Beta This is a new way of showing guidance - your feedback will help us improve it.

Inspection of fire service

OC 334/5


1 The public fire service in England, Scotland and Wales is made up of 57 independent local authority brigades. There are also a considerable number of 'occupational' or private fire services, such as those found at airports. In addition, the MoD has its own 'brigade', the Defence Fire Service, and has many service personnel who are also trained as firefighters.

2 Historically, the lead within Government for both fire safety and fire services lay with the Home Office. However, following recent changes, the policy lead on fire matters and HM Fire Service Inspectorate (HMFSI) are now to be found within the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).

Fire services act 1947

3 The Fire Services Act 1947 provided the legal framework under which fire authorities could identify their duties and powers following the break up of the National Fire Service at the end of the Second World War. The following are key provisions of the Act.

4 Section 1 places a statutory duty on fire authorities to "make provision for fire fighting purposes" and in particular to secure:

(1) fire brigades and equipment;

(2) training of fire brigades;

(3) efficient arrangements to respond to calls;

(4) information required for fire fighting purposes;

(5) mitigation of damage as a result of fire fighting;

(6) fire prevention advice.

5 Section 2 requires fire authorities to make arrangements for mutual assistance between brigades.

6 Section 3 empowers fire authorities to employ fire brigades for purposes other than fire fighting, which it considers suitable (eg chemical incidents, RTAs, offshore activities, rope access, etc).

7 Section 4 places on local authorities (counties, metropolitan counties) the duties as fire authorities.

8 Section 17 empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations on conditions of service including:

(1) ranks, pay allowances;

(2) hours of duty, leave;

(3) discipline.

9 Section 18 lists procedures for appointment and promotion.

10 Section 24 makes provision for Inspectors of Fire Services to be appointed to obtain information as to:

(1) the manner in which fire authorities are performing their functions;

(2) technical matters relating to those functions.

11 Section 25 provides for funding by Central Government (up to 25% of expenditure) and grants to fire authorities.

12 Section 29 provides for the establishment of Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council (CFBAC) for the purpose of advising the Secretary of State. The Council members are appointed by the Secretary of State from key stakeholders including unions, employers, Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association (CACFOA), HMFSI, Institution of Fire Engineers and ODPM. The Defence Fire and Police (DFP) Unit represents HSE on the recently formed Health and Safety Advisory Board, formed under the aegis of CFBAC.

13 Section 30 spells out powers to enter premises for the purposes of putting out fires; protecting premises from fires; or rescuing people or property. The Officer in charge has the power to do "all things as he may deem necessary for the extinction of the fire".


14 The fire service is a uniformed service where automatic obedience to orders in times of danger and stress has been considered necessary if life and property are to be preserved. Firefighters have considerable rights of entry to private property and a high standard of conduct is required. More recently, there has been a move away from 'military style' discipline and language, with an emphasis now on role, rather than rank.

15 The Fire Service (Discipline) Regulations 1985 cover firefighters and control room staff. They provide for the following areas:

(1) a statutory framework for discipline;

(2) cover offences from the most serious (eg gross misconduct) to those of a lesser nature;

(3) set out a schedule of offences;

(4) arrangements for investigation of allegations;

(5) arrangements for hearings and appeals;

(6) penalties from dismissal, through requirement to resign, reduction in rank, stoppage of pay to reprimand and caution;

(7) minor offences to be dealt with by informal action.

Civil imperative

16 Firefighters are acting for the public good when they attempt to save lives and property. This is an additional aspect which needs to be considered by inspectors when determining reasonable practicability. This may be illustrated by the approach to 'hot fire training'.

17 The HSW Act s.2 requires that employees be properly trained. Brigades deliberately expose their workforce to conditions that would normally be regarded as unacceptably high risk in any other industry. However, HSE recognises that there is a need for realistic training, to prevent serious injury during operations (see Training for Hazardous Occupations: HSE Occasional Paper Series OP 8). The level of the risk in the training must be controlled, and proportionate to the training benefit to be gained from the activity. As the risk cannot be removed entirely, management and technical systems are required to control it to that acceptable level. This example can be extended when considering actual firefighting operations. Again, firefighters are routinely exposed to levels of risk that would be unacceptable elsewhere in society. This is, however, their function and there is a societal expectation that they will fulfil this role.

See OC 334/4, para 3.

Categories of employees

19 Categories of employees found within brigades include full time firefighters, retained firefighters, volunteer firefighters, control room staff and other civilian support staff, eg maintenance personnel.

20 Full time firefighters provide cover at permanently staffed fire stations (usually in urban locations). They are professional firefighters, whose sole occupation is that of a firefighter. There is a number of possible shift patterns - whole time, day crew, etc.

21 Retained Firefighters are trained firefighters who normally have some other occupation and live or work in the area close to the fire station at which they are based. When an emergency call is received, they are paged or contacted in some way and called out from their homes or workplaces to respond to the incident. They are paid an annual retention fee and attendance fees for obligatory training sessions (usually a minimum of two hours per week) and for call-outs. In return, they provide agreed on-call hours. Some rural brigades are staffed almost entirely by retained firefighters, with only a few full-time stations in, for example, large urban conurbations.

22 Retained units can often deal with a high number of calls each year (some as high as 500). For firefighters in a busy retained station, the money they earn can be a substantial addition to their full-time job.

