News responding to national or international events such as large incidents, memorials or other news outside the West Midlands

Responding to emergencies and COVID-19

Dudley Fire Station

Measures introduced by West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) in response to COVID-19 have ensured that the availability of firefighters, fire engines and other emergency teams has been maintained at near-normal levels during the crisis. 

A report by Chief Fire Officer, Phil Loach, to West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority details how the availability of frontline WMFS resources has stayed on a par with 2019 – in spite of the potential for unprecedented staff illness. 

Fire control staff and firefighters have stayed available 24/7 since Marchwith crews responding to emergencies in high-risk areas in an average of 4mins 30secs.

The report explains how WMFS’s detailed business continuity plans, complemented by the setting up of an expert medical and scientific team, helped to protect emergency response resources

The arrangements also allowed the service to continue providing essential fire prevention and protection services to the most vulnerable people and businesses.

And they made it possible for volunteers drawn from the WMFS workforce to undertake extra activities in support of residents most at risk from coronavirus, delivering thousands of vital food and medical parcels. 

The extra activities also included the sensitive and challenging task of moving virus victims’ bodies, often from their homes. WMFS also played a key role in ensuring the fire safety of the new NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham. 

Chief Fire Officer Phil Loach portrait photo

CFO Loach said: “I could not be prouder or more inspired by how our staff have risen to the challenges of the pandemic. By focusing all of our efforts on their safety and wellbeing, we have been able to protect delivery of our core, frontline services and deliver more besides.

“The entire service quickly had to innovate and adapt to new ways of working, with a digital approach wherever appropriate and practical. Time and again our staff proved they were ready, willing and able to do what was needed. I am confident that the lessons we have learned will serve us well while the pandemic continues.

“I am also sure that our many new ways of working will transform and shape our work across the West Midlands for years to comeincluding those activities we undertake alongside our partner organisations such as local councils and the health sector.

“We will soon launch a public consultation on how we propose to deliver many of our services for the next three years. I hope that as many people as possible will share their views on how we make the West Midlands safer, stronger and healthier.”

Councillor Greg Brackenridge, Chair of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority (WMFRA), added: “Members of WMFRA have been kept updated throughout the pandemic on the impressive efforts of WMFS staff. Their resilience and resourcefulness has been second to none, and I thank them on behalf of their very grateful communities.”

To read the full report to the fire authority, please click here 

Think ‘Gas Safety’

Gas flame on a gas cooker showing a single ring lit.

As winter approaches, and with many people continuing to work and spend more time at home because of COVID-19, West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) is joining calls in Gas Safety Week 2020 to ‘think gas safety’.

The initiative, now in its tenth year, aims to raise awareness of the importance of gas safety – as well as of the dangers of poorly-maintained gas appliances.

Gas hob with two rings lit

In the three years to March 2020, WMFS firefighters attended 15 fires where gas was the main source of ignition (domestic and non-domestic settings). They also responded to 615 gas leak incidents – with just over 80 per cent of these being at people’s homes.

Pete Wilson, WMFS’s Group Manager for Prevention, said: “Many of us rely on, and perhaps even take for granted, our gas appliances. However, if you don’t keep boilers, heaters and cookers in good working order you risk gas leaks, fires, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning.

“It’s important that you only use a registered and qualified Gas Safe engineer to carry out servicing and repairs. Never attempt to work on a gas appliance yourself.

“We’re also urging people to have carbon monoxide detectors and alarms in their homes. It’s a highly-poisonous gas which can kill quickly, with no warning, but an alarm will alert you if there are dangerous levels in your home.”

It is a legal requirement for anyone carrying out domestic and commercial gas work to be registered, and comply with the Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1998.

Gas Safe Register is the official register for legally-qualified engineers and can help you find an engineer in your area: GasSafeRegister.co.uk.

More top tips to help you stay ‘gas safe’:

  • if you smell gas or think there might be a gas leak, call the free 24-hour national gas emergency number immediately on 0800 111 999
  • know the symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning: headaches, nausea, breathlessness, collapse, dizziness and loss of consciousness
  • keep up-to-date with Gas Safety Week updates on social media by following @GasSafeRegister and the hashtags #GSW20 and #GasSafetyWeek.

