West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) has been praised for its ‘impressive’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and for going ‘over and above’ expectations to help keep communities safe.
In a letter released today (22 Jan 2021), Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) outlines its findings from an inspection in September 2020 of how WMFS had risen to the challenge of the pandemic.
WMFS is praised for developing new ways of working across its prevention, protection and response activities.
The inspectors praise WMFS for:
- its ‘innovative’ use of technology to support a range of activities which would otherwise have had to be suspended during the pandemic. These included online ‘Safe and Well’ visits with vulnerable residents and fire safety inspections of high-risk premises
- rapid digital developments which enabled many staff to work, flexibly and efficiently, from home
- setting up a scientific and medical support team to help guide its approach during the pandemic.
The inspectors found that WMFS’s pre-prepared business continuity plans meant it could respond effectively in the initial stages of the pandemic.
The overall availability of fire engines, and fire crews’ response times, remained broadly the same as during the same period in 2019. And WMFS had ‘good arrangements’ in place to ensure that its fire control, which also serves Staffordshire, could continue to operate. WMFS’s response work is currently rated as ‘outstanding’ by HMICFRS, as detailed in its previous service-wide inspection report published in 2019.
WMFS’s core prevention activities continued, with a sharp focus on supporting people considered more vulnerable because of the pandemic. Many ‘Safe and Well’ visits were conducted by phone instead of in person, while others were carried out using 999eye smartphone technology which had only previously been used during operational incidents.
Today’s HMICFRS letter also highlights how WMFS continued its core building safety (protection) work during the pandemic, much of it digitally. Premises, including care homes, were inspected during online sessions with the sites’ responsible persons.
WMFS’s fire safety officers also helped to ensure that the NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham had suitable fire safety measures in place.
In addition, the service worked closely with partner organisations and members of the Local Resilience Forum to coordinate and undertake numerous additional activities. These included WMFS staff volunteers stepping forward to help deliver thousands of vital food and medical parcels. Others were involved in the sensitive and challenging task of moving virus victims’ bodies, often from their homes.
Phil Loach, Chief Fire Officer of West Midlands Fire Service, said: “The pandemic continues to be a hugely unsettling time for many, and devastating for those who have lost loved ones.
“Against that backdrop, I am immensely proud of how our staff have been ready, willing and able to support our communities and most vulnerable residents throughout, whilst continuing to deliver our core services. We also needed to help limit the spread of the virus, and to ensure that our staff had the support and protection they needed to fulfil their roles.
“Many of our new ways of working have depended on our staff embracing technology and a digital approach, whether working from home or delivering school safety lessons from a fire station.
“We have been determined to play whatever part we can with our partners to support our communities and limit the spread of COVID-19. This has included the delivery of more than 7,000 food and medical parcels to vulnerable residents, inter-agency support with the fitting of face masks and, very sadly, the movement of the bodies of some virus victims.
“We remain determined to meet our ‘new normal’ with a heathy workforce and to continue working alongside our public sector partners to deliver vital services to our communities.
“I have no doubt that much of what we have achieved and continue to learn throughout the pandemic will positively shape our work for years to come. The findings of HMICFRS are a testimony to the hard work of colleagues throughout our service.”
Councillor Greg Brackenridge, Chair of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority, said: “The fire and rescue service is used to ‘stepping up’, but I was blown away by the resilience, commitment and dedication shown by staff throughout West Midlands Fire Service in 2020 and which continues today.
“The letter from HMICFRS paints a detailed picture of great leadership from the Service and how WMFS rose to the challenge in 2020. I hope that our communities take a great deal of reassurance from the inspectors’ findings and the service’s ongoing efforts in such challenging times.”