3 Annex 3: The local experience of fire and rescue service reform: perspectives from four case study areas
3.1 Area A
Case study Area A covers an area with a range of levels of deprivation located out with the legacy Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service area.
3.1.1 Delivering a local service
The general view of the firefighters is that the community have not noticed any changes since reform and although the public, community groups, councillors and council staff were aware that reform had had an impact (such as call centres being centralised) they generally felt the community received a good service.
Concerns were expressed by some firefighters that they are not as available to the public as they used to be, with the headquarters reception not being fully staffed and calls to the local station automatically going through to an answer machine but these concerns were not raised by the public, community groups, councillors or council workers.
There were mixed views amongst firefighters about the impact on the reduction in the level of support staff. Although more senior officers believed that changes to support staff have not impacted on their workloads at the station, firefighters in community liaison roles expressed a view that the decrease in the number of administrative support staff means that the workloads of the remaining staff have greatly increased.
The number of non-fire emergency calls is felt to have increased, particularly where the fire and rescue service attends an incident in support of the ambulance service which is seen as having an impact on resources. However, this change is viewed positively by firefighters, as they feel that through working together with a partner agency this produces a positive outcome.
Firefighters in case study Area A acknowledged that the central management of equipment could support a broader, national perspective resulting in effective targeting of facilities and equipment to local areas. The standardisation of equipment and protocols was also seen as a crucial step towards the successful sharing of resources and equipment across Scotland:
'…it's important that, if you're going to work with someone, you … you adopt the same practices' (Area A - firefighter)
There was however an expression of frustration with the systems for providing equipment, tied to a broader concern that local officers were not being sufficiently consulted on issues of procurement, with the result that the needs of localities were being lost in the pursuit of national goals:
'…it's all done at headquarters and I don't know if we get enough consultation on what we actually need in our local area' (Area A - firefighter)
Firefighters generally expressed negative views about IT provision, with network performance described as poor and IT provision seen as having a negative impact upon the ability of firefighters to perform their duties. Poor IT performance is seen as compounded by the difficulties encountered by firefighters when attempting to arrange IT equipment and repairs. There was however praise for the IT support staff who are seen as helpful and as performing a vital function despite being perceived as very busy due to changes to the systems they are working on.
3.1.2 Accessing specialist support
The centralisation of access to specialist resources was viewed positively by firefighters as this system was perceived as ensuring that allocation is shared between areas based on need. There are however, concerns raised about resources being stretched and consequently whether the specialist teams would be able to cope if multiple incidents occur at the same time across the country. This was viewed as a particular concern given the geographical distances the teams may need to travel and some of the logistics involved in moving a team of people across the country and ensuring the welfare of the firefighters.
There was an understanding amongst the firefighters that they are still going through a 'harmonisation' period in which different practices, terminology and training is in the process of being nationalised and that this would take time.
3.1.3 Working with communities
Firefighters felt they are viewed positively by the community. The general public described the local service as 'fantastic' and 'amazing' and this positive view is reinforced also due to the community work they see the fire service doing, such as charity car washes the firefighters had organised.
A view amongst the firefighters was that despite now being a national service they have not lost their localism. This was reiterated by older members of the public who reported seeing firefighters in their area regularly and continue to feel that it is a local service. There was a mixture of views amongst the fire fighters in regards to their level of understanding and the impact they feel local fire plans have on their role. Local fire plans were predominantly viewed as the responsibility of more senior officers, with an expectation they will feed down what firefighters need to know to perform their role. There was an awareness of the local plans amongst community groups and a view that the fire service had conducted a consultation with the community when drawing them up, even if they had not personally been consulted. Councillors viewed the plans as being local, based on consultation in which they have fed into and they receive regular reports about whether the fire service are meeting their objectives.
Generally firefighters felt they are engaging with the community, but that they could make improvements in relation to hard-to-reach community members through visits to mosques, women's groups, talks to refugee families and joint working to engage with those with drug and alcohol dependency.
