Agenda item

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service - consultation on draft Corporate Plan and Corporate Risk Management Plan 2023-2027

The Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service are carrying out an 11 week consultation on Royal Berkshire Fire Authority’s (RBFA) draft Corporate Plan and Community Risk Management Plan (CRMP) for the years 2023-2027.


Representatives from RBFA, Tim Readings (CRMP Group Manager) and Fayth Rowe (Democratic Support Lead), will be in attendance to explain how the organisation has set out its intentions to meet its goals to create safer and more resilient communities by preventing incidents, protecting homes and businesses and responding to emergencies.


The CRMP explains how all fire and rescue-related risk in the community is evaluated and how resources are allocated to manage those risks. These risks include house fires, road traffic collisions and chemical spills, but they also include other less common hazards such as wide area flooding, terrorist attacks and building collapse.


Please read the documents via the link below in advance of the meeting.


Have Your Say on the Future of Your Fire and Rescue Service | Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (


Also, please bring your smart phones to the meeting as you will be asked to scan a QR code and actively participate in the online survey individually as representatives from RBFA take you through the questions.


Tim Readings, Group Manager introduced himself and asked Commission members to consider the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service draft Corporate Plan and the Combined Fire Authority’s Corporate Risk Management Plan (CRMP) 2023-27. The consultation was due to close in two weeks’ time.


Tim Readings shared a Powerpoint presentation and explained a decision had been taken to put both documents into one to explain how the business of fire and rescue worked.


Priority no 1


It was explained that this priority was in two parts. RBFRS had considered how to apply the three organisational arms of the fire service including prevention and how to deploy units across Berkshire, a county of two halves, consisting of rural west and urbanised east. This meant different risks, so different cover was applied, including on-call fire fighters in some areas to mitigate less fire fighters where risk was lowest. Consideration was also being given to capacity to deliver against wildfire risk and climate change. Last year was their busiest period and indications being this would continue. One option was to have an increase in smaller vehicles to deal with those fires. The Force were seeing a spike in fires caused for green energy products.


Priority no 2

Risk prevention to people in their home was a statutory duty and the force was working towards a more person-centred approach. Safe and well visits were offered but there was uneven uptake. The force was keen to visit most vulnerable people in society as factors in house fires were well known. It was key to have links with other organisations. Traditionally, the Force visited by postcode.


Priority no 3

This priority had come about due to a review of the response model across Berkshire to ensure they met their statutory duties. Focus in the past was on location of fire engines. The force had several special appliances, water rescue units, high ridge and off-road vehicles. The Grenfell Tower incident showed the need to plan for unlikely scenarios.


Priority no 4

The Force intended to review statutory duties, such as deployment of rescue vehicles to fires, chemical spillage/fires, building collapses, train and tram accidents. They currently respond to water rescue, flooding and animal rescue but were not funded for these activities. It was appreciated it was not a simple case of not carrying out activities which were not statutory as it was unclear who would attend if the fire service did not attend. RBFRS were a member of the Local Resilience Forum and were discussing this with partners. One option was to lobby for the sector to be properly funded in order to respond to these types of incidents in the future.


Priority no 5

Enforcement and fire safety law.  Legislation post the Grenfell Tower incident had been adopted by RBFRS. Enforcement consisted of a risk-based inspection programme but there was recognition the tier below high-risk buildings had less involvement from fires and rescue services. RBFRS were keen to talk to those responsible for those buildings and check the risk-based programme was targeted at those most in need.




Priority no 6

The consultation on this priority was that RBFRS would provide a minimum of 14 fire units. There were currently 19 fire engines and 14 were staffed by permanent staff. They were looking at using on-call staff to help with those 14, as well as the other five units. All staff were trained to the same standard. Those units staffed by on-call officers would be more suited to lower risk, more rural areas. It was acknowledged fire services struggled to recruit and retain on call firefighters.


Feedback so far was a 90% acceptance rate on priorities but priority 4 had proved more controversial.


The Commission were also informed there was a set of strategic commitments which included creating a sustainable environment; a financially stable organisation with the right culture; resilience 24/7 and an awareness of national issues around other fire and rescue services.


Following the presentation members asked the following questions and received answers:

·         It was queried if RBFRS had the manpower to staff the fire service currently and were assured the required manpower existed for 14 units. Nationally, it was a struggle to recruit on-call fire fighters another issue was having to extract staff regularly for training. RBFRS had considered six years of data and modelling showed 16 fire engines would be adequate. Peak usage was 14 at once but if a call required 5/6 engines at an emergency they would draw on neighbours to help.

·         What powers does RBFRS have to shut down a building and are they sufficient? Changes to fire safety law requires people who own/manage buildings to state what they need in a fire risk assessment which RBFRS would then audit and advise if it is not felt to be adequate or issue fire safety certificates. More recently, the force has carried out risk assessments on high-risk buildings, such as those with cladding, to advise on work arounds if required. They also have the power to prohibit a building if it is considered there is an immediate risk to safety.

