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Covid inspection of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) was commissioned at the end of 2020 by the Home Secretary to inspect all fire and rescue services in the country to see how the sector was responding to the pandemic.

The inspection team assess all services in the following areas:

• How the fire sector is responding to the Covid-19 outbreak
• What is working well and what is being learned
• How the sector is dealing with the problems it faces
• What changes are likely or appropriate for the Fire and Rescue Sector as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The inspection report summarised:

We were impressed with how the service adapted and responded to the pandemic effectively, and how they put the health and wellbeing of their people at the forefront of decision-making. The service maintained its statutory functions of prevention, protection and response while providing additional support to the community during the first phase of the pandemic. It used its wholetime firefighters to respond to emergencies, and used the increased availability of its on-call workforce to provide extra support, especially to its local ambulance trust. This meant the people of Cambridgeshire were better supported through the pandemic.

Firefighters helped out with driving ambulances, training staff to drive ambulances, face fitting masks to be used by frontline NHS and clinical care staff working with COVID-19 patients, and welfare visits to the vulnerable who were shielding. Resources were well managed, and the service’s financial position was largely unaffected. Reserves didn’t have to be used to cover extra costs. The service was able to respond quickly to staff absences and implemented work to build resilience.

The service communicated well with its staff throughout the pandemic, including on issues relating to wellbeing. A notable achievement is the extra wellbeing services put in place for its workforce who are at higher risk from COVID-19, including its black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and those with underlying health conditions. It also made sure all staff had the resources they needed to do their jobs effectively, providing infection control kits, extra information and technology, and putting in place additional flexible working arrangements.

We recognise that the arrangements for managing the pandemic may carry on for some time, and that the service is now planning for the future. In order to be as efficient and effective as possible, Cambridgeshire FRS should focus on the following areas:
(a) It should determine how it will adopt for the longer-term, the new and innovative ways of working introduced during the pandemic, to secure lasting improvements.
(b) It should make sure wholetime firefighters are fully productive, while minimising the risk of them contracting or spreading the virus.
(c) It should evaluate how effective its extra activities have been. It should then consider how its activities can give local communities the most benefit in future.