Image: David Warden

Low morale; gender-exclusive language; “domineering management”; a lack of basic comfort and dignity; not enough support for staff: All have been recorded by inspectors who visited the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service in July.  

CLICK HERE to read Isle of Wight Council’s response.

The Government team has told the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service that it needs to work harder to value its people, in a first-of-its-kind HMI report which has been published today (Thursday).

However, the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service has been rated good for effectiveness and efficiency in the 42 page document, which you can read HERE.

Fire crews fight a hotel blaze in Sandown

When the Isle of Wight hosted the team for a week, it was only the second service in the country to be inspected. Isle of Wight Council staff, members of the leading cabinet and fire crews were all quizzed during the visit.  

Managing People

The service “requires improvement” when it comes to managing its staff.

The report says,

“A fire and rescue service that looks after its people should be able to provide an effective service to its community. It should offer a range of services to make its communities safer. This will include developing and maintaining a workforce that is professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse. The service’s leaders should be positive role models, and this should be reflected in the behaviour of the workforce. Overall, Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.”

Inspectors wrote,

“In particular, we are concerned about the way it ensures fairness and promotes diversity. It also needs to improve the way it promotes the right values and culture, and how it manages performance and develops leaders. It is, however, good at getting the right people with the right skills.”

Areas that need improvement include making sure staff have access to trauma support and counselling services, and ensuring that staff are confident in raising welfare concerns. A contract for a formal trauma risk management programme was renewed and although firefighters have access to the council’s occupational health team, they told inspectors there were “lengthy delays in getting appointments”.

Firefighters at the scene of a fire in Wootton.

Some retained staff said they lived with poor changing facilities, and the report says some premises do not have the facilities to provide “basic comfort and dignity in the workplace”.

Women in the force said they did not think there was genuine equality and inclusion and the report noted “a frequent use of gender-exclusive language, such as references to ‘blokes’, ‘firemen’ and ‘manned’ fire stations.” Some staff told inspectors they had experienced “management styles that they considered to be “both domineering and potentially bullying.”

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Crews attend a fire in Parkhurst

Although it was rated “good” for efficiency, the report says work is needed when it comes to protecting the public through fire regulation, but adds “most aspects” of the service’s performance were “satisfactory”.

It has called for the allocation of “enough resources” to ensure a “prioritised and risk-based inspection programme” and says  “from what we saw, in our opinion the service does not have an effective risk-based inspection programme.”

Considering its response to fires, the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue service should ensure it has the capacity to vary the level of its response to incidents based on risk and should ensure its firefighters have good access to relevant and up-to-date risk information, says the report.

More work is needed when it comes to leaders communicating to firefighters especially, says the report, now that “the service’s strategic management team [has] moved from working on the island to being based in Hampshire.”

The report says,

“The service shares a statement of values and standards with the county council. It refers to them in the IRMP. However, we found little evidence and could not conclude that senior members of staff role model these standards and values, or that they are important to the workforce.”

According to the report, an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders needs to be put in place.

Statistics

  • In the 12 months to March 2018, Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue dealt with more incidents than the UK average (per 1000 people).
  • It carried out many fewer home checks (just 4.6, compared to the average 10.4).
  • The Island’s service conducted around only half the average number of fire safety audits.
  • Of all its incidents attended, 18% were fires, 46% were non-fire incidents and 36% were false alarms.
  • Just under 50% of the workforce is whole time, compared to the average 70%.
  • It has more firefighters per 1000 people than the average.