards will form the basis of the continued evolution of our risk management system over the next few months. We recognise that the time of intervention, particularly of the first fire engine is important to us, and to your safety and the well being of the community.

We want to ensure that we are able to demonstrate our rationale behind our approach, and therefore we are examining how we can develop intervention standards, that ensure we can aggressively deal with a fire in your home, in a way that should confine that damage and danger created by that fire, to the room of origin.

The combination of improved emergency response standards that relate to currently available research with ground-breaking community safety work means the community of Merseyside will have some of the best protection anywhere in the country from its Fire and Rescue Service.

Flexible Station Response System

At present, all our fire stations (26) and all our fire engines (42) are staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We are the only Fire and Rescue Service outside London to have these staffing levels. Some stations have 2 fire engines, some have 1 and Southport has 3 full time fire engines.

It is clear from our risk assessment to date that the numbers of calls and the risk of fire occurring vary by time and day and by location. Some stations consistently have a low level of activity and risk (LLAR). Under the old standards, these would have meant recommendations for ending this immediate response capability. The new standards place far greater emphasis on the first response. Therefore, we will keep an immediate response from each of our fire stations as part of this plan. This gives greater flexibility to consider the use of our support pumps and to place them in the right place, at the right time whilst still meeting these high standards.

Already, there has been a pilot whereby three front line fire engines and their crews at any one time have been put on secondary cover in order to carry out training routines. We anticipate the new risk analysis model will allow more fire engines and crews the facility to both maintain skills and develop new skills without compromising the new, improved standards.

Whether it is the old or the new standards, it is clear that the unusual situation of a third fire engine at Southport remains questionable. However, we will work with the community in Southport to explore ways in which the third pump can be staffed, flexibly on a local basis by using community resources.

Chapter 8 provides details on the future for our staff. What is clear is that the settlement of the recent national dispute agreed between the employers and the Fire Brigades Union paves the way for firefighters to earn substantially more whilst being more flexible in their working practices. This allows the potential for maintaining a 24 hour immediate response from fire stations from staff working different patterns from before. Better paid, better skilled staff working to improved standards is part of providing a better fire and rescue service for the community.

Crew Level Maintenance Team

We are committed to ensuring that we are able to achieve safe crewing levels and therefore, we will put in place a two-year pilot of a “Crew Level Maintenance team” (the CLM team).

The CLM team will be made up of four watch (shift) based teams whose team members volunteer and are chosen for their extensive skill, experience, commitment and their ability to easily fit into any team.

They will be on the same shift system as their colleagues but will be giving what is known as “recall to duty” cover, for their 4-day cover period. This scheme is a nationally agreed scheme in which firefighters respond to duty for major incidents.

The CLM team would be used to ensure that overall watch staffing levels can be maintained at a level to ensure that the public always receive our response of a Rescue Pump and a Support Pump, staffed by appropriate numbers of firefighters.

They will not have a single base station but will report for duty at any station across the Service, dependent upon crewing levels. This will enable us to manage “peaks and troughs” in crewing levels, through planned absence. Any unforeseen or unplanned absence will be dealt with through overtime.

The CLM team will receive an allowance that recognises the inconvenience to their usual work pattern, as well as having some form of transport support. The fine details of this pilot have yet to be negotiated but we do not anticipate any major issues in securing sufficient volunteers for this opportunity to work at a variety of different work locations across Merseyside.

Attendance at calls received via automatic fire alarms

Installing systems for the early detection and warning of fire is an effective part of reducing fire deaths. Promoting ownership of domestic smoke alarms is a priority for the Authority and a main focus for our community fire safety initiatives.

While fitting an alarm in the form of a smoke detector is optional in private dwellings, installation of automatic fire detection and suppression equipment is a requirement we stipulate for many commercial properties as part of our fire safety enforcement work. There is no doubt that installation of such equipment has helped to improve workplace safety in business and commercial property, and to reduce fire deaths and property damage. This is why we are also promoting the use of smoke detectors and sprinklers in people’s homes.

Our approach will therefore be to continue to work closely with building owners, occupiers, and with the fire alarm companies, to make sure the alarms are correctly installed and maintained, and to develop good building management practices to reduce the number of false alarms.