Firefighters identified prevention as being a key part of the fire service engaging with the community. Post reform targets for home safety visits were viewed positively as they focus on reaching most at risk community members. A standardised recording system has also been introduced for home safety visits which are perceived as providing more accessible information and reminders for follow-up visits.
Through the prevention and awareness raising role, the firefighters described regularly engaging with the community including work in schools, nurseries, youth groups, businesses, groups for the elderly, churches, women's groups as well as organising fun days, galas, fetes and open days at the station every year which hundreds attend. Although firefighters engaged widely with the community there was a view that their resources are stretched and that they do not have enough staff to take on the prevention role. One suggestion was to have non-operational firefighters working as community safety advocates in the local fire service, focusing on prevention and community engagement.
The public, council workers, community groups and councillors were also aware of the prevention role that the firefighters have in their community and viewed this role positively, with a view that the fire service are proactive in this area. Both the younger and older age groups described firefighters carrying out home safety visits, visiting schools, nurseries and their workplaces.
A barrier to the transformation of the fire and rescue service was identified by firefighters as needing to ensure that the community understand their changing role and recognise the wider contribution they make:
'It's possibly the biggest barrier to us...changing our role, really reforming, transforming the service is that if we try and do these things and the public perception is still well they just put fires out then it's kind of pointless. So we need to...we need to do something that...reinforces this wider contribution that we make whilst at the same time maintaining the brand' (Area A - firefighter).
Firefighters detailed experiences of working in partnership with a number of organisations across various sectors. These included public sector organisations such as council, social services, schools, the NHS and environmental services, other first response services such as the police, the ambulance service and the coastguard, and a number of voluntary and third sector projects and organisations. In regards to the police and ambulance, the firefighters were positive about their interactions with the officers and paramedics, but these generally only took place at meetings or at incidents, there was some joint working but generally this was yearly for certain multi-agency initiatives, this had not changed since reform.
Community planning partnerships ( CPPs) were identified by the firefighters as key facilitators of community engagement and partnership working, with a view that they help to ensure community needs are understood and addressed. This opinion was shared by the councillors who viewed the fire service as playing an active part in CPPs and that they feel they have an opportunity to feed into local fire priorities, helping ensure the local plans are local. The co-location of some firefighters in a council building was also identified by the councillors and council staff as leading to strong partnership working, with regular meetings and joint initiatives.
A number of barriers to partnership working were also identified by the firefighters. This included, despite support from senior council members, high workloads for council employees which resulted in partnership work being designated low priority. Data sharing was another barrier identified due to some bodies being perceived as unwilling to share information. Firefighters also highlighted some technical issues when sharing data with other organisations due to incompatible computer systems. There was a view that there is a lack of a system for scaling up examples of positive partnership working and disseminating these across the national service, the creation of which would be beneficial for future partnership working across Scotland.
Firefighters felt that in general, formal partnership working occurs at the upper levels of the fire service rather than at front-line firefighter level. This view was shared by the councillors who explained that if they have any issues generally they contact the commanders directly or at the meetings held at the co-located council building.
Firefighters expressed mixed opinions as to whether the nature of partnership working had materially changed since reform. One view was that the focus of partnership working has shifted with a greater emphasis on fire prevention, and the quality and strength of broader ties with the local community has dropped since reform. Another view was that although the procedures surrounding partnership working may have altered, the level of successful partnership working has remained more or less unchanged.
3.2 Area B
Case study Area B is located in a large urban area which was part of the former Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service area. The station is situated in an area with high levels of deprivation.
3.2.1 Delivering a local service
There was consensus amongst the firefighters that the public would not have noticed any changes since reform and council staff, community groups and councillors all viewed the fire service on the whole as performing a good role in the community.