Gas Safety Week 2020 starts Monday 14 September.

Gas safety register logo and telephone number

Grenfell Tower Inquiry – Phase I Report

A photograph of Grenfell Tower
A photograph of Grenfell Tower

Our thoughts and deepest sympathies remain with the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and with everyone affected by the tragedy.  

Today (30 Oct 2019), the report from Phase I of the inquiry into the fire has been published. We will, with colleagues nationwide, be reading and considering the document in detail in the days to come.  

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has published a response to the report, which you can read hereWe continue to work closely with the NFCC, supporting its post-Grenfell work in shaping the future safety of buildings and their residents.     

Our fire safety protection work includes auditing high-risk buildings, including residential high-rises, to ensure public safety whilst also providing public reassurance about the risks of fire.  

Late last year our Fire Authority approved £600,000 to enable us to increase the number of fire safety officers we employ. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services rates our work in this area as ‘good’. 

Following the Grenfell tragedy, we immediately identified buildings with flammable cladding, worked closely with the ‘responsible persons’ for those buildings, and supported the Government on behalf of the NFCC in the national co-ordination of the checking of high-rise premises and the cladding materials.

Our policies and tactics for tackling fires in residential high-rise buildings are under constant review and strengthened whenever there is opportunity.

Fires in high-rise blocks are among the most challenging and hostile incidents we can expect to deal with. Our fire control teams and firefighters train regularly to be able to respond to such calls within five minutes, then to put their training and skills into action as safely and as effectively as possible.

In 2014 we opened a six-storey high-rise training facility at Oldbury Community Fire Station. The structure is used to help firefighters and incident commanders understand fire behaviour and train in realistic ‘live’ fire, high-rise scenarios.

We stage 104 large-scale exercises a year. These include using empty high-rise buildings to test firefighting, fire survival and evacuation procedures. Colleagues from the other emergency services and local councils have been involved in high-rise exercises.

A photo of the high-rise training facility at Oldbury Fire Station.

High-rise fires are the top priority in the training and assessments of our incident commanders. We continually review the training materials available to our firefighters – for example, on how to coordinate an evacuation – and a number of our Fire Safety officers are now able to study for qualifications at a higher level than the national minimum standard.

There are nearly 1,000 buildings in the West Midlands with four storeys or more and more than half of them have at least eight storeys. We work closely with the landlords and owners to help them ensure the safety of people who live or work in them.

Our crews and fire safety officers regularly visit high-rise buildings across the West Midlands, to familiarise themselves with how they are built and laid out. They record the information, which can later be accessed via mobile data terminals, to help keep our crews safe as they provide an assertive and effective response at incidents.

Our highly-trained Fire Control staff have key roles in our response to fires in high-rise buildings and are integral to the exercises we stage. The regular training enables them to hone their skills handling calls from people who are reporting high-rise fires. Their training has evolved to take account of the learning from Grenfell – for example, how to recognise how occupants can stay safe through giving fire survival guidance.

The relocation of our Fire Control to our headquarters building earlier this year gave us the opportunity to maximise our use of technology to help collate information about callers’ locations, situations and the advice they have been given. In the case of high-rise fires we now also deploy extra fire crews whose sole function is to support and advise incident commanders regarding rescues of people still in their homes and receiving survival guidance from fire control.

Sprinklers are the most effective way to ensure that fires are suppressed or even extinguished before the fire service can arrive. They save lives and reduce injuries, protect firefighters who attend incidents and reduce the amount of damage to both property and the environment from fire.

We’re pleased to see that several West Midlands local authorities will retrofit sprinklers across their high-rise tower blocks. We look forward to hosting a conference next month (November) at which we will seek to encourage a West Midlands-wide approach to fire safety in high-rise buildings.

Birmingham City Council was one of the first authorities to commit to retrofitting sprinklers across its high-rise buildings following the devastating events at Grenfell. At the time, this represented a significant spend of £31m across its 213 tower blocks.

The council has worked closely with West Midlands Fire Service and residents to ensure that all 62,000 council tenants have had the opportunity to ask questions about high-rise safety.

A photo of our Fire Control room with operators at their desks and multiple monitors on a wall at the back of the room

For high-rise safety information, and more ways to keep your home safe visit our 'At home' safety page