4 Prevention and Protection
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Community Fire Safety

Community Fire Safety (CFS) is a planned programme of intervention, outreach and raising awareness to prevent fire-related deaths and reduce the risk, incidence and cost of fire in the wider community. It is intended to reduce the risk of fire occurring and not merely trying to combat it once it has happened.

In 1999, Merseyside Fire & Civil Defence Authority decided to re-invest and renew to meet the challenge of fire. By staying with conventional approaches it is entirely predictable that there would be the conventional results of unnecessary fire deaths and injuries. The Authority decided to be innovative and creative with its Community Safety Strategy and encourage and foster that within its workforce. By definition, therefore, this created projects both in nature and scale that were uncommon, if not, unique in the UK Fire Service. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service remains at the forefront of CFS initiatives in the United Kingdom.

To illustrate the priority afforded to CFS work, community safety training is now fully integrated into trainee firefighter training courses and is given the same importance as the training given in firefighting and emergency incident response. A firefighter completing a trainee course in Merseyside is fully prepared for a modern fire and rescue service.

Our strategy is described in full in a separate document but the key elements and some of the initiatives that form the basis of these pro-active measures are described below and it is on these strong foundations that we will build more means to improve safety in the community.

Home Fire Risk Assessments (HFRAs)

The flagship of the Community Safety Strategy is the Home Fire Safety Check(HFRA). This is a free risk assessment of domestic properties within Merseyside, carried out by operational firefighters and advocates in minority communities and is offered to every household in the area. The results of these HFRAs are usually that smoke detector(s) are fitted, free of charge and a ‘fire plan’ is discussed and agreed with the householder.

Over the last 3 years, 160,000+ HFRAs have been carried out across the Merseyside community. This has resulted in the fitting of over 250,000 smoke detectors and there is real evidence emerging that smoke alarms fitted by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have alerted families to a fire in their home from which they have been able to escape. Nationally, 28% of homes that suffer fires have a working smoke alarm. In Merseyside we are currently double this figure.

Our firefighters have embraced the concept of preventing fires and enabling members of the public to avoid fires. Local representative bodies have publicly recognised the value of HFRAs together with numerous visitors and auditors.

If the original home assessment indicates a high-risk property, the case is forwarded to the Community Safety Section, who have a greater level of expertise in implementing risk reduction principles. They may include the provision of a deep fat fryer to replace chip pans, safe sleeping blankets, flame resistant bedding, specialised alarm systems (for instance for deaf people) and ultimately the fitting of residential sprinklers. It is often the case that individuals in high-risk properties are known to other agencies and in these cases case audits are arranged.

Fire Service Direct

In 2000, the Authority approved another unique project – Fire Service Direct, launched by the Rt. Hon. Ian McCartney MP. Fire Service Direct is the development of telephone-based services of trained call centre operators, who target areas, booking HFRAs for firefighters to carry out. This frees up fire station personnel and avoids them spending time on the administration of the initiative.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service has contracted a call-management company, LOOP, to generate 60,000 HFRA appointments per year. LOOP has also created a database that will include information from the origin of call to completion of HFRA. It allows practitioners to target resources at the ‘hard to reach’ vulnerable groups and communities. The historical information from the paper-based 160,000+ HFRAs already carried out has been added to the database described in Chapter 2, allowing community safety personnel to access the system. This will determine which of our initiatives are successful, verify the timescales for HFRAs being carried out, record the numbers and reasons for cancellations and areas of slow take up. It will allow us to target resources at vulnerable groups and communities.The freephone number enables members of the public to not only book HFRA appointments but also receive other information about Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

To make an appointment, please phone free on 0800 731 5958

The Fire Service Direct potential has recently been expanded by establishing a partnership with a training provider to offer fire safety advice direct to businesses across Merseyside.

Community Cohesion

We have taken active steps to be a significant player in reducing fire risk in the community. Fire has an immediate community impact – but also threatens community cohesion. For instance, a burned out car or derelict building leaves a ‘scar’ as well as a hazard in the heart of areas where people live. It can encourage other unwelcome and sometimes criminal behaviour that creates a downward spiral of events. The loss of a school to a deliberate fire goes well beyond the building itself.

We are already working with partners to reduce the impact from fire. Successful partnerships and funding arrangements have been entered into with nearly 20 community groups, trusts, neighbourhood councils, businesses and other groups. We are also represented at many multi-agency organisations.