·         Have you considered dumping water from planes on large scale fires? The force can request aerial firefighting through national resilience (in Liverpool) and could request they be deployed via national government. Councillors were informed the most effective way to tackle a fire was off road vehicles, training and specialist equipment.

·         Are you safe and do you have enough people to carry out the job? It was acknowledged this question required greater reflection and may be underplayed in this document.

·         Was there a gap in educating adults about fire safety? Education for adults was an area for development. There was a focus on interventions with children in school and staff carried out safe and well visits for the most vulnerable, water safety and road safety initiatives. Also, RBFRS used social media to deliver education more broadly but appreciated not everyone was able to access information online.

·         Could you send us statistics on nuisance calls? Councillors were informed there were not many nuisance calls, but the service received a lot of calls to automatic fire alarms. There was a review about that currently which would go to the Combined Fire Authority and HMI Fire Inspectorate agreed this area required further work. It was agreed Tim Readings would provide statistics on nuisance calls following the meeting.

·         Was there an issue with people throwing lithium batteries in the waste and electric vehicles? National research being undertaken showed ‘zombie batteries’ in landfill were a problem. It was also a matter for local authorities to look at recycling of these batteries. With regards to electric vehicle fires it could sometimes take up to 24 hours to extinguish and there were examples of them reigniting. They could be highly toxic and designed to be waterproof and sealed, so hard to put out. Continuous application of lots of water was the best way of tackling them currently and giant fire blankets were being produced. Fire services also must control any pollution they make and water from these fires could not go into the drain, so there was a need to find a solution of dealing with that water. RBFRS had staff involved in national developments but they were in their infancy.

·         Was it appropriate to put a sprinkler system in new developments? Councillors were reminded the fire service was a statutory consultee as part of the planning process but ultimately it was up to the planning department to enforce planning regulations. Sprinklers were routinely recommended.

·         Was there an issue with permitted development of office blocks? The quality of development of office blocks into residential use is varied. Those buildings feature on a risk matrix but need to be aware of them. Currently RBFRS are not routinely made aware of them through the planning route so it is a challenge.

·         What was the difference between RBFRS and the Fire Authority? The Fire Authority is made up of elected members from local authorities across Berkshire and carry out governance and scrutiny oversight. RBFRS is the operative arm and the Chief Officer, Wayne Bowcock reports to the Fire Authority.

·         How do you determine how many engines for each area? There is risk mapping software with latest census data which shows what dwelling at risk or flooding risk and another piece of software shows travel time to a location. Used together they highlight the perfect spot for fire stations. However, fire stations are located for historic reasons so there would be an expense to move them.

·         Is there an opportunity to incorporate Manchester arena enquiry into these plans? Consultation timings did not line up with the enquiry so no, not explicitly part of this piece of work but there was a separate strand in RBFRS looking at the outcome of the enquiry.

·         Are you able to attend a terrorist attack? The Fire Brigade Union consider terror incidents as outside of the job role and are requesting pay, training and equipment to meet the needs of that response. The National Fire Chiefs Council and the Home Office consider terror an emergency and it to be within their role to attend.  RBFRS linked into national interagency counter terrorism unit, as well as Thames Valley Police, who have a group of officers with enhanced training ballistic us so the force is ready to respond as required.

·         How much does it cost to call out a pump? There is a set cost and it was agreed the costings would be sent to the Governance and Scrutiny Office following the meeting.



Once the consultation ended the Fire Authority would decide on 27th April vote whether or not to accept proposals following the consultation.

A wider discussion took place about requesting ‘blue light’ service representatives to attend O&S Commission meetings in the future to discuss what services are provided locally.

Members queried the Chief Executive’s role in gold/silver/bronze command structure with reference to emergencies. The Chief Executive responded to say there had not been any substantial changes since its utilisation during the pandemic. The Council was currently reflecting on changes since them and there was an opportunity for scrutiny to look at coordination of services as part of the pandemic response and whether there were any issues in relation to the community. 

Members also asked if an emergency response ‘test’ had been held recently ad were informed they shared this responsibility with West Berkshire and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Regular scenarios with partners, and representatives from utility firms, were carried out but, even though a pandemic was no 1 on the risk register, it still caught everyone out so there was a recognised need to risk profile and rehearse more extreme and terrorist scenarios. Also, climate change and extreme heat had not been scrutinised or well-rehearsed to date.

Councillors thanked Tim Readings for attending and the excellent work RBFRS officers carried out.


Councillors to let the Governance and Scrutiny Officer know of any contacts with whom Tim Readings might share the consultation with, following the meeting.