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Fire & Rescue Service ‘Needs To Do More’ to Prepare for Incidents in Tall Buildings

Published on: 13 Sep, 2023
Updated on: 15 Sep, 2023

The first seven-storey block of the Solum development at Guildford station. Further blocks, some under construction and some higher, will extend to the station itself.

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

With more high buildings due to be added to Guildford’s skyline, Surrey’s Fire and Rescue Service “needs to do more” to prepare and train for incidents in tall buildings, such as in the Grenfell tragedy, according to inspectors.

In a report released on today (September 13) inspectors gave a “requires improvement” rating to seven areas they looked at, with three areas rated “adequate” and one rated “good”.

Roy Wilsher’s report said he was satisfied with some aspects of the service’s performance in keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks, but said improvement was needed in some areas.

He said: “Given the nature of some of the problems we have identified, we will keep in close contact with the service to monitor its progress.”

The fire and rescue service was given a “requires improvement” rating in the areas of preventing fire and risk, responding to fires and emergencies, best use of resources and promoting fairness and diversity, among others.

The report sets out that Surrey’s Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) covers an area of 645 square miles and 1.2 million people.

An action plan will look at areas for improvement

In response, SFRS said it was bringing together an “improvement plan” to address all areas for improvement highlighted in the report.

Chief fire officer Dan Quin said: “We know that there are areas where we can still improve and we will address these issues as a priority.

“While we had expected a more positive outcome in certain areas we recognise the benefits of an independent inspectorate.

“This is an opportunity for us to re-evaluate our current programmes and strategies.

“Our aim is to address the recommendations and further improve our services.

“I would like to thank the inspectors for taking the time to learn about our work, for their recommendations and for holding us to account.

“We remain committed to becoming an outstanding service as we continue to put our communities first.”

Controversial high-rise buildings in Victoria Square, Woking

Inspector ‘disappointed’ with tall building policies and procedures

Under the category of responding to major and multi-agency incidents, Mr Wilsher rated the service “requires improvement”.

He said the service needed to do more to “prepare and train for incidents in tall buildings”, such as the Grenfell Tower tragedy in which 72 people died in Kensington in 2017.

He said only a “limited amount” of realistic training and exercising at tall buildings had been done, and that it hadn’t included all staff groups that would be expected to respond to such an incident.

Mr Wilsher’s report said: “We were disappointed to find that the service had only developed a limited number of policies and procedures for safely managing this type of incident.

“It has procedures in place detailing the role of the evacuation officer but no effective tall buildings evacuation policy for operational and control room staff.

“The service should address these policy gaps as a matter of urgency.”

The inspection also saw a new “cause of concern” given, regarding the service not being able to accurately identify how many high-risk premises it has.

The inspector said within 28 days an action plan should be provided which would look at identifying the highest risk premises and making sure all staff were aware of expectations of them.

What has improved?

While Mr Wilsher did say inspectors were “disappointed” more progress hadn’t been made since a 2021 inspection, he did say there had been “significant change” in the leadership team as well as the transfer of some workforce to London Fire Brigade last year.

The only area rated “good” was “promoting the right values and culture”.

According to the report: “We were encouraged by the cultural improvements the service has made.

“The service is displaying more visible leadership, and the area for improvement we described during our last inspection has been discharged.”

He added there was a “clear commitment” from staff and leaders to improve, with “some good foundations in place” but said it was “important the service gains momentum and moves forward”.

As well as that, Mr Wilsher said SFRS had good systems in place to inform the public about ongoing incidents, helping keep them safe during and after incidents.

This was under a “requires improvement” rating for the “responding to fires and other emergencies” part of the inspection.

Dan Quin, chief fire officer for Surrey at a meeting of the Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee on July 5, 2023. From meeting stream

Mr Quin said: “I am extremely proud of the hard work happening across our service and want to thank all of our team for playing their part.

“As a service we are committed to creating a fully inclusive workplace where everybody feels supported.

“The improvement of the service’s culture was a priority for all staff, so we are delighted to see these efforts recognised.”

The full breakdown of services in each category is as follows:

  • Good: Promoting values and culture
  • Adequate: Understanding fire and risk, future affordability, right people, right skills
  • Requires improvement: Preventing fire and risk, public safety through fire regulation, responding to fires and emergencies, responding to major incidents, best use of resources, promoting fairness and diversity, managing performance and developing leaders
  • Inadequate: None


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Responses to Fire & Rescue Service ‘Needs To Do More’ to Prepare for Incidents in Tall Buildings

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    September 13, 2023 at 8:58 pm

    It’s more basic than that. At the A3 accident during the sewage leak, when the 7.5 ton flipped, the fire service didn’t even have the industrial absorbent Sorbil on their vehicles. They had to dig up the road side to cover the oily spill.

    If the fire service is so stripped of cash they can’t make oil safe on a road crash what chance having the equipment to sort multi-story.

    Everything is ok when these guys are in their stations drinking coffee but what about when their blue lights are on? They need the kit and support to do their job.

  2. M Durant Reply

    September 18, 2023 at 12:41 pm

    I hope the tall buildings in the centre of Redhill and Woking have an internal supply of water and sprinklers because you wouldn’t be able to reach the high floors with just a hose and a ladder.

  3. S Collins Reply

    September 19, 2023 at 10:00 am

    There are two tall towers at the bottom of The Mount if they need somewhere to practice.

    Been there for decades.

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