However, some firefighters described the reduction in the number of support staff as having a negative impact on their workloads. In principle they supported the reduction in support staff where there was a duplication of roles. However, in practice it was not always viewed as cost-saving as firefighters felt they are now fulfilling some of the support roles. Due to cutbacks in the number of office assistants, the middle managers described spending more time running the office. This was viewed as having an impact on the amount of time they are able to spend on managing their crew and affects their capacity to deliver training.
The firefighters also described taking on additional responsibilities which was increasing their workloads, such as attending more ambulance-related incidents. The firefighters were very positive about their new role but stressed that in order to deliver this work to a high standard they need more personnel and better equipment and training:
'If we do turn up to something and we are having to wait for an ambulance to come I think there will be a lot of guys who will be a bit nervous and a bit right...I can kind of remember some of this stuff as opposed to being constantly trained on it and refreshed and qualified, and being more confident with it.' (Area B - firefighter)
Resourcing was viewed as being affected by having to provide back-up to other areas of the city, which in their view poses a risk as their area could be left without an appliance. Officers also described having to rely on resources from other areas, for which they sometimes have to wait for up to a couple of hours. Firefighters also explained that since reform crewing requirements per appliance had reduced from six firefighters down to four. In addition, pre-reform the station used to operate as a two-pump station, however now due to the low number of firefighters at the station they often have to operate with only one pump. Firefighters felt that these changes are leading to a reduction in the standard of the service that they are providing the public.
3.2.2 Accessing specialist support
Before reform, Area B had a pool of specialist resources based locally, but this equipment has been redistributed and concern was expressed by the firefighters that certain equipment is now located at a greater distance:
'…the issue that we've got with that is the further away you go the longer it takes you to get there and the higher chance of you getting there and it's too late, or you're just completely ineffective when you get there because something has changed, and evolved and you're no longer going to be any use' (Area B - firefighter)
An example was provided where a major incident had occurred and the response was viewed as a 'disaster'. This was due to the delays experienced in receiving help as the local service was instructed to wait for specialist resources, despite being equipped to deal with the incident using local resources.
Some firefighters also felt that 'dual crewing' and the perceived reduction in the number of officers who are trained to use specialist equipment led to increased time delays in deploying specialised resources. Reinstating specialist teams, instead of dual crewing was suggested as an area for improvement. Officers also felt that if they received some basic training in skills that could support the specialist teams this would ensure that they could be usefully deployed at an incident. The lack of specialist training was leading to some officers feeling de-skilled:
'If it's a fire call it's your normal job and that's fine! You're on an even keel but if its water rescue you're just kind of there for the ride. It seems a waste because you've got an extra pair of hands and you certainly get put to work, you have something to do, either to carry stuff, or help as best you can but you've got no idea what you're doing! It's not a great feeling that because you kind of think sorry! You feel apologetic and as if you're in the way' (Area B - firefighter)
3.2.3 Working with communities
One of the key ways firefighters engage with the local community is around prevention. Prevention was viewed by the firefighters as being part of their everyday role; in particular they mentioned their involvement in open days at the station and visiting schools, nurseries, community groups and youth groups. Firefighters described the previous system whereby there was a community engagement team who carried out the prevention work and one view was that they would like to see this team reinstated.
The move to the prevention role being carried out by all firefighters meant that some felt that they do not have the necessary skills to deliver talks, for example to children and young people. One suggestion was to have some standardised information which they could deliver to specific groups in the community.
