Chapter 2: Evolving Role of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
Improving Scotland's public services
The Scottish Government is pursuing a comprehensive and transformative programme of reform to protect and improve public services. Services must be consistently well-designed, based on the best available evidence and delivered by the right people to the right people at the right time. The SFRS is an integral part of the public sector landscape and the move to a single, national organisation in 2013 provided the opportunity to establish a greater synergy between the SFRS and an integrated public sector model of delivery.
As well as its traditional roles of tackling fires and responding to other major incidents - such as flooding and road traffic collisions - the SFRS also has a role in promoting the wider safety and well-being of communities in Scotland. The SFRS's capability and expertise has contributed to a significant and sustained reduction in the incidence of fires in Scotland and their severity in terms of deaths and injuries. While that success has enabled the SFRS workforce to become increasingly involved in more non-fire related prevention and rescue activities it has also provided an opportunity for the Service to explore innovative approaches to flexible public service delivery whilst maintaining core services. The capability and the skills of the SFRS will be increasingly used to improve outcomes by promoting the broader safety and well-being of individuals and communities, as well as continuing to improve fire safety and promote fire prevention.
The SFRS is already utilising its capacity to deliver positive outcomes in areas less traditionally associated with the role of a firefighter. For example, the Service is delivering on its eight commitments within the Scottish Government's strategy on Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest ( OHCA). This strategy, which has been jointly produced by a broad coalition of stakeholders, sets out our commitment to improve outcomes after OHCA and an ambition that by 2020 Scotland will be an international leader in the management of OHCA. A pilot exercise is underway on a limited geographical basis, with the support of the Fire Brigades Union ( FBU), and this will inform future work in this area.
Advances in technology mean that new and innovative solutions are being developed which greatly improve firefighting and rescue operations and help the whole Service pursue improved levels of efficiency and productivity. The SFRS should explore, and where feasible introduce, new technology that improves firefighter and public safety. This might include greater use of fire suppression systems, where the SFRS could work with communities to widen the appropriate installation of such systems.
Driving improvement and realising the benefits of Fire Reform
Strategic Priority 6: Service Transformation
The SFRS should continue to ensure that the benefits of Fire Reform are fully realised, evidenced and tracked, and it should explore through Service redesign new and innovative ways in which it can improve the safety and well-being of communities throughout Scotland by building on the traditional roles carried out by the Service.
The SFRS 'Transformation Programme', which was set up to manage the change from the eight previous services into a single organisation, was the driver for the SFRS to realise and maintain the benefits of Fire Reform. Some projects include efficiency initiatives to be taken forward up to 2020 and it is essential that the SFRS maintains momentum on those projects which have yet to be delivered. This includes the transition to future governance arrangements, the application of lessons learned and the continued realisation of benefits.
The principles and methodologies adopted by the 'Transformation Programme' should be utilised in setting the approach and standards for the SFRS to manage its on-going business and continuous improvement programme. Future business planning should involve engagement with staff and staff representative organisations, where appropriate, and continue to place emphasis on benefits realisation and consideration of whether it should become the rationale for investment or policy direction rather than just a dimension of a project.
The future role of the firefighter: optimum use of capacity
The success of the SFRS in delivering its traditional operational activity - for example, the total number of fires attended by the SFRS in 2014-15 was the lowest in a decade - provides an opportunity to explore where the SFRS can add further value to the broader public service outcomes that we are working to deliver across Scotland.
One of the SFRS's key attributes is that it has unique and well-established resources across the whole of Scotland. The SFRS should ensure that these resources are utilised effectively to deliver a more holistic, creative and preventative set of services to and with communities. Assets such as Community Fire Stations should be used by the SFRS and other public services as locations where the development of community skills (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation ( CPR) training for example