Fire alarm systems in commercial buildings must conform to the relevant British Standard. Over the years this standard has improved and evolved but revised standards only apply to new and altered systems and so there are older systems still in operation. The latest version of this standard does place a duty on alarm providers to reduce false calls.

We have already started working closely with a number of alarm companies and building occupiers in Merseyside to address the problem of repeated false alarms. We welcome their co-operation in this work, which has already shown some signs of success. However we are looking to expand these initiatives for the benefit of the companies concerned and the general public, as well as ourselves.

Where efforts to work with building owners and occupiers fails to reduce the number of false alarms in their buildings we will be prepared, where appropriate, to publicise the diversion of public resources which they are causing and do what we can to bring external pressure to bear to improve the management of their buildings.

Given the importance of automatic detection and suppression equipment in detecting fires early, thereby helping to improve public safety, to reduce fire spread and property damage and to help maintain business continuity, we will continue to send a rapid emergency response to all alarms which do sound, based on the risks they present.

The revised approach for responding to automatic alarms as proposed below, has been the subject of a risk assessment, which confirms that our proposed approach is consistent with our overall objective of making Merseyside a safer place.

The policy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service when responding to Automatic Fire Alarms (AFAs) is to minimise the risk to the safety of the public and to our own members of staff. The response to the actuation of an automatic fire alarm, and the possibility of fire, has to be balanced against the health and safety duties of the Authority resulting from the Health & Safety at Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

Our policy is to reduce false alarm calls from Automatic Fire Detection Systems which currently average at over 90%. False alarms have a major impact upon the Service and cause concern for the following reasons

  • They divert essential resources rendering them unavailable with the possibility of delayed attendance to genuine calls
  • They create unnecessary risk to firefighters and members of the public when appliances respond under emergency conditions
  • They are disruptive to work routines, particularly HFRAs and training
  • They impose an additional financial burden on the Authority in terms of overtime costs and vehicle usage

This approach means that the majority of premises do not warrant a full emergency blue light response to AFAs, although flexibility to adopt an enhanced response determined through the risk assessment procedure is available.

Whilst the procedure is continually reviewed it is the policy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service to respond to AFAs to all residential care homes (including sheltered accommodation for old aged persons, children and disabled/special needs) with an attendance of two pumping appliances under emergency response conditions. This is a result of a risk assessment which shows that a genuine call from these types of premises is more likely.

The response to all other AFA calls, not supported by back up telephone calls, will be one appliance under emergency response conditions.

The role of call receiving centres

Call receiving centres are remote sites, which make the 999 call on behalf of the occupiers when an alarm goes off. We propose to work more closely with those centres to encourage them, in line with the relevant British Standard, to put in place some filtering and additional monitoring on calls received in their centres. For example, the call centres would either call back the buildings where the alarm was sounding to confirm the situation, or with more complex alarm systems, actually monitor where and how the alarm was caused. In these cases (and some other scenarios) the call centre operator can postpone the 999 call until additional information is verified and confirms that a Service attendance is needed. However the expectation would be to always err of the side of caution, and where there was any doubt the Service should be called.

Such a collaborative approach is already in use by police services who experience comparable problems with false calls to burglar alarm systems. We will consider further, and consult as appropriate, on whether to propose a similar scheme in relation to fire alarms – although certain safeguards would need to remain in place to make sure the public safety is maintained.

Incident Command

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service will treat the command and management of incidents as a core skill of every responder and we will view our Incident Command System (ICS) as a critical success factor of our organisation.

Underpinning the capability to respond to all types of incidents is the command and control processes that must be put in place to allow the deployment of resources in an effective, yet safe manner.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service will:

  • review all our procedures to ensure consistency with ICS principles.
  • train all personnel likely to be involved in incident response in ICS principles, and continue this training on a regular basis.
  • create dedicated, ongoing training programmes for officers so that they are proficient in using ICS principles during large and complex incidents, even if involving terrorism, chemical, biological and radiological materials, and attacks to critical infrastructure.

The ICS is the means by which all UK fire and rescue services manage emergency incidents. ICS principles dictate that all first-responding officers and supervisors be able to perform any assigned role effectively at a variety of incidents. However, for large, complex incidents it is beneficial to deploy personnel who are highly trained and specialized in the specific functions of incident management (eg operations, planning or logistics).