Fire Reduction through Engagement and Education (F.R.E.E. Team)

In March 2002 we created a team of six from within the existing establishment to set up a series of training programmes to tackle the root causes of fire in the community. Young arson-offenders often come from marginalized sections of those communities, and do not fully understand the impact of their actions. These young people are often at risk of exclusion from school or have already been excluded. The courses are designed to help young people who pose a potential fire risk become the fire safe citizens of the future by:

  • Educating them in the importance of fire safety
  • Helping them understand the consequences of their actions and prevent re-offending
  • Providing positive role models and activities to help them develop confidence and self-esteem and raise aspirations

Referrals to these courses come from a number of partner agencies such as Local Education Authorities, Youth Offending Teams, Youth Inclusion Programmes, Juvenile and Magistrates Courts. We have agreed to underwrite the scheme although sufficient funding has been attracted to make it cost neutral so far. We will look to expand the initiative and where possible, deliver the scheme within local district areas.

Princes Trust Volunteers Scheme (PTV)

In March 2002 we established a partnership with The Prince’s Trust to help young people marginalized through lack of qualifications, a criminal conviction or unemployment. The aim is to give these groups of young people self-confidence, motivation and resilience. By helping them to acquire these skills assists towards these people achieving economic independence and employment.

We are now a ‘delivery partner’, with The Prince’s Trust and have delivered a number of courses, from our community central base in Kirkdale. The young people who have attended and completed the course have, in the main, been socially excluded 16-25 year old age group from Liverpool. To demonstrate commitment to the scheme we have agreed to underwrite the continuation of the partnership although it is currently funded through grants. As a result of the success of the programme currently being delivered in Liverpool we are looking to expand the scheme to Knowsley and Speke/Garston.

Young Firefighter Scheme

During the next year, we will maintain the investment in our fire safety work with young people and we will expand the opportunities for all young people to engage more closely with the fire and rescue service through the creation of young firefighter schemes, initially on a pilot basis on three stations, with a view to rolling out the concept across the whole of Merseyside.

The 60+ Youth Initiative

This high profile initiative is a competition- based project that encourages youth groups to forward referrals for HFRAs in the homes of older people, our most vulnerable group. The youth group or school who gain the most HFRAs receive a specifically designed training and fire experience course. The aim of the initiative is to increase the number of HFRAs to the over 60s via the family and friends of the youth group members and to build a strong partnership with all youth groups from the diverse sections of the Merseyside community, broadening our ability to access and influence these groups. Since 2002, over 1700 youth groups have registered in the scheme and we carried out over 6000 HFRAs as a result.

Bilingual Fire Safety Advocates

For some of our communities whose first language is not English, we have employed Bilingual Fire Safety advocates to improve our aim of encouraging all communities to access our HFRAs. In this initiative, which began last year, the advocates give advice and complete HFRAs, often in difficult to reach sections of our Chinese, Somali and Yemeni communities. The fixed term contract appointments were funded by the Government’s Arson Control Forum and underwritten by the Authority.

In addition to carrying out HFRAs, the advocates advise their local communities on issues surrounding arson reduction by giving talks and meeting key local leaders. We will build on the success of advocates working in minority communities/groups of individuals and will employ more in the future to assist us in engaging hard-to-reach vulnerable groups. Some 300 fire safety checks have been carried out in homes in these communities.

Friends of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service

The Friends of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is a voluntary organisation started three years ago and based on individual community fire stations. Their main aim is to promote fire safety awareness within all sections of the community to help create a safer community. The objectives set for Friends are:

  • Recruit and train volunteer Friends of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service;
  • Provide a friendly and accessible focal point of contact between the local community and the Service;
  • Promote and raise fire safety awareness within all sections of the community;
  • Support the Service’s progress towards a fire-safe community;
  • Introduce diversity to the Fire and Rescue Service;
  • Promote social inclusion.

Currently there are 100+ active volunteers who are, in the main, working from nine of our Community Fire Stations. Friends are planning to expand on issues such as HFRA leafleting, installation of alarms for deaf people, co-ordinating visits to fire stations, leading on fire safety projects with community groups, after fire care/service and local administration of HRFA forms. Friends is a registered charity and has been grant aided by the Home Office Active Community Unit.

A new relationship with the voluntary sector will facilitate expansion of this valuable partnership.