23 Volunteer firefighters are generally found in remote rural areas and deal with around 10-15 calls per year. Scotland traditionally has the highest proportion of volunteer firefighters, compared with retained or whole-time. They are provided with basic training (typically two hours per month unpaid) and are paid an hourly rate when called out to respond to incidents.

24 There is a third category in Scotland (auxiliary) who are trained and equipped to retained status, but paid on a volunteer basis.

25 All brigades have employees in addition to their firefighters. These range from administrative staff in brigade and divisional headquarters, tradesmen and technicians employed to service, repair and maintain the vehicles and equipment, through to control room staff who provide the interface between members of the public reporting incidents and the operational arm of the brigade.

26 Whilst the health and safety of firefighters is covered in more detail later in this document, inspectors should deal with the health and safety of the civilian support staff in the same way as they would deal with any other local government/public body. In line with that approach, particular issues that might be addressed will include DSE use, stress (particularly for control room staff), safety in vehicle repair and maintenance, general workplace issues, etc.

Specialist firefighting

Defence fire service

27 The Defence Fire Service (DFS), formed by the amalgamation of the three Armed Forces Services in 1990, is headed by its own Chief Fire Officer. It is under the control of MOD's central health and safety policy section, DSEF Pol, which has overall responsibility for fire policy throughout MOD, and includes the MOD Fire Services Inspectorate. Operational control of firefighting activities is devolved to fire focal points in the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Defence Logistics Organisation and Defence Procurement Agency, headed in each case by an assistant chief officer. The DFS has a training school at Manston.

28 Personnel within DFS are professional firefighters. As well as offering fire cover to MOD establishments, they often have formal agreements with local authority brigades, whereby they provide cover for non-MOD sites and members of the public, typically in and around garrisons or in remote locations.

29 The armed forces themselves also have service personnel trained in firefighting to varying degrees. In times of industrial action, for example, members of the armed forces have crewed (Green Goddess) fire appliances to provide fire cover in the affected areas (usually in addition to DFS's professional firefighters). All naval personnel who go to sea have to complete shipboard firefighting training, and there are dedicated firefighting crews on board each ship.

30 The parts of the armed forces that deal with aircraft also have specialist teams trained to deal with aircraft crash and rescue. These crews can be found within the DFS, RAF Tactical Fire Wing and RN (Aircraft Handler) Fire Service. The specialist crews can be found on each operational flying station and carrier, providing emergency fire cover in case of an aircraft crash.

31 DFS crews can also be found providing cover at USAF bases such as Lakenheath, at the Sovereign bases in Cyprus and in other locations around the world where the MoD has a significant presence, such as Gibraltar and Germany. They also provide fire cover at large events at these sites, eg at commercial air shows.

32 Two projects are currently underway to look at possible reorganisation of the DFS and parts of its functions. The Airfield Support Services Project (ASSP) is looking at the feasibility of contracting out the provision of airfield support services at 96 MoD airfields for up to 25 years and includes airfield crash/fire rescue and domestic fire services. ASSP would involve contracting out fire services to the private sector and three consortia have been invited to bid for the contract. Running in parallel with the ASSP is a separate MoD study known as Fire Study 2000 (FS2000). This study is reviewing the current MoD fire service organisation and operation and will develop an optimum strategy for meeting (in totality of the departments) current and future requirements for fire cover in peace, crises and war. FS2000, if adopted, would mean the DFS remaining in-house. The decision has been delayed by a number of factors, including proposed reform of fire safety legislation, and is not now expected before December 2003.

Airport rescue and firefighting services

33 Civil Aviation Authority publication CAP 168 Licensing of Aerodromes sets out in Chapter 8 the minimum requirements to be met in the provision of Rescue and Fire Fighting Services at UK licensed aerodromes. The facilities and standards required are part of a suite of minimum requirements necessary for an aerodrome to obtain and maintain the licence required by the Air Navigation Order 2000 (as amended). CAP 168 also contains comprehensive guidance on equipment, extinguishing agent, personnel, training and emergency procedures. NB: the term 'aerodromes' includes all airports.

34 Condition 2 in the Public Use and Ordinary Aerodromes Licences makes it mandatory for licensees to provide a minimum rescue and fire fighting service (RFFS) appropriate to their aerodromes. The RFFS is required to be provided throughout the hours licensed aerodromes are available for use by aircraft and for 15 minutes after the departure of the last aircraft. The scale and standards of RFFS required by the CAP are in line with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards and recommended practices. All CAPs, are available from the CAA website .

35 Under the aerodrome licence the role/purpose of airport fire services differs from LA brigades in that they exist solely to deal with aircraft related accidents, to which they must respond in the shortest possible time, so as to make a rapid attack on any fire present. By extinguishing the fire quickly, this permits the passenger environment within the fuselage to remain survivable. In aircraft fire situations, it is often smoke that causes many of the deaths, rather than the actual fire itself.

36 Some airport RFFS are also the first repondents to non-aircraft fires at the airport. CAA permit this as long as the minimum aircraft incident cover is maintained. CAA and HSE expect RFFS firefighters to be trained for whatever roles they perform. The RFFS may also be required to attend aircraft incidents near the airport. In certain places this may mean working on or near water, or marshes, or other difficult conditions.