To accomplish this, we will form an Incident Command Team (ICT) composed of individuals who will receive specific training on incident command and rescue management.

The team will be made up of high-performing individuals and each member of the team should be highly specialised in one specific function of ICS, but be able to carry out any other role within the ICS organisation.

It is intended that an ICT member will attend and direct the Incident Command of any significant emergencies. Senior Officers will also receive further training in the management of major emergencies and disasters in concert with colleagues from the other emergency services.

The team will attend incidents to ensure all Officers managing an emergency incident have a clear framework in which to work and one which is also capable of being expanded, as an incident becomes larger and/or more complex in nature. In order to achieve maximum benefit from the enhanced level of command support and greater incident ground firefighter safety, the team will need to respond to incidents, in the early stages.

Types of Appliances

In line with our enhanced role of Fire and Rescue Service, we are establishing strategic task specific appliances, staffed and equipped to the appropriate level to provide the best and most cost effective incident response to a wider range of emergencies, serving the community of Merseyside.

Rescue Pumps

Rescue pumps carry advanced rescue equipment to deal with rescues from all accidents involving road and rail traffic, chemical incidents etc. They also carry firefighting equipment but not quite as much as support pumps. There will be a rescue pump on every fire station on Merseyside.

Support Pumps

Support pumps carry a greater amount of dedicated firefighting and ventilation equipment than rescue pumps, together with a more limited amount of rescue equipment. There are support pumps available to meet all requirements identified as necessary to meet all of our response needs.

Support Vehicles

Combined Platform Ladder (CPL)

CPLs provide aerial capability and are currently strategically sited at five stations in Merseyside (See section below).

Prime Movers

A prime mover is the appliance used for transporting the specialist demountable pod units (see details on the following pages) to the incident ground. There are currently seven prime movers based at stations within Merseyside with a further one held as a reserve. Further comments on prime movers and special appliances are below.

Aerial Appliances

Traditionally, aerial appliances have been on the predetermined attendance for rescue purposes for premises of more than three floors containing a sleeping risk (eg hotels), premises of more than three floors containing a high risk to life (eg hospitals, large stores, schools & office blocks) and high/mid rise residential property (eg tenements and multi-storey property). Merseyside currently has five aerial appliances garaged at City Centre, Croxteth, Birkenhead, Eccleston and Southport Fire Stations, but with a pan Merseyside response area.

However, over the last 25 years, the impact of fire safety legislation and building design has meant the introduction of fire safety measures that enable people to afford themselves a safe means of escape in the event of a fire. The effect of this is to reduce the use of aerial appliances for the traditional rescue scenario at the early stages of fire. This coupled with the use of dynamic risk assessment by the incident commander means aerial appliances, when deployed, are now used predominately for firefighting rather than rescue.

A careful analysis has been made covering demand, workload, appliance downtime and training requirements.

As part of the analysis, aerial predetermined attendances have been examined to ensure:

  • consistency in the assessment of risk
  • consistency in allocation of aerial appliances to the predetermined attendance
  • provision of an audit trail of the decision making process.

Advances in building design and fire prevention technology have made rescue by aerial appliance very rare. The review has shown that based upon the frequency that aerial appliances have been used at fires during the analysis period there is no justification to maintain five combined platform ladder appliances in Merseyside based purely on workload alone. Furthermore the data analysis shows a significant reduction in the number of aerial appliance mobilisations as a direct result of changes in the Service’s policy regarding response to unconfirmed actuations of AFAs in June 2000. However, we will maintain a fleet of aerial appliances, strategically located across Merseyside in such a way that their use can be targeted at those types of incidents where they can make a real difference.

We have, as an interim measure and prior to finalisation of the new risk map, planned that an aerial capability will be able to attend within set times, details of which are in the Action Plan.

These changes will make sure aerial appliances will be able to arrive in time to undertake all of their roles at fires and other emergencies. The strategic distribution will allow an aerial appliance to reach an incident in sufficient time to perform its full range of functions effectively. It is anticipated that 4 strategically placed aerial appliances will meet these new standards.