Community Safety Advocates

Whilst our personnel have made tremendous progress in accessing over 160,000 domestic properties, it is clear in any risk based approach that HFRAs have to be targetted at the more vulnerable members in the community. Fire investigation results reveal that often other agencies are already assessing these properties, eg social workers and health visitors. We are therefore training such partners to be fire safety advocates who encourage their clients to ask us to carry out a HFRA on their property. This is already resulting in more referrals and it is anticipated that there will be thousands more for the most "at risk" premises. This principle has been expanded to numerous groups of outreach workers.

In addition to the above initiatives, the Authority intends, in the next financial year, to create additional opportunities for fire safety advocates working with the community, in the community and at times of day that suit the community. This will be achieved by redirecting existing resources to create 20 part time posts on a flexible working contract. Our fire prevention work will continue to be delivered around the core messages or Prevention, Detection and Escape.

Sprinklers

Merseyside Fire & Civil Defence Authority has been actively involved in the promotion of residential sprinklers since the mid-1990's. Frequent and regular seminars have been held, accompanied by live demonstrations of sprinkler systems to all sections of the community including local MPs, councillors, housing associations, residents groups and members of the public. In addition, we have carried out two full scale “burns” in properties due for demolition, to show the difference in the effects of fire in a room without sprinklers and a room with sprinklers. Two videos/CDs on residential sprinklers have been produced, one for schools and one for domestic properties. Both of these have been distributed on a national basis.

A new demonstration unit is under construction at the Safety Training Centre, Croxteth. This will house an “Aqua-Mist” system, and will allow us to actively demonstrate the two current types of residential sprinkler systems that are being installed in the United Kingdom. We are in partnership with Aqua-Mist and together we are developing a stand-alone single sprinkler unit for the immediate protection of identified vulnerable people in the community. Staffing changes within Fire Safety will provide a designated officer for the promotion of residential sprinklers in domestic properties as well as technical officers who research and demonstrate the types of systems.

We have, since 2000, provided or facilitated life saving sprinkler installations for at least 100 families on Merseyside.

It is the policy of Merseyside Fire & Civil Defence Authority to continue to lobby the Government and other decision makers with a view to the mandatory installation of sprinklers in all new build domestic property through amendments to the Building Regulations. We will actively promote the value of domestic sprinkler systems with regard to their ability to protect both life and premises.

We will contribute to and encourage innovation in sprinkler design in the home to create systems that reduce risk to tolerable levels but are far more widely affordable. Sprinklers offer the best protection in many business and public buildings. The performance of sprinklers over many years has been outstanding in terms of protection. We will work with the developer and designers of buildings to encourage their widespread use for the protection of the community, business and the firefighters sent to deal with any lives.

Arson Strategy

Arson is currently the largest single cause of fire in the U.K. On Merseyside, there were 23,218 arson incidents last year, with these incidents representing 56% of the total operational workload. As with other types of crime, arson is not evenly spread throughout Merseyside. Study shows that those on the lowest incomes suffer rates of arson fires thirty times higher than elsewhere and are fifteen times more likely to die as a result of a fire.

Arson fires can often devastate whole families to an extent not matched by other crimes. Fire can leave victims with injuries, which cause a lifetime of pain, leaving permanent physical and mental scars. Arson has a financial cost running to hundreds of millions of pounds, per year, nationally. It destroys communities and pollutes our environment.

A separate ‘Arson Reduction Strategy’ is available and some of that Strategy is detailed below.

Safer Merseyside Partnership

We are a member of the Safer Merseyside Partnership (SMP). SMP have provided help to us to assist with the funding of a dedicated Arson Reduction Manager. This officer is tasked with developing partnerships that will reduce arson, and thus contribute to the Authority’s overall aim of creating a fire safe community. This officer leads our Arson Task Force for Merseyside.

Crime & Disorder Reduction Partnerships

We have appointed officers who will attend the five District Crime & Disorder Reduction Partnerships. These local forums provide the opportunity to work with partners and respond to problems and issues within local communities.

Merseyside Police

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and Merseyside Police are working together to create an arson and fire investigation protocol. This will ensure a measured response to the arson problem. It will also ensure that the management information systems are compatible, and information can be shared to maximum effect. As part of their commitment to the partnership, we are delighted Merseyside Police have seconded a police officer to work within the fire service. This is the foundation of a dedicated Arson Task Force, and it is anticipated that other members will be recruited from key partner agencies to contribute to effectiveness of the team. We will also examine the Arson Task Force from a regional perspective to ascertain if this offers a more cost-effective method of service delivery.