37 CAP 168 requires that the RFFS can respond within set time limits:

"The operational objective of the RFFS should be to achieve response times of two minutes and not exceeding three minutes, to the end of each runway, as well as to any other part of the response area."

38 In order to meet these strict attendance requirements, the fire appliances used by airport fire and rescue services have to be very specialised. The vehicles are designed to travel over all terrain at very high speeds. Most airport fire and rescue services have a range of fire appliances, including one which is often smaller, but faster, and so able to reach the aircraft crash site and begin fighting the fire within the required attendance time, whilst the remaining, slower vehicles take longer to arrive.

39 Airport fire and rescue appliances also differ structurally from standard local authority fire service appliances. They tend to be fitted with monitors on the front and/or roof of the vehicle, which can be used to applying water or foam whilst the vehicle is still in motion. These monitors can be controlled by personnel within the cab, or from a platform on the roof of the vehicle.

40 Once the fire around the aircraft has been controlled, airport fire and rescue personnel can attempt to enter the aircraft to search for passengers, and assist in their rescue. This work is to all intents and purposes the same as local authority fire service confined space entry and rescue.

41 Most airports will provide training facilities for their fire and rescue personnel. These can range from simple rigs burning aviation fuel to simulate fires, redundant aircraft that can be filled with cosmetic smoke for confined space entry and rescue training, up to high-tech, LPG fired training rigs which can be used to simulate both activities. The same approach and standards used when inspecting local authority fire service confined space and hot fire training facilities, should be adopted when assessing the management of these training facilities. The same approach should also be adopted for dealing with other common issues, eg training, manual handling, command and control, slips, trips and falls, etc.

42 The lead for RFFS at airports lies with the Services Sector's Docks and Air Transport Unit.

43 Annex 2 to the Memorandum of Understanding between the CAA and HSE particularly mentions airport RFFS. The MoU is under constant review.

44 Her Majesty's Fire Service Inspectorate (HMFSI) have produced guidance on aircraft incidents in the form of a supplement to the Fire Service Manual, Fire Service Operations, Aircraft Incidents - Fire Service Manual Volume 2. This publication replaced earlier published guidance and examines the general features of aircraft and airports, considering operational principles, liaison and planning for aircraft incidents. The DFP Unit has a copy of this guidance.

Maritime fire and rescue services and shipboard firefighting

45 Many fire and rescue services will be involved in maritime fire fighting and/or firefighting on board ships. This may be on rivers, in estuaries, harbours, shipbuilding and ship repair yards, docks or even potentially in the open sea. Whilst the issue of specialist water rescue will be covered in a separate supplement, there has also been a debate within the fire service as to what standards and procedures should be followed when general/first response firefighters are working on or near water ( see para 99 ).

Application of the HSW act to firefighting at sea

46 The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (Application outside Great Britain) Order 2001 (AOGBO) sets out how the HSW Act applies within territorial waters and certain other designated areas. The baseline extends around the coast of Great Britain at the low water mark. It extends across certain estuaries, ie each end of the Solent, and includes certain groups of islands, ie the Western Isles of Scotland.

47 Within the baseline, the HSW Act and the regulations made under it apply fully to all work related activities. Within territorial waters (which extend beyond the low water mark for 12 miles) the HSW Act and regulations apply only to certain activities, specified within the Order.

48 However, firefighting is not explicitly included within any of these categories and it is therefore doubtful that firefighting within territorial waters would be subject to the HSW Act. The movement of persons to and from a vessel is not covered by the Order, and therefore is not subject to the HSW Act, but the transfer of persons between the vessels/aircraft and structures, and between the vessels/aircraft and certain classes of floating installations, is covered. This would mean that if firefighters were involved in rescuing persons within those listed categories, this activity would be subject to the HSW Act.

49 More detailed guidance on the AOGBO can be found within the Offshore Division Enforcement Manual, Volume 2, Chapter 3 .

Private fire services

50 Inspectors may also encounter private fire services. These are typically found within large industrial complexes, such as those chemical refineries inspected by HID. In general terms, these private fire services have a role similar to that of volunteer firefighters ( see para 23 ). They are usually intended to provide first-aid firefighting, until the local authority fire brigade arrives.

51 Whilst HSE would not necessarily expect such firefighters to have the same range of competencies as local authority firefighters, they should still be properly trained and competent to undertake the activities expected of them, including the correct use of any of the equipment they have been provided with. This premise should be the starting point for the inspection of any such private fire service.

HM inspectorate of fire services

52 Under the Fire Services Act, inspectors and assistant inspectors may be appointed to obtain information as to the manner in which fire authorities are performing their functions. These inspectors and assistant inspectors form HM Fire Service Inspectorate (HMFSI) which is now part of the Fire and Emergency Planning Directorate of ODPM. The HM Fire Service Inspectorate for Scotland operates under the aegis of the Scottish Executive.

53 Territorial Fire Service Inspectors are appointed in England and Wales, and separately Scotland, each of whom is responsible for a group of brigades which they inspect each year. HMFSI inspect for "efficiency, economy and effectiveness". The current move is towards auditing brigades. In recent years the cost-effectiveness of the brigade organisation has been the subject of close scrutiny ("Best Value Inspection"). Following their inspection, inspectors prepare a report which is publicly available on the ODPM website .