An Integrated Risk Management Plan for the future must make best use of new technology. Therefore, we will replace 2 of the remaining 4 aerials with Combined Pump Platforms (CPP), an appliance that can both operate as a fire engine or aerial appliance. We want to adopt this type of appliance as a core element of our aerial appliance capability and our Action Plan will set out how we intend to achieve the provision of this exciting new technology.

Special Appliances

The Fire and Rescue Service attends many types of emergencies and it is the Government’s intention to make these and other emergency situations a statutory duty on the Authority to broaden the scope of our responsibilities. We must therefore hold equipment to enable it to deal with a wider range of incidents, which, although very infrequent, must be prepared for. Specialised equipment needs to be called upon only occasionally and it is not possible to carry all equipment on all fire appliances, where it would take up valuable space which should be occupied by more frequently used equipment. However special equipment should be available for immediate deployment should a major incident occur. This specialised equipment is carried on special appliances, which do not usually respond to the most frequent incidents but are held in readiness to respond when needed.

Since 1990 special appliances within Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have been based around the demountable pod system. This consists of tractor units (prime movers) and pods (large containers). These pods are stored on strategic stations when not in use. When required, they are mounted onto a prime mover for delivery to the incident ground and the prime mover will demount the pod and be available for use elsewhere, with the pod being collected when no longer required at the incident.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service has a range of equipment available on its special appliances, which adequately provides for foreseeable emergencies. Pods currently in service and their location are:

Hose Layers (3) Bromborough, St. Helens & Old Swan

A hose layer is a pod capable of transporting large quantities of water to locations or to supplement existing supplies.

Operational Support Unit (2) Speke/Garston & Bromborough

This is a pod carrying equipment to mitigate environmental damage due to the escape of hazardous substances into the environment. Much of the equipment carried is provided by the Environment Agency as part of a collaborative approach to chemical/bio-hazard releases.

Foam Units (4) Kirkdale, Birkenhead, Speke/Garston & Wallasey

This pod carries foam concentrate and foam making equipment far in excess of the capability of a front line appliance to cater for firefighting at aircraft, shipping, oil fires etc.

Special Rescue Unit (2) Kirkdale & St.Helens

This pod is used at incidents where large and/or heavy equipment is used, such as a major RTA, incidents involving machinery, entrapments in mud or building collapses.

Marine Unit (1) Kirkdale

This pod is used predominately for ship firefighting and carries the equipment such as lifejackets and stability equipment necessary for marine incidents.

Chemical Incident Unit (1) Old Swan

This is used for chemical incidents and carries more equipment than frontline appliances including chemical protection suits, air shelters etc for the handling of hazardous materials.

Breathing Apparatus Support (1) Birkenhead

This unit has a portable compressor for the replenishment of BA cylinders at incidents of a protracted nature involving breathing apparatus

Damage Control Unit (1) Wallasey

This unit is for salvage use at incidents as well as damage control during and after firefighting operations.

Incident Command & Control Unit (1) Wallasey

This pod is used at protracted incidents and is a mobile command & control point with various communication media and accommodation for operational planning. It acts as a control point for all firefighting actions.

General Purpose (2) Kirkdale & St.Helens

This pod carries an inflatable boat and acts as a heavy transport vehicle. It also carries rescue equipment for road, mud and water incidents.

The prime movers associated with these pod units are currently situated at Birkenhead, Bromborough, Kirkdale, Old Swan, Speke/Garston, St.Helens and Wallasey fire stations. There is a further prime mover held as a reserve.

Operational Resource Centres

We believe that significant efficiency improvements could be made by combining this specialised capability at centralised depots. The proposed role of these resource centres is part of our work in our expanded rescue role. We are still finalising details about the range and volume of equipment which will need to be located at these operational resource centres and, until this is confirmed, we cannot take final decisions about where these are best sited. We will, however, still need special appliances at other location(s) as risk determines.

Mobilising

One of our core responsibilities is to make efficient arrangements to respond to calls for assistance from the public.

We have, for several years, been planning to replace our current system for mobilising appliances. In line with Government guidance, we have liaised with the other Fire and Rescue Services in the North West, and with the other emergency services in Merseyside, concerning the possibility of a regional or shared control and mobilising facility. Following detailed discussion with these bodies, it was decided to proceed with a new mobilising system solely for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service but with the capability of providing equivalent services to others, if required in the future. Feasibility studies have been carried out, specifications drawn up and tenders sought for the mobilising system. However, following the publication of the White Paper “Our Fire and Rescue Service”, further work on the possibility of a regional control facility is under consideration and, at the time of writing, further Government guidance is awaited.