There are mixed views among firefighters regarding home safety visits. The visits are seen as providing an opportunity to show the community they are there to help. There is also a view that the targets that are set around the home visits are too focused on the quantity of calls rather than on targeting those most at risk. The process of knocking on all doors in an area in order to reach their targets was described as feeling like 'cold calling', a process that was perceived as uncomfortable:
'We will be tasked to kind of...knock the doors, maybe the houses surrounding, across the street and just say there's been a slight incident, everything is fine, would you like a home fire safety visit? It's like a kind of cold calling thing um...and its...it's pretty humiliating to be honest, because people don't really want…I agree with putting a thing through the letterbox or something but I mean you feel like a door to door salesman and they look at you … it feels quite intrusive but they want that done because they want the numbers up for whoever reads the report of how many fire safety visits we've done which seems to be what it's all about now' (Area B - firefighter)
A councillor view was that the prevention role is helpful to the community, particularly firefighters delivering talks in schools, attending community events and holding open days at the station. A concern, however, was raised that using highly trained, professional firefighters to perform this community role may not be the most effective use of resources and that perhaps less skilled people could take the role of advising the community on fire safety.
The community groups, council staff and members of the public were aware of the prevention role of firefighters and viewed this positively. Community groups particularly mentioned the delivery of prevention talks in the community as a positive activity. However, they were concerned that firefighters are being less proactive than they used to be in relation to how they deal with community engagement following an incident or fire. In the past they would have engaged with community groups to ask for help to contact members of the public who were seen as at risk, whereas their approach now is to put leaflets through the doors of everyone in the community, to raise awareness of home safety visits.
Community groups, council staff and the public could all provide examples of the role the fire service play in the local area, including open days, fire safety checks, fun days, galas and school visits.
In terms of the challenges of engaging with specific social groups, firefighters felt they are still not reaching those with drug and alcohol dependency. A view is that the only ways to reach them are after an incident or if they are referred by social work. Firefighters viewed the work they had undertaken with young people as having had a positive impact in reducing rubbish fires. A view amongst the community groups, was that it was only a few years ago when the engines were being attacked and consequently the service spent time building relationships with young people through running fire safety programmes. They believed this is not happening anymore and so expressed concern that this is impacting on the relationship between the fire service and the community.
The firefighters viewed partnership working as focused on engaging with the local community and sharing information with other agencies in order to provide targeted support to vulnerable people. In regards to the police service, the general view was that though they work together at significant local events, the majority of the communication is at particular incidents and at meetings, this is not viewed as having changed since reform.
There was little reported contact between the firefighters and councillors. The firefighters did not refer to community planning partnerships in the context of partnership working. This view was shared by the councillors who reported little contact with the fire service, apart from at meetings. Though they have little contact, they viewed the service positively and would know who to contact if they had any issues. They do not discuss any joint working with the fire service, but they do not feel this has changed since reform.
There was some evidence from the firefighters of partnership working with housing organisations, however, there was also a view that contact was 'very limited with other agencies'. This was reiterated by the council staff and community groups. A worker from a housing association discussed the joint working they used to do with the service, but feels that due to a lack of resources in the fire service as a result of reform they have now lost their partnership working.
Processes were said to be in place for referring vulnerable people to other agencies e.g. social services. Firefighters however, expressed concern about the impact of referring members of the public to other agencies. Currently the fire service are making first contact with vulnerable people who may be less trusting of other agencies such as the police or social services, but they were concerned that the public may lose trust in the fire service should they feel that their information is being passed to other organisations.
Firefighters asserted that formal partnership working and communication with other organisations occurs largely at the upper levels of the service rather than at front-line firefighter level. There was a degree of frustration by the firefighters about the lack of communication with other services at firefighter level, particularly in relation to receiving feedback on the outcome of cases where they have referred a vulnerable person to other agencies.
Firefighters expressed a view that due to limited resources, working in partnership with other organisations represented a strain on their already stretched workload. They also felt unable to deal with particular situations, such as domestic disturbances, in partnership with other agencies as they had not received adequate training.
A variety of views were expressed by the firefighters as to whether the nature of partnership working has changed since reform. One view is that there is now a greater focus on community engagement, however another view is that the level and quality of partnership working has not altered as a result of reform. There is a view that partnership working has simply been rebranded by the national fire service, but that the nature of partnership working has not changed.
3.3 Area C
Case study area C is located in a rural location, at some distance from the central belt and not part of the former Strathclyde Region. It has a retained fire station.