Incident Investigation Team

Part of our statutory mandate to reduce the incidence and consequences of fire is the sharing of knowledge and information about fire risk and how best it can be managed. We have created a dedicated Incident Investigation Team to perform detailed investigations into causes of fires and other mitigating factors that led to the fire ignition and its ensuing spread. The team works in partnership with Police Crime Scene Investigators to analyse evidence and detect causes of arson. The team have been frequently called as witnesses in the subsequent prosecution of arson offenders, this dovetails into our objectives of detecting and prosecuting arson offending with Merseyside. Reports are produced detailing the results of these investigations which are made available to relevant organisations where the results will help to suggest ways in which similar incidents can be prevented in future and to provide a basis from which to target fire safety advice and prevention programmes.

FREE team

The FREE team play a major part in deterring and preventing arson. Further details of the FREE team can be found on page 25.

Bilingual Advocates

Specific detail of the Bi-lingual Advocates can be found on page 26. However, with specific reference to arson, the team are developing a reporting scheme whereby non-English speaking residents can contact the advocates to report incidences of abandoned vehicles, unsecured property, fly tipping, and accumulations of rubbish. The advocates will then progress these issues on their behalf and thus reduce the likelihood of the potential arson.

Working With Partners

In line with all recent key documents, particularly the White Paper issued in June 2003, we are working in partnerships and initiatives to reach vulnerable groups where a disproportionate number of fires are occurring. This opens up a number of ‘funding’ streams in addition to the commitment already made by the Authority in both monetary and personnel terms.

We are already working with partners to reduce the impact from fire upon communities across Merseyside. Since 1999/2000 in excess of £1.4 million has been received in grants towards this effort. Partnership arrangements will continue to be sought with any organisation that assists us to achieve our vision and corporate objectives.

Successful partnerships and funding arrangements have been entered into with the following:

  • Arson Control Forum
  • Learning and Skills Council
  • New Deal for Employment
  • Local Education Authorities
  • Safer Merseyside Partnerships
  • Government Office Northwest
  • New Deals for Communities
  • Liverpool Housing Action Trust
  • Vauxhall Neighbourhood Council
  • Health Action Zones
  • Community Funds

Other successful arrangements have been with:

  • Merseyside Society for Deaf People
  • Sefton Housing Development
  • Pilkington’s Pension Trust
  • HSBC Bank
  • Primary Care Trusts

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is represented at the following:

  • North West Accident Task Force
  • Merseyside Health Action Zone
  • Safer Merseyside Partnership
  • Multi-Agency Governance Group
  • Crime and Disorder Partnerships in the 5 District Councils
  • Trauma and Injury Group
  • Merseyside Racial Harassment Forum

Notable successes include:

  • Bilingual Fire Safety Advocates;
  • Fire Reduction through Engagement and Education (FREE);
  • Over 60’s Initiative;
  • Prince’s Trust Volunteers
  • Church Watch;
  • Friends of the Fire Service

and details of many of these initiatives can be found elsewhere in this Plan.

As stated in a number of key Government publications, the Fire and Rescue Service cannot work in isolation to achieve the aim of preventing fires. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service will continue to develop and expand on all partnership working already detailed above and explore new opportunities as they arise. The former development of proactive and preventative strategies will embody the commitment of the Authority to the wider Neighbourhood Renewal and Social Inclusion agenda and will give increased access to the most vulnerable in our community.

Working with District Councils

We believe that the fire and rescue service is part of the mainstream of local government and has an important role to play in improving the quality of life in Merseyside. This is why we have recently changed our organisation, putting in place a District Council-based structure. A District Manager has been appointed to plan and deliver all services in each of the five Districts. This will help us to improve joint working at District level.

A key priority will be the developing of closer links with the District Councils and active participation in local programmes to tackle crime and disorder, social exclusion and economic regeneration. A number of innovative local initiatives (detailed above) have already been launched which have shown the benefits which can be delivered from this new structure.

We also intend to look to develop the role of Station Locality Manager to assist in these initiatives as well as to improve performance. Further details of the Station Locality Manager are in Chapter 11 on Performance Management.