We are participating in a major national project to replace the radio system through which our mobilising centre communicates with our fire engines and operational officers, and to provide radio communications at incidents. By joining together with other fire authorities to provide this new system we will share the development costs, and secure effective procurement arrangements. This joint approach will also make sure we can communicate effectively both with neighbouring Fire and Rescue Services and with other emergency services such as the police who use compatible technology.

At the moment all calls for assistance receive an immediate response (though of course only a single response when more than one call is received about the same incident) unless we are satisfied that it would be inappropriate for us to attend (for example, calls from people locked out of their buildings where there is no risk of fire or other humanitarian reasons for us to help out).

Unwanted Calls

In the last few years, we have attempted to reduce the number of unwanted mobilisations by adopting a call challenge policy. When a Control Operator receives a call which they believe to be malicious, the operator has the discretion to either send a reduced mobilisation or not to mobilise any appliances at all. This policy will be reviewed and extended with a view to further reducing unnecessary mobilisations and to release more time for operational staff to carry out additional duties proposed elsewhere in this plan (such as prevention work or training).

We therefore propose to make the following changes to the way in which our control staff deal with calls for assistance. These changes are directed at making more efficient and effective use of our skilled resources. They will not affect our ability to continue to provide a rapid emergency response to all fires and other calls for assistance, commensurate with the risks which they pose.

Hoax Calls

Our control staff will question callers using predetermined questions where there is reason to suspect that a call may not be genuine. We believe this will help to reduce the large number of malicious calls which we have already begun to reduce following agreement with mobile phone companies to disconnect phones used repeatedly to make hoax calls. Similar policies have been applied successfully elsewhere in the country.

Abandoned Calls

These are calls where the person rings off while still in contact with the phone company operator (i.e. before they are put through to our control centre). We do not respond to such calls from mobile phones (as the location of the caller is not known). We propose not to respond in future to abandoned calls from public phone boxes, unless a further call is received about an incident in the area, or unless our control operators have any reason to believe that the call may have been genuine. These calls would continue to be referred to us by the phone company operator, and we would record the details of the call. This will enable us to monitor the impact of this change closely.

Referrals to Transco

We presently receive calls each year to attend domestic gas leaks or carbon monoxide detectors which are sounding. However Transco have arrangements in place to deal with such incidents (with appropriately trained personnel) and our experience is that they are best placed to deal with these incidents. We therefore propose to refer all such calls direct to Transco, giving callers safety advice but not mobilising an appliance.

Dangerous buildings

We are sometimes called out (particularly during high winds) to help where structures (such as buildings, scaffolding etc) are in precarious positions. We believe that local authorities, working with builders and developers, are in a better position to deal safely with such incidents, and that the police are best placed to establish a cordon to preserve public safety until the building is made safe. We will open discussions about putting in place effective arrangements for us to refer such calls to an agency better placed to deal with them.

Response to Secondary Fires

A secondary fire is a fire of a relatively minor nature, in the vast majority of cases posing no real threat to life or property.

The existing mobilisation criteria which provides an immediate response by the nearest appliance to every secondary fire will be reviewed. A risk assessed approach will be used to secondary fires unless they offer a real threat to property or further calls are received. Responses may be made with a support pump rather than a rescue tender, regardless of its proximity to the fire.

We are currently examining alternative methods of responding to secondary fires, including the use of more appropriate specialist vehicles, utilising flexible crewing methods. Details of this are in the Action Plan.

Section 2 & 12 Arrangements

These are arrangements, made under Sections 2 and 12 of the Fire Services Act 1947, which enable neighbouring Fire and Rescue Services to provide assistance to each other. In light of proposals made in this IRMP, and by our neighbouring services in Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Lancashire in their equivalent plans, we are liaising with each other to ensure that there is no diminution of fire cover in an area of one Authority covered by the Fire and Rescue Service from another Authority, as a result of the IRMP. Where one Authority charges another for providing such cover, as allowed under Section 12 of the Act, such charges are also being reviewed.

©Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service