54 The Fire Service Inspectorate draws most of its inspectors from retired Chief Fire Officers or Deputies. Other inspectorate staff are on secondment from their brigades. In an attempt to increase diversity in their staff, there are now also appointments from outside the fire service. The inspections are normally carried out by a team and may last up to a week. Inspections may cover a wide range of brigade operations, or they may be thematic, concentrating on a particular, topical issue.

55 The Fire Service Inspectorate also has a team of staff based at ODPM whose role is to keep abreast of relevant changes in industry, commerce and transport; to liaise with the other emergency organisations in order to agree good working practices to be adopted at fires and other incidents, and to revise safety procedures and operational techniques to ensure that loss of life and injury are minimised. Guidance is regularly issued in the form of Dear Chief Officer Letters (DCOLs). They have no statutory power but indicate best practice as determined by HMFSI. The DFP Unit liaises regularly with HMFSI's health and safety adviser.

56 HSE inspectors investigating incidents that have operational implications are strongly advised to make early contact with the relevant territorial Fire Service Inspector (HMI). They may already be conducting their own investigation and will be able to advise on operational aspects. In particular, HSE inspectors should advise HMFSI of their involvement in investigations of fatalities or where there are national implications for operations, training or equipment.

57 HSE and HMFSI should also liaise on their proposals for significant planned interventions so as to prevent clashes and to enable due regard to be taken of findings in recent HMFSI published reports. When FSI are conducting an inspection of a brigade, it is common practice for the FSI to invite HSE to attend one of the major exercises laid on for them by the brigade.

Fire authorities

58 Fire Authorities are the employers of fire brigade personnel. They are essentially large multi-site employers with peripatetic employees, fixed workplaces, including fire stations, workplaces and training schools. Peripatetic employees undertake work on the fireground, at rescue sites, and as inspecting officers under the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and the Fire Services Act 1947.

59 The reorganisation of local government in England and Wales in the mid 1990s had important consequences for the fire service. One of the main features of the reorganisation was the abolition or reorganisation of County Councils that (outside the metropolitan areas) had thus far been the fire authorities.

60 This led to the formation of Combined Fire Authorities in certain areas. They were established by means of combination scheme orders made under the Fire Services Act 1947 s.6. Each combination scheme order provides for the constitutional and financial arrangements of the combined fire authority, and for the transfer of staff and property to the new fire authority.

61 The authorities themselves consist of members appointed by constituent unitary authorities, borough councils and County Council in accordance with the relevant combination scheme orders.

Employee organisations

Chief and assistant chief fire officers' association

62 The Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers' Association (CACFOA) is the foremost official organisation for senior fire officers in the UK. CACFOA was formed in 1974 following local government reorganisation to allow senior Fire Officers to meet and discuss fire related or government influenced matters, and to reach combined understandings of what each Fire Brigade needed to do to improve operations and training with their Service. Also, importantly, CACFOA discusses funding and government issues that affect fire authorities throughout the United Kingdom.

63 CACFOA has a membership of almost all of the Chief, Deputy and Assistant Chief Fire Officers (Firemasters in Scotland) of local authority fire brigades in the United Kingdom.

64 The fire service has a single tier entry system. All chief offices rise from the ranks and are the senior managers of their brigades. They take overall operational responsibility and can personally direct the conduct of operations at major incidents. Theirs is a politically sensitive role, negotiating with the Fire Authority, implementing ODPM advice and central government legislation.

The fire brigades union

65 The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is a very active and strong trade union. The union represents both whole time and retained firefighters, some control room staff and even some Chief Officers. It currently has around 50,000 members and is represented on the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council (CFBAC).

66 The union publishes a health and safety bulletin along with a magazine "Firefighter". There is a regular contact between the DFP unit and the union's head office health and safety contact, currently Mr Dave Patton.

The retained firefighters union

67 The Retained Firefighters Union (RFU) represents only retained staff, who in fact crew 60 per cent of the pumps in the UK fire service. It is also represented on CFBAC, though not on some other, union related, bodies such as the National Joint Council (NJC). The union was set up in 1976, and unlike the FBU, has a "no strike" clause within its constitution. This has led to some tension historically between the RFU and FBU, when members of the former have continued to work during firefighters' strikes. In fact, in certain brigades, the two unions will not actually sit at the same negotiating table. This has led to enquiries from inspectors with regard to the effectiveness of brigades' arrangements for staff consultation. Inspectors should therefore be aware of this issue and the potential for difficulties to arise, but should concern themselves solely with ensuring that the brigades have appropriate measures in place for the proper consultation with employees representatives, irrespective of the industrial relations issue.

The national association of fire officers branch of the AEU

68 Historically, the AEU (now AEEU) had around 5000 members who were firefighters, mostly junior and middle ranking officers. They are represented on CFBAC, but have not had extensive dealings with the DFP Unit.

Transport and general workers union

69 The Transport and General Workers Union are the predominant union amongst airport RFFS firefighters.

Scottish fire authorities, brigades and other bodies

70 There is a separate HM Fire Service Inspectorate for Scotland, within the Scottish Executive. Targets set may be different from those set for England and Wales, but Scottish Firemasters are represented at CACFOA meetings. The Scottish Executive has recently published a consultation document,The Scottish Fire Service of the Future, which is looking at legislative change for funding of fire services, and seeking views as to which non-fire rescue roles the service should provide.