Fire Victim Support Scheme

We have a partnership with the British Red Cross to assist the victims of serious domestic fires. The service has been available for over 10 years and during that time has provided assistance to over 1500 victims of domestic fire. Assistance is provided by the British Red Cross Fire Victim Support Service. Such assistance can take many forms but all are designed to provide immediate practical and emotional support and help to victims at their time of greatest need. Examples of assistance provided has included provision of replacement clothing, hygiene facilities and has even, on occasion, extended to the provision of temporary accommodation.

The service has two vehicles staffed by volunteers. They provide cover from 1800 to 0600hrs Monday to Friday and 24 hour cover over the weekends and bank holidays.

In 2002 the service provided much needed help following 76 incidents.

Fire Safety Enforcement

We currently know about some 12,000 buildings through our work in enforcing fire certification and various licensing arrangements.

Our inspection programmes for these buildings are already risk-based in that we grade all buildings according to their primary use and the standards of fire safety and general management observed within the building. High-risk buildings are subjected to frequent and comprehensive inspections. Lower-risk buildings are inspected less frequently, with those presenting the lowest risks being checked on a sampling basis.

We continue to identify previously unknown buildings and add them to our inspection programmes.

It is expected that a fundamental review of fire safety law will come to fruition in late 2004 with the introduction of a new Fire Safety (Reform) Order. This will replace existing laws with a consistent risk-based approach covering all buildings used as places of work and/or to which the public have access. Under such an approach the responsibility for carrying out a risk assessment and taking any necessary action to minimise the risks identified during that assessment will rest with the building owner or occupier.

The fire and rescue service would remain as the enforcing agency, based on an inspection regime tailored to the risks presented in each building, rather than the prescriptive and resource intensive programme of prior certification which flows from the current requirements under the Fire Precautions Act. Such an approach reflects that already in place for enforcement of health and safety legislation. If and when such a new statutory regime is put in place, we will continue to apply our risk-based inspection programmes to all Merseyside buildings falling within the remit of this new law. We recognise that self assessment and self compliance with fire safety may be a potentially daunting task for someone without technical knowledge of fire safety systems, or someone who is new to the issue of fire safety management. A building’s occupier or owner will need clear and concise guidance on how to comply with the law. We will make sure we maintain a comprehensive set of guidance and advisory notes and make them available to people to help them comply with the law.

We also recognise that in many cases people may employ professionals from the private sector to advise them how to achieve fire safety in their property. They may also need to employ contractors to supply and fit fire safety systems and equipment. Fire safety is increasingly a technically complex area of business and we believe that people need some way of knowing that the equipment they are being supplied with, the quality of work on equipment installation and the advice they are receiving, are all up to a safe and professional standard.

We believe that there may be advantages, as part of the extension of a risk-based approach to fire safety enforcement, to developing a system of third party accreditation, for equipment, system installation and fire safety advice, to support building owners and occupiers in meeting their new responsibilities. This would help to maintain a consistent standard for those businesses participating in the scheme, and support the identification and exchange of best practice in completing risk assessments and making buildings safer.

We will therefore discuss with the Government, the building, insurance and fire protection industries, other fire authorities and with the commercial sector more generally, the potential benefits of such an accreditation system. To deal with these increased responsibilities for enforcing fire safety we have developed new computer-based systems to handle the information about buildings and to manage the inspection programmes.

Work has also started on proposals to link these information systems electronically to the wider Merseyside community so that buildings owners or occupiers can provide information direct to our fire safety teams and in return receive advice on fire safety matters. Similar links will be developed with other enforcing authorities to streamline the exchange of information and consultation on fire safety and related issues. This will support our work to meet government targets to make all our services available electronically by 2005 (see pages 17 and 18 for further details of this).

Currently our inspection work is carried out by specialist fire safety officers, based in District teams.

We will continue to work with bodies and groups with an interest in fire safety issues to develop and evaluate effective fire safety technologies and management systems.

To provide the best service to the local community, we recognise that we must have talented fire safety officers. We are committed to developing existing staff and attracting new staff from a wider background than has previously been possible. A review into our staffing needs will be published later this year.

Conclusion

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service remain confident that the range of initiatives already in being and still to be developed will achieve the desired outcomes. Further development of this approach is dependant upon liberation of resources from within a finite budget, i.e. achieving a risk appropriate/responsive balance between prevention and response.

©Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service