Parliamentary Select Communities

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During 2007, after the Parliamentary Select Communities and Local Government Departmental Annual Report it was stated that "The time taken by the fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) to respond to emergency calls is rising." From this finding a quango, Greenstreet Berman Ltd, was commissioned to further develop and study the reasons for this increased response times. Part or their research was also to suggest possible changes (if feasible) to reduce or slow the increase. Their research took into account 11 years of data from both before and after the introduction on the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 so as to allow for a more accurate depiction of the available information.

The study into Primary fire (Dwelling houses fires, Other Building fires, Vehicle fires and Outdoor Fires) found that although response time fatality rate relationships could possibly contribute to 13 additional fatalities in dwelling houses and Other Building fires due to the increased response times, a notable decrease in annual dwelling fire fatalities had been recorded to fall by 142 between the period 1996 to 2006. There also seemed to be no relationship between the introduction of Integrated Risk Management Plans (IRMP) in 2004 and the increasing response times, as the increase was noted four years prior to its introduction which leads to the idea that "the increase in response times cannot be attributed to the removal of national standards of fire cover." (CLG 2009)

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Within their research into dwelling houses, Greenstreet found that average response times in England had increased from 5.5min in 1996 to 6.5min in 2006. This 18% increase was independent of whether there were persons within the building. This could be seen as a natural progression in increased response times due to factors that are outside of the FRSs control, factors such as increased traffic levels. However some other factors that had been introduced during the reformation of the service could have also played a part. This includes factors such as Community Fire Safety, Donning on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) before entering appliances as opposed to whilst en route, and Drive to arrive policies.

The greater focus on Community Fire Safety (CFS) post 2000 which included Home Risk Fire Checks (HFRCs) could be seen to be the reason for the decline in dwelling fire fatalities and although annual fires have increased as have response times, the research into the relationship between fire fighters being "out of position" when an emergency calls are made the times spent on CFS found that it had little impact on response times. The research on evaluation into HRFCs (Smith et al 2008) (*R. Smith, M, Wright, A. Rodgers, R. Evans and P. Leach. Evaluation of the effectiveness of the Fire and Rescue Service Home Fire Risk Checks. 2008 CLG) found that English FRSs completed approximately 1,000,000 HFRCs from the Autumn of 2004 to the Autumn of 2006. Each of these visits took about two hours which equated to 1,000,000 hours of work per year. This means that divided between the 30 000 whole time fire-fighters in England (in 2006) the HRFCs would only really account for 2% of their time and therefore play very little part in influencing their availability to attend incidents as the arise. Furthermore reducing the work that was done in improving fire prevention through measures such as HRFCs to allow for increased resources to attend emergencies would be counterproductive given the effectiveness of fire prevention in reducing fire fatalities by improving awareness and detection times.

Factors such as Donning PPE before climbing onto the appliance and Drive to arrive policies have also been found to have a minimal impact on response times. Donning PPE only takes a few second and can be done whilst the driver is checking the incident address and Drive to arrive policies can be influenced by travelling faster to high life risk, both should not have a major impact on Primary fire response time.

All of the above factors seem to be nominal in comparison to the impact of traffic levels. Although as stated above this is, for the most part, out of the hands of the FRS. Within the review, a number of possible solutions where put forward to mitigate the increased risk of having extended response times. Some of these problem solving strategies were mainly based around the concept of improving the management of FRSs response workload so that it was more cost-effective. This idea was based around reducing the weight of response to non-emergency calls, using the resources of stations with multiple appliances to assist non-emergency where single appliance stations would have been used thus freeing them for emergency incidents, and not responding to "special services" such as people locked out of their house (unless it is a life threatening situation). It was found by the CLG that incident workload could account for up to 30% of the average response times and that only a minority of emergency calls where life threatening. They go on further to suggest that the possible solutions suggested above could reduce response time to emergency and life threatening incidents by ensuring resources are not tied up in other less important calls. H

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