71 Many Scottish brigades have a high proportion of rural and retained firefighters, with resultant difficulties in training and equipping staff appropriately.

Health and safety advice and training in the fire service

Competency-based training

72 Over the past few years the fire service has been developing an 'Integrated Personal Development System' (IPDS). This incorporates a competence framework, training for competence and continuing development. It is intended that the system will eventually cover all staff in the service, but so far most work has been carried out on firefighter roles.

73 The competence framework is known as 'National Occupational Standards for Fire Service Operations in the Community'. It is intended to ensure consistent standards across the country. All firefighters will have the same core elements in training, with the potential for adding specialisms later.

74 Development of personnel is split into three phases:

(1) phase one is Initial Firefighter Training . This training will usually be given at training centres maintained by the brigade, or at Gullane (Scotland) or the Fire Service College (Moreton-in-Marsh). By the end of this phase trainees should be safe members of an appliance crew;

(2) phase two is Consolidation Training and Application of Skills/Knowledge . It will consist of a structured programme in the workplace, followed by an assessment of competence. In brigades that have secured "Approved Centre" status successful completion of this Phase will allow the firefighter to be registered for an NVQ; and

(3) phase three is Maintenance of Knowledge and Skills . This will be a role-based programme to maintain an individual's skills. Continuous assessment will be carried out.

Inspection protocol

75 Recently CACFOA has requested a formal inspection protocol with HSE, along the lines of that agreed with the Police Service, the primary objective of which was to establish a mutual understanding of the objectives of HSE and the fire service in relation to the inspection and enforcement of health and safety legislation. This Protocol is currently being drafted, and it is anticipated that the signatories will comprise CACFOA, LGA, HM Chief Inspectors of Fire Services for England and Wales, and Scotland, COSLA, the Scottish Executive, ODPM and HSE.

76 The inspection protocol will make reference to the civil imperative ( see para 18 or 'fire service imperative' as it is termed in this context. When the Protocol has been agreed and signed, it will be issued to inspectors in the form of a Sector Information Minute.

77 It will also outline the contact arrangements for both planned inspections - in line with FOD Guide to Inspection of Health and Safety Management- and reactive investigations. Before a planned inspection, a meeting will be arranged between a principal fire brigade officer, the health and safety adviser and a member of the HSE inspection team. The HSE inspector will describe the format and scope of the inspection and mutually convenient dates will be agreed.

Of fire service training activities

78 Inspectors will need to satisfy themselves that:

(1) training needs have been properly established and, with the equipment used, form part of a systematic approach to the management of risk;

(2) decisions to provide particular training are reasonably taken; the objectives of the exercise are defined; the risks are assessed; and those precautions which are reasonably practicable and do not defeat the exercise objectives are in place; and

(3) the training received at all levels is properly assessed and recorded. There have been problems in the past where training has been recorded at watch level, rather than specific individual level.

Driver training

79 Existing guidance on driver training dates from 1986. The DCOL covers - in general terms - some of the subjects for EFAD (Emergency Fire Appliance Driver) training, and includes a recommendation for refresher training every three years. EFAD training can only be given after a driver has an HGV qualification. Training is generally done in-house.

80 A working group coordinated by the Driving Standards Agency has been set up to discuss training arrangements for emergency service vehicle drivers, and they have established a list of 'core competencies' for drivers in general. It has not yet come into force, but consists of three elements: the ability to assess the need for an emergency response; the ability to drive the vehicle safely to emergencies; and the demonstration of the correct attitude. The first two are self explanatory. The third element would be classed as human factors in health and safety terms. It requires an understanding of how attitudes affect performance, how to respond to fatigue and stress and how physiological changes can affect judgement.

First aid training

81 Casualty handling has been included as a core element of firefighter training. A number of Brigades are now providing a comprehensive package of training for firefighters as 'first responders' ie to enable them to give first aid to members of the public involved in incidents. Attempts have been made to include the First Aid at Work qualification within the syllabus, but there have been problems in matching the course content and timing with the prescriptive requirements of the First Aid at Work Regulations. The DFP Unit is currently working with the First Aid Approvals and Monitoring Unit, and HMFSI to produce more up-to-date guidance.

Realistic training

82 In 1997 the Home Office published a Supplement to the Manual of Firemanship Volume 2 (Fire Service Operations) entitled Compartment fires and tactical ventilation. The purpose of the document was to ensure a common understanding across the UK Fire Service as to how fires in compartments develop. Specifically, the purpose was to understand the characteristics of fire development leading to 'flashover' and 'backdraught', and how firefighters should approach these different events. The need for such information was highlighted by the double fire-fighter fatality at Blaina in South Wales in 1996, which was thought to have occurred as a consequence of being caught in a backdraught. HSE's investigation led to an Improvement Notice being served on the South Wales Fire Authority.

83 To support the Supplement, in autumn 1997, the Home Office also released a three-part package of training videos on Compartment fires and tactical ventilation. These cover Fire growth and flashover;Backdraught; and Tactical ventilation of fires and give practical guidance on recognising incipient flashover and backdraught conditions, the associated dangers and how best to deal with them.

