Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service has been praised for the way it is coping with the challenges it faces during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for the positive contribution it is making to its community, in a government report published this morning.
It follows an inspection carried out in November by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), commissioned by the Home Secretary.
The report has been welcomed by Chief Fire Officer Jason Thelwell QFSM and Councillor Lesley Clarke OBE, Chairman of Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority, whose members were actively engaged in discussions with officers on the service’s ability to discharge its statutory functions.
The report said BFRS had been well prepared, maintained its core functions of firefighting, promoting fire safety, responding to emergencies and rescuing people involved in road traffic collisions, adopted new and innovative ways of working and even managed to provide additional support to a number of other organisations. This included driving ambulances for South Central Ambulance Service, training care home staff in infection control and packing food parcels for vulnerable people.
CFO Thelwell said: “I could not be prouder of the way staff have risen to every challenge with such willingness and commitment. Since this inspection was carried out, they have gone on to help set up three mass vaccination centres in the area we serve. We will continue to work tirelessly to support our partner organisations and the communities of Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes.”
Councillor Clarke said: “Emergency service work is challenging at the best of times, so recognition for going above and beyond in such difficult and unpredictable circumstances is a remarkable achievement. It speaks volumes about the men and women who work here, and on behalf of the Fire Authority I would like to thank them all for their can-do attitude, dedication to duty and willingness to work differently.”
The report said the organisation’s resources were well managed and it effectively managed its low level of staff absences. The inspection also found that BFRS communicated well with its staff, and made staff wellbeing a priority by providing guidance, support and extra wellbeing services. It also made sure they had the resources they needed to do their jobs effectively, including new flexible working arrangements and new technology to facilitate virtual meetings.
The inspection report, which is available on the HMICFRS website (the link to the BFRS report is below), noted that between 1 April and 30 June 2020, BFRS it attended fewer incidents than it did during the same period in 2019. The overall availability of fire engines was better during the pandemic than it was during the same period in 2019, partly because on-call firefighters were available to respond to emergencies due to being furloughed from their primary employment.
Absences decreased compared with the same period in 2019, and the average response time to fires improved. This was for several reasons, including lower sickness levels, better fire engine availability and less road traffic during this period.
The service also had good arrangements in place to make sure that its joint control room, shared with Royal Berkshire and Oxfordshire, had enough staff during the pandemic. Additionally, it continued to collaborate with its partners, and provided effective support to the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum.
It was able to go ahead with its planned move into the new Blue Light Hub in West Ashland, Milton Keynes, in June, and to complete an apprentice recruitment process for operational activity. This followed all government guidance on social distancing and hygiene.
HMICFRS inspected all of England’s fire and rescue services, and the inspection reports can be found on its website (the links are below).