3.3.1 Delivering a local service
Firefighters believed that the public have little awareness of reform and have noticed little change, as they are getting a very similar service as before. Indeed, firefighters drew attention to what they see as the enhancement of local services through the process of standardising all appliances. They believed that this would mean they would not have to wait for specialist equipment in the event of, for example, a chimney fire, because every appliance would have a thermal imaging camera. It was believed this would save money in the long-term:
'…there's standardisation of things which is going to be very positive. So we have new Breathing Apparatus sets, you know?, and they're a higher standard than we had before, and I think the fact that it is being delivered as a national project makes a lot of sense, but I think it will make us safer within our working environment' (Area C - firefighter)
This was also a view expressed by the public, community groups, councillors and council staff. There were two concerns expressed about the service post-reform, the council staff and firefighters expressed concern about control room closures and amongst community groups there was concern about how the local service would cope if a major incident was to take place.
The view of the firefighters was that the number of middle managers and administrative staff at the station has been reduced since reform. As a result middle managers described spending more time on administrative tasks, for example, answering the phone or preparing spreadsheets for payroll. The middle managers believed that as they deal with a lot of low level management issues means they have less time for partnership working. These changes to support staff provision were not perceived as cost-efficient as more highly paid officers are doing the tasks of support staff. There was a suggestion that more investment in IT could help reduce the amount of time spent on administrative work at the station.
Firefighters also described the centralisation of support functions, such as finance, HR and IT support, as having a negative impact on their workloads. The view was that processes are now more bureaucratic making it time consuming to deal with things which previously would have taken just a simple phone call, such as vehicle repairs. Firefighters reported that it is more difficult to contact the centralised teams and that they are not always clear about where to find the right support. There was also a view that the remaining support staff teams are stretched and overworked.
Poor IT provision is seen as having a negative impact upon the ability of firefighters to perform their duties as they spend a considerable amount of time using the IT system:
'I do quite a bit of my work from home. I have no access to the intranet from home. Retained staff, we just don't… Therefore I can't access our standard operating procedures. I can't access probably half the information that I need to from home' (Area C - firefighter)
Firefighters also describe the impact this has on the ability of firefighters to carry out their training. This is viewed as particularly problematic as it could impact on the safety of firefighters when carrying out their duties. One firefighter described having to wait 40 minutes to connect to a computer which is particularly problematic for the retained firefighters if they are attempting to complete an online training course when they only have a two and a half hour session to complete their training.
3.3.2 Accessing specialist support
Due to the centralisation of specialist resources, the firefighters believed they have a better understanding of where resources are allocated:
'I think the communication has got better as it has been opened up because...people know exactly what everybody else has got now. So…for larger scale emergency situations yeah it's easier to get...what you need to that job…' (Area C - firefighter)
Due to the rural location, firefighters did express concern about the amount of time it takes for certain teams to reach incidents, especially if there was a major incident. A senior firefighter explained that there are no local resilience plans in place which take into account geographical distances for specialist teams to get to rural areas. Due to these concerns about the length of time rural areas sometimes have to wait for specialist support, there was a view among local firefighters that they should be trained in and allowed to perform certain roles, such as fire investigation.
Training in specialist roles was seen by the firefighters as a challenge in their rural location, due to a lack of trainers. It was however identified that due to being a retained station, training should be on a 'need to know basis'. Before reform the firefighters felt they were not adequately trained to deal with incidents requiring specialist skills but since reform it was viewed positively, that they can now draw on expertise from outside their area.
3.3.3 Working with communities
Firefighters generally felt they are viewed positively by the community. This was reiterated by the public who expressed a positive view about their local service whether they have had direct interaction with them or not. There was also a sense amongst the public that the service would attend quickly in an emergency, which increased their sense of safety. The community groups, councillors and council staff also expressed positive views of the local service, especially in relation to the community role the firefighters play. The public also explained that they recognise local firefighters in their community and they appeared to have more faith in the local service because the officers were local people.