84 Many fire brigades responded by developing Compartment Fire Behaviour Training Units that can be used to simulate conditions leading up to flashover and backdraught. Inspection of these units will be covered in a Supplement to this OC.

The fire ground

85 There are no foreseeable circumstances when it would be necessary for inspectors to attend an incident in progress. If a call-out occurs during the inspection of a brigade, inspectors should not accompany the fire brigade personnel, or ride on appliances under 'blue light' conditions. They are not trained for direct exposure to many of the risks involved, and there is no need to expose themselves to such risks for the purposes of inspection.

86 It is foreseeable however that staff may need to attend in the aftermath of an incident. Staff should follow the advice given by whoever is in control of the site (usually a Fire Service Incident Commander). See FOD Supplement 2 to HSE's Health and Safety Policy.

Dynamic risk management at operational incidents

87 The Home Office publication Dynamic Management of Risk at Operational Incidents defines dynamic management of risk as "The continuous process of identifying hazards, assessing risk, taking action to eliminate or reduce risk, monitoring and reviewing in the rapidly changing circumstances of an operational incident." It goes on to explain that strategic (eg policies, resources, etc) and systematic (risk assessments, safe systems of work, etc) levels of management must already be in place. A key element is the requirement for an incident debrief (or post-incident review) to feedback appropriately to the systematic level. There seems to be some evidence of brigades failing to carry this out properly. Some brigades have introduced 'tick lists' for the most commonly encountered hazards at an incident, but it needs to be emphasised that, by its nature, you cannot 'complete' a dynamic risk assessment (DRA) until the incident is over.

Incident command and control system

88 The Fire Service has adopted a single approach to incident command, to allow members of one brigade to work safely alongside other brigades. It is designed to provide a standard structure for: organising resources on the fireground including spans of control; performing dynamic risk assessments; performance standards for commanders at incidents, etc. One of the key elements is the declaration (over the radio) of a 'tactical mode'. The options are 'offensive', where, for example, firefighters are sent inside a structure on fire; 'defensive' where it is considered too dangerous to do this and the fire is fought from outside; and 'transitional' where a complex incident may allow some offensive firefighting in certain areas, but in others it must be defensive. The declaration of a mode is mainly to ensure that the actions of one crew do not jeopardise the safety of another. It should not happen until an initial risk assessment has taken place.

89 Where no 'incident command system' or policy exists within a brigade there maybe evidence of ineffective dynamic risk management, or lack of adequate training in the health and safety aspects of incident command. If command issues are identified as being a factor in an investigation into an accident Inspectors should ensure that they liaise with the appropriate Brigade Inspection team from HMFSI. The unit has a copy of the Fire Service Manual Vol 2 Fire Service Operations Incident Command for reference purposes.

Personal protective equipment including breathing apparatus

90 The nature of the environment in which fire services operate means that they must rely to a greater extent than usual on personal protective equipment. The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 cover all aspects of firefighters PPE including protective over-trousers, jacket, helmet, boots, gloves, etc. In the past fire kit has often been issued as if it was merely a uniform. Firefighters should be provided with information, instruction and training on its use and limitations (Reg.9). It is only designed to protect firefighters in fires, and may not be suitable for other rescue tasks that they perform (eg it should not be relied upon to provide buoyancy in the event of a firefighter falling into water).

91 Brigades should have systems for ensuring (sfairp) that the kit maintains its fire-resisting properties in use, after cleaning, etc. This will mean that brigades should be able to track kit, and to ensure that it is washed in accordance with manufacturers' instructions. It should be regularly inspected by the firefighters themselves, to ensure that it is not used if there are obvious defects.

92 To date there has been little information as to how its performance may degrade over time, although some manufacturers will guarantee kit for a certain number of washes. Practically, the only way to be reasonably sure that the kit still meets standards is to test a representative sample of a batch. PPE suppliers are beginning to offer a comprehensive service where they will clean and maintain kit for the brigade, assisting them in complying with Reg.7 - Maintenance and replacement of PPE.

Breathing apparatus entry procedures

93 Current guidance to brigades is in Fire Service Technical Bulletin (TB) 1/1997 - a copy of which is held by the Defence Fire and Police Unit. The guidance is intended to ensure that the Officer in Charge of an incident assesses the risks and selects the appropriate BA procedures from those available. The use of standard procedures is essential to ensure adequate support and emergency arrangements, the safety of all BA wearers at an incident, and a successful outcome of the incident.

94 There have been suggestions that the procedures are too bureaucratic and time consuming, and hence poorly applied at incidents. The investigation of the deaths of two London firefighters who became disoriented in thick smoke clearly showed that guideline procedures were not being followed. When firefighters are undergoing BA training, it should be clearly explained to them that the procedures are designed to protect them in extreme situations, where no other controls exist.

95 Because of the central role of BA in protecting firefighter health and safety, the failure of a BA set is potentially life-threatening and is a RIDDOR reportable dangerous dccurrence (DO). Guidance on investigation of these DOs will be given as a Supplement to this OC.


96 In many of the incidents attended by the Fire Service there is the possibility of disturbing asbestos in premises. In some cases the brigades would be classed as working with asbestos. The Unit is currently involved in a Working Group to produce a general Method Statement for the Fire Service when working with asbestos. The aim is to gain an exemption from the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983.

