What is the Fire Service?
The Fire Service responds to fires and other emergencies, provides advice about fire safety and enforces fire safety laws, and helps plan and prepare for various emergencies, such as rail crashes.
Government proposals for reforming the Fire Service were published in June 2003 following a period of industrial strife and a major review of the Service's work.
At the time of the 2002 Bain review, the Fire Service was administered by 50 'Fire Authorities': 16 county councils, six joint Fire and Civil Defence Authorities set up under the Local Government Act 1985 in the former metropolitan authority areas; the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) in the area administered by the Greater London Authority; and 24 other combined authorities (in counties affected by the 1992 creation of unitary authorities) in England, three in Wales, eight in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland.
The White Paper, 'Our Fire and Rescue Service', proposed radically changing the Service's role as set out in the Fire Services Act 1947 and renaming it as the Fire and Rescue Service.
The Fire Services Act 1947 was subsequently repealed and replaced by the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.
It was not until the Fire Brigades Act of 1938 that all local authorities outside London were required to maintain fire services. During the Second World War, all fire brigades were combined to form the National Fire Service, but they reverted to local authority control under the Fire Services Act 1947, which appointed county councils as the Fire Authorities.
The local government reforms that took place between 1963 and 1998 saw responsibility for the Fire Service shift to and between various other upper-tier authorities.
Nonetheless, the 1947 Act remained the principal foundation of the Fire Service throughout this period, in spite of seven reviews between 1970 and Bain in 2002, each of which stressed the need to overhaul fire prevention and fire fighting and change the culture of the Service.
Despite responsibility resting in the hands of local authorities, the Act set national standards that were frequently thought to be inappropriate to local needs.
Therefore, the 2003 White Paper proposed that each Fire Authority produce an Integrated Risk Management Plan, including targets and objectives for reducing risks, balancing prevention and intervention and determining response standards and resource allocation. It also sought to mandate authorities to concentrate more heavily on fire prevention, as studies showed that 50 per cent of all fire deaths occurred before the fire brigade was even called.
The White Paper aimed to give Fire Authorities greater freedom to allocate resources to local concerns, to be more proactive, to engage in dealing with environmental hazards (such as flooding), to work more closely with other bodies, and to play a key role in the domestic war against terrorism.
The White Paper generated much debate and the consultation period ended in March 2004. The Fire and Rescue Services Act came into force in October of that year.
Under the 2004 Act, the Government is required to produce a National Framework setting out its expectations for the Service and what is required of Fire and Rescue Authorities to meet those expectations.
National Frameworks have been published for 2004/5, 2005/6, 2006/8 and 2008/11. A public consultation on a revised framework closed in March 2012, with a new National Framework set to be published in 2012
Despite a series of reviews preceding Bain, it was felt the Fire Service was still in need of reform due to the fact that the findings of the reviews were never implemented in full.
However, the Bain review was not launched solely to restructure the Fire Service: it emerged in response to a year-long bitter industrial dispute between Fire Authorities and firefighters, represented by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
The union wanted substantial pay increases for firefighters, but the employers were only prepared to make offers in return for restructuring - which meant job cuts. The FBU would not accept the terms offered and strikes ensued, resulting in the Government deploying the Army fire engines, nick-named the 'Green Goddesses', on the streets. To end the dispute, the Government promised an independent review, headed by Sir George Bain. The FBU did not give its support. The Fire Services Act introduced in 2003 now gives the Secretary of State powers to impose conditions on employees and Fire Authorities in the event of future disputes.
The move towards 'regionalisation' outlined in the White Paper - principally at the level of management, but also in terms of equipment procurement and maintenance - was also controversial, as have been all of the Government's proposals for regional administration. Opponents fear that regionalisation will reduce local autonomy, responsiveness and accountability.
In July 2010 the Fire Minister announced that the forced regionalisation of fire services would be halted and more control handed back to local services. The move was part of the new Government's intention to give greater powers to communities and abolish regional government.
However, the proposed cuts to fire and rescue services announced in the October 2010 Spending Review were described by the FBU as "a gross betrayal of assurances made before the General Election about 'protecting front line services."
The union warned in 2011 that fire services were "over-stretched and struggling "and would be "at breaking point" when the cuts really bite over the next two years. According to the FBU, the last wave of cuts saw the loss of 1,000 frontline posts by April 2011 and ever increasing government cuts will see that rise to "at least 6,000 by 2014."
Fire and Rescue Service Operational Statistics bulletin.
At 31 March 2011, there were 29,100 wholetime firefighter full-time equivalents (down 2 per cent on 2010), and 12,100 retained firefighter units of 24 hour cover (up 2 per cent on 2010).
There has been a gradual increase in the representation of women and minority ethnic staff in recent years. At 31 March 2011, 4.1 per cent of firefighters were women compared with 2.8 per cent in 2006. Minority ethnic staff accounted for 3.7 per cent of all staff (include both uniformed and support staff) compared with 3.0 per cent in 2006.
There were 3,500 reported injuries to fire fighters in 2010-11. This was 48 per cent lower than in 2000-01.
Fire and Rescue Services carried out 84,600 audits of buildings in 2010-11, 7 per cent more than in 2009-10. Almost 90 per cent of follow-up actions were informal notifications.
Source: Department for Communities and Local Government - August 2011
"Over dinner recently, a friend asked me, "What do we actually get from the fire and rescue service? We know you put out fires and rescue cats from trees but what really happens behind those big red doors of the fire station?"
"I politely responded by saying how we provide excellent value for money (less than a pint of beer a week for the best insurance policy possible), that we consistently score the second highest public satisfaction rate after GPs and have one of the most respected brands in the UK as a result of our prevention work on road safety, arson and preventing crime and disorder including many really effective youth engagement approaches."
Lee Howell; president Chief Fire Officers Association – January 2012
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