Much of the engagement of firefighters with the community focuses on prevention via home safety visits. This was viewed positively by the firefighters, community groups, council staff, councillors and the public. There are targets for conducting the home safety visits and reaching at risk community members. There was, however, a view among firefighters that carrying out these visits can be challenging as they are a retained fire station and do not always have the staff to carry out these visits. There was a suggestion that dedicated community safety advocates in their area would help with this. Another challenge identified by the firefighters was that generally the home safety visits are conducted with people who have requested them but may not be those most at risk. It was felt, having community safety advocates may help them reach the most hard-to-reach groups, including the elderly and those with drug or alcohol dependency.
As part of their prevention agenda firefighters promote community fire safety through delivering awareness raising talks and holding stalls at schools, fairs, gala days and fetes. These events were viewed positively by all groups. Firefighters viewed the shared agenda for delivering talks across Scotland critically as different areas are seen to have different priorities so they would prefer more flexibility when delivering talks.
Council staff viewed home safety visits as a good way of engaging with hard to reach community members, potentially saving lives through referring at risk people to the appropriate agencies. This referral process is identified by the firefighters as a new role for them, in which they actively look for sign of abuse, radicalisation etc. and pass on any concerns to other statutory agencies. There were mixed views about this, first there were concerns that if the community learn that this is part of their role, they may start refusing to let firefighters into their homes. However, there was also the view that as the fire service are seen as a neutral service they are in a good position to take on this role and reach community members who are not accessible to other agencies.
Another part of the prevention agenda includes running a fire safety programme with young people who have disengaged from school. Council staff highlighted this as good practice for helping to improve confidence, self-esteem and employment opportunities for young people.
The firefighters felt that partnership working had not changed since reform, with structures for joint working having been in place prior to the move to a single fire and rescue service. The firefighters saw community planning partnerships ( CPPs) as key facilitators of community engagement and partnership working. There was a view that CPPs had the potential to play a significant role in the planning of future fire and rescue provision, particularly as their area was thought to have one of the fastest-growing accident rates in Scotland. There was a feeling that CPPs are being under-utilised in this respect.
Firefighters detailed experiences of working in partnership with a number of organisations across various sectors. These included public sector organisations such as social services, the environmental protection agency, the NHS and schools, other first response services such as the police and ambulance services, private bodies such as the owners of large estates, voluntary groups such as the scouts, guides and air cadets, and local networks such as the Emergency Liaison Group.
There was evidence of firefighters being proactive in building relationships with community groups as there was a desire to maximise community engagement by actively seeking out partnerships with community groups. They recognised that the fire service is often best placed to make first contact with vulnerable people, and can often connect people with other agencies who may be able to provide additional assistance. It was also acknowledged however that this relationship can be reciprocal, with other agencies putting people in contact with the fire service who may benefit from advice on fire safety.
Firefighters felt that formal partnership working and communication with other organisations occurs largely at the upper levels of the service rather than at front-line firefighter level. This was reiterated by council staff who discussed interacting directly with senior officers.
The firefighters identified a reduction in informal networks as representing a barrier to effective partnership working. Whilst case study area C is a predominantly rural area where 'everybody sort of knows everybody else' the introduction of more formal structures for partnership working which may be more appropriate for an urban setting has resulted in information being passed around less frequently. There was a view amongst the firefighters that new formal arrangements governing engagement with local councillors were overly complex and lacking in clarity. This was not a view shared by the councillors who described close working relationships with the fire service which had not been threatened by centralisation. The councillors discussed the regular meetings and committees which take place and their experience of being able to contact the station manager directly if they have any issues. They are also provided with quarterly reports from the fire service, which they find engaging as they have pictures, training photos, details about who is retiring and prevention promotion. The councillors were happy with the service and could not think of anything which could improve it.
Some barriers to partnership working were identified by the fire fighters who felt that their reduced capacity and lack of resources were a factor limiting the level and quality of partnership working, with pressures on already stretched firefighters. There was also a view that the lack of useful information provided to firefighters by other agencies hinders the ability to provide the level of support that some members of the public need. There was a suggestion that information sharing between agencies could be improved by re-introducing the role of a dedicated community safety advocate.
3.4 Area D
Case study Area D is located in a rural location which was not part of the former Strathclyde Region. The station is a mixed whole-time/retained station covering a wide geographical area. The number of fire emergencies is low in the area, but there is full time cover at the station in case of an emergency call. All the firefighters interviewed were whole-time.
3.4.1 Delivering a local service
The view amongst the firefighters was that the general public have not noticed any changes since reform and were satisfied as long as engines are available to attend emergencies. This was reiterated by the general public who had not noticed any major changes, though they did have an awareness of reform.
The changes in the provision of support staff and the centralisation of the support teams were viewed by management as having a detrimental impact on their workloads. Firefighters did not report noticing any difference in their own workloads. The loss of an administrative assistant at the station led to managers stating that they complete administrative work at the station themselves such as ordering equipment and uniforms, and organising and conducting recruitment for retained firefighters.
Middle managers also reported having difficulties contacting the centralised support teams. The perception was that the support teams are stretched and so it is more difficult to access equipment and uniforms or contact IT and payroll. Middle managers would like to see some local support staff back at the station, as the current workload is seen to be having a detrimental effect on their work-life balance.
Low staffing levels were described by middle managers as leading to firefighters being called in to work and that at times appliances not being able to go out as they did not have a full crew available.
Resourcing levels at the station were also believed to be affected by firefighters frequently having to attend calls in other areas, particularly as the neighbouring stations were mostly retained and often required additional resource. This was perceived to be happening more frequently in recent years.
3.4.2 Accessing specialist support
The fire station in Area D was in the process of becoming a specialist station. There was a view by the firefighters that some specialist equipment is not located in the most accessible locations. Although there was an understanding that it is taking time for decisions to be made about where equipment should be located, there was also frustration about the level of uncertainty. There was also a view amongst the council workers that they had not been consulted on the location of specialist equipment and were informed 'at the very last minute'.
Due to the rural location, there was concern about the amount of time it takes certain specialist teams to reach areas during major incidents. An example was provided of the firefighters waiting 45 minutes for a specialist team who could enter the water to reach someone who had jumped off a bridge.
3.4.3 Working with communities
There were mixed views expressed by the firefighters about how they felt they were perceived by the general public. Though it was generally felt that their interaction with the public had not changed, there were opposing views that the community see them extremely positively but another view was that the community perceive them as lazy. This view appeared to be rooted in a belief that the community do not understand their role and the level of training required to fight fires and the perception that they spend their shifts playing games:
'I think there's some you'll never please, regardless, because they just see the Fire Service sleeping at night, and .. They…they think we play pool all day, and darts and stuff. We don't have a pool table, but there are times you hear people saying, "Oh aye. How's the pool table? Being playing pool all day, have you?"' (Area D - firefighter)
This case study area has been used as a pilot for the firefighters being trained in dealing with cardiac arrests and there was a belief that this is helping improve perceptions of their role in the community. There was also a view that more positive publicity of when they save lives could also further improve perceptions. These concerns about negative perceptions were not expressed by members of the public. Instead, they discussed the firefighters doing a 'brilliant', 'excellent' job, they believed they are community orientated and go above and beyond, with examples being provided of the way they dealt with the flooding crisis. The general public stated they see the service in the community regularly and they believed they would be responsive in an emergency:
'They don't just do their job they go beyond that within care within the community' (Area D - public focus group)
The fire service is considered to be local enough by the firefighters and members of the general public. From the firefighter perspective they know the community well which has both positive and negative impacts. This familiarity means that when there is an incident to attend it is possible they will personally know those who have been hurt, and though there is a view that they feel good to be serving the community this can also be challenging. An example was also provided of over-familiarity, in which during flooding members of the public felt they could come directly to the station for help because they knew the firefighters rather than going through the control room, a process required to prioritise calls.
The general public also have the view that the service is local enough. There was awareness that they could still call the local station and there was a belief that they were lucky to still have a local station.
Prevention and awareness raising are identified as important roles for the firefighters. However, it was felt that they have been important roles for the last 10 years and not something which has particularly altered since reform, except there was a view that they are attending more community events. They described having a prevention and protection calendar which outlines what their priorities should be and they are encouraged to propose initiatives.
Home safety visits were explained as an important part of their role, but other than their method of recording, this has not changed since reform. However, there was discussion about the additional elements that have been introduced to the home safety visits including looking for slip, trip and fall hazards, and referring community members to the relevant agencies if they are deemed to be at risk. There are targets for home safety visits, but these are felt to be easily achievable, though there was a view that some community members are still not aware they can have free smoke detectors fitted.
The firefighters described as part of their prevention role, visits to schools, workplaces, youth groups, care homes, supermarkets and sheltered housing. The prevention role also included running initiatives with young drivers and organising international days partly to promote fire safety to international residents.
Community groups, councillors and council staff all recognised the preventative role that the service plays. The general public also discussed the prevention role and provided positive examples of firefighters conducting home safety visits. They also discussed the awareness raising role through the service attending community events, being part of parades, organising charity car washes and school visits. There was a view in the younger focus group that they would like the fire service to have an open day at the station and provide more fire safety training to children.
Firefighters saw partnership working as an opportunity to bring organisations together to solve problems in an effective manner. An example of effective partnership working was a view that the fire service were able to work successfully with the police and ambulance service to react to a recent episode of flooding in the local area.
Firefighters discussed working with a number of other first response agencies including mountain rescue and the coastguard, in addition to dealing with referrals from social services. The firefighters had been recently trained as part of a pilot scheme as first responders for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. This was viewed positively by the firefighters who appreciated that at times they could attend incidents quicker than the ambulance service and they could recall positive examples of when they had saved someone's life. There was a concern expressed about being called to incidents they were not sufficiently trained for, for example, someone who had had a heart attack and was also bleeding. But, on the whole they felt positive about working with the ambulance service to help serve the community.
There was a view amongst the firefighters that they had 'a good working relationship' with councillors. Interactions took place in the form of meetings between councillors and other agencies at the request of councillors, who approach firefighters directly when they feel a multi-agency approach would be beneficial. The councillors also viewed partnership work with the fire service positively and saw the station manager regularly at meetings. The firefighters also noted that these formal partnerships occur at the upper levels of the fire service rather than at front-line firefighter level.
The firefighters highlighted a lack of informal networks as representing a barrier to partnership working. Due to the rural location, there was believed to be more opportunity for informal engagement with councillors and community organisations. However, the format of community council meetings was seen as 'rigid' and does not make the most of the existence of such informal ties between the fire service and the community. This issue was not raised by the councillor who felt the communication was good especially as they could call the station manager outside of set meetings. The council workers were positive about their working relationship with the fire service, with their interactions in the main taking place at meetings. All the community groups were positive about their interactions with the fire service; there was however, a mixture of contact between them and the service. For some it was infrequent and mainly at meetings, for a housing group they ran joint initiatives with the fire service to tackle domestic violence.
There was a view amongst the firefighters that there was a lack of reciprocity of data sharing between bodies, stating that although the fire service provided information to other organisations and agencies, these same agencies were often unwilling to provide similar information to the fire service.
Firefighters expressed mixed views as to whether the nature and extent of partnership working has altered since the introduction of a national fire and rescue service. There is a general view that they are doing more partnership working and that it might have improved because it is more coordinated and spread out than before reform.