97 In practical terms there is little evidence of a high risk to firefighters - so far there have been no reported cases of asbestos-related diseases in firefighters. As part of the method statement, brigades will need to demonstrate that their BA passes the appropriate face-fit criteria. Initial research carried out by HSL suggests that brigades should be able to meet the criteria in the majority of cases with current equipment, and updated donning procedures. However, there will be some firefighters who require non-standard facemasks. Fire Kit is the only PPE which can be worn to fight fires, so other control measures largely centre around decontamination of individuals and equipment after an incident.

Water rescue

98 Following the drowning of a firefighter in Greater Manchester, interim guidance was published by the Home Office as a DCOL (April 2001)Work in, on or near Water. This emphasised actions that could be undertaken safely from the side, and that entry into the water is a last resort. It also stated that "The normal breathing apparatus used by fire brigades is not designed or certified for underwater use and firefighters are not trained to operate in such an environment." Detailed guidance will be given in a Supplement to this OC.


99 In the past there has been some confusion as to whether the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) apply to air lifting bags used by the fire service, particularly at RTAs. There are two sets of regulations which apply to work equipment - LOLER which applies specifically to work equipment used for lifting - and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) which apply to all work equipment used by workers.

100 In relation to airlifting bags, LOLER will apply depending on how the equipment is used and the following points may be of help in determining this. LOLER applies to devices that are designed to lift and lower loads. If a load is merely being supported, this operation is not covered by LOLER. However, if the load is first lifted then supported, the lift is deemed to continue as long as the load is supported. So there may be some circumstances where the airbag is lifting, and others where it is not.

101 However, the issue of whether LOLER or PUWER 98 applies may not be as significant as it seems. The key issue is whether the equipment is safe to use and here the general provisions of PUWER may be more useful.

102 PUWER 98 Reg.4 requires work equipment to be suitable for purpose, and Reg.5 has an absolute requirement that work equipment is ''maintained in an efficient state, efficient working order and in good repair." The equipment should be examined in terms of the operation of the equipment. PUWER Reg.9 requires operators to have received adequate training and relevant information and instructions to enable them to use the equipment safely. It is desirable, then, for the equipment to be examined so that it complies with both sets of legislation, which is possible if there is an inspection regime in accordance with PUWER Reg.6 and detailed in accordance with LOLER Reg.9(3)(a)(iii).

103 In summary, therefore, the key factors are that the equipment is suitable for the job in hand; that it has been maintained and inspected (or for lifting equipment, thoroughly examined) to ensure that it is safe to use; and that operators are adequately trained and have the relevant information and instructions to use the equipment safely.

Pressure systems

104 Breathing apparatus consists of a facemask, hoses, pressure reducing valves, cylinder valves, etc, plus one or more cylinders. The mask, hoses and valves are classed as pressure systems and are subject to the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 (PSSR) by virtue of Reg.3(2). The cylinders are classed as transportable pressure receptacles (TPRs) and are governed by of the Carriage of Dangerous Goods (Classification, Packaging and Labelling) and Use of Transportable Pressure Receptacles Regulations 1996 (CDGCPL2) Regs.12-17 subject to Reg.3(4) and (5) of those same Regulations and Schedule 8.

105 Transportable pressure receptacles manufactured before 1 January 2003 are subject to the requirements of CDGCPL2 Schedule 8. The Approved Requirements referred to in the Regulations (those that relate to TPRs) have not yet been made, so the bulk of Regs.12-17 will not apply. Inspectors should therefore apply the requirements of Schedule 8 until further notice and advise brigades accordingly. Further guidance can be found within OC 289/18 and OM 2002/118.

106 In practice, the requirements of the two sets of regulations are very similar. They both require proper design and construction; appropriate marking and the provision of information; and periodic inspection and examination by an appropriately competent person. Under CDGCPL2 duties are also placed upon the person filling the cylinder, as well as the owner.

107 Brigades should therefore have written schemes of examination for the periodic examination of their breathing apparatus. The relevant breathing apparatus manufacturer should be able to facilitate the production of these written schemes, as they will normally provide the training for the technicians and officers responsible for the maintenance of the brigades breathing apparatus. Alternatively, advice could be sought from the engineering insurance companies in the normal way.

108 This written scheme of examination, and examination in accordance with it, should not be confused with routine servicing and maintenance. Servicing and repair will usually be carried out centrally within a brigade, by trained staff. In fact, some brigades have fully contracted out this service to their breathing apparatus manufacturer, eg Sabre. Cylinders should also be examined in line with an appropriate standard, currently BS5430, though this is due to be replaced by European standards.

109 Breathing apparatus is PPE subject to COSHH 1999 ( see para 91 ). A Supplement covering investigation of BA dangerous occurrences will follow this OC.

110 A number of brigades use a section of inflated fire hose as a buoyancy aid to throw to people in difficulties in the water. Typically, these hoses are inflated using breathing air cylinders. As the hose is connected to a transportable pressure receptacle, and the definition of pipework includes flexible hose, then these sections of hose are considered to be pressure systems and subject to PSSR. The DFP Unit is currently working with HMFSI to produce a 'model' written scheme of examination for these buoyancy aids.

Occupational health


111 This is potentially a sensitive issue as for a number of years in the 1990s the fire service was pursuing the possibility of an exemption from Noise at Work Regulations (NAWR) Reg.8 (Ear Protection), on the grounds that firefighters often needed to use their sense of hearing in situations where visibility was limited. The request for an exemption was eventually dropped.

112 To date there has been no measurement by the fire service of Lepdfor firefighters that includes the fighting of a fire, due to alleged technical difficulties. However, there is a range of noisy equipment which firefighters use when not in close proximity to a fire - including vehicles, pumps, fans and workshop equipment. Inspectors receiving information on exposure levels to such noise are asked to pass it on to the DFP Unit.

Musculoskeletal disorders

113 This is the major contributor to RIDDOR reportable absences from work for the fire service. Strain injuries are the main category, largely as a result of training/operational slips and trips. See SIM 7/2002/15 for further details.

114 Various regional fire service working groups have been set up (early 2002) to seek out examples of solutions to manual handling problems, but have not yet reported their findings.


115 The HMFSI report Fit for Duty? published February 2000 found anecdotal evidence that stress is increasing, but there was a lack of substantive information. Some brigades had middle/senior managers who were clearly showing signs of stress, but other brigades did not. In general, the fire service adopted a reactive approach, with emphasis on containing issues within the confines of individual cases.

116 HMFSI also found staff unwilling to discuss the issue with management, and few occupational health services were providing guidance on dealing with it.

117 The FBU commissioned a report An audit of Organisational, Operational and Traumatic Stressors in Firefighters and Fire Control Staff, published in 2002, from the Centre for Trauma Studies. Copies of the report may be found in Subject File 202. The report is strongest on practical recommendations for avoiding post-traumatic stress, including ensuring that those facilitating a critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) session must be properly trained. There appeared to be some confusion in the minds of firefighters between a CISD session and the operational debriefing. The report also covers organisational issues. Poor communication and a hierarchical structure were cited as organisational stressors, but understandably easy solutions to these problems were not immediately available.


118 In the majority of cases, RIDDOR reporting for fire services is relatively straightforward, but one or two cases may cause some confusion:

(1) Retained firefighters responding to a pager should not be regarded as "at work" until they reach the station, despite brigade policy of paying them from the moment the pager sounds. There have been cases where brigades have reported injuries to retained firefighters falling down stairs at their own homes while responding to a pager. Such an injury should not be regarded as arising out of the work activity.

(2) Accidents to firefighters who are injured in an appliance whilst responding to a call should be classed as reportable. Injuries occur when firefighters who are not strapped in, and are often donning en route, are thrown around inside the appliance. These injuries are clearly not as a result of a road traffic accident.

Application of the working time regulations to the fire service

119 In general the Working Time Regulations apply to all fire service personnel. Whilst inspectors should refer any questions or difficulties with these Regulations to the Divisional Working Time Officer (WTO), the following specific points may be of interest:

(1) In certain circumstances it may be possible to claim a relaxation of the Regulations in accordance with Regulation 18. It should be noted, however, that this is intended to apply only in specific emergency circumstances and it does not apply to every aspect of fire service work.

(2) Fire service personnel following a standard watchkeeping pattern will be night workers for the purposes of the Regulations.

(3) If on-call staff are obliged to spend all their on-call time at fire service premises, the whole period is counted as working time. If, however, they are otherwise generally free to pursue their own activities, only time actually spent responding to a call-out is classed as working time.

(4) The 48-hour working time limit applies to the total number of hours worked even if a person works for more than one employer. This has implications particularly for retained firefighters. Brigades should identify any personnel who might exceed the limit because they have other employment, and either:

(a) take reasonable steps to reduce the total hours worked to below the limit; or

(b) seek to agree an opt-out with those workers.

120 An HMFSI working group is currently preparing guidance for brigades on complying with the Regulations: WTOs will be provided with copies once this is available.

Focus recording

121 Historically, individual fire and rescue services have been used as the clients for the purposes of FOCUS. Whilst technically the employer is the fire authority, the brigade itself should still be used as the client. Doing so makes it easier to search focus, both locally and nationally. It is recommended however, that reference to the fire authority is made in the client clue field. Further, it would be quite feasible to record the fire authority as an AKA, so that searching for either organisation will take one to the brigade's main record.

Safety of inspectors

122 FOD inspectors should refer to FOD Health and Safety Policy and Supplements 00 and 02 before carrying out any inspection of fire service facilities or activities. They should also familiarise themselves with the contents of this document, and any other guidance produced by the DFP Unit on fire services. Other inspectors should be familiar with the safety policies and supplements of their own directorates/divisions.

123 Inspectors should ensure that they are accompanied by a fire service representative familiar with the hazards likely to be encountered in any particular location and the procedures for securing the safety of visitors. They should not accept offers to take part in any training activity unless they can assure themselves that it is safe for them to do so. Under no circumstances should inspectors attempt to take part in hot-fire training. Further, inspectors should not wear any PPE unless specifically trained in its use and fitting, eg breathing apparatus.


124 Supplements to this OC providing detailed information on relevant issues have been referred to in the text. Topics under consideration for future supplements include: Breathing apparatus DOs, Confined spaces, Compartment fire behaviour training, Water rescue and Ionising radiation.

Date first issued: 23 December 2002

Updated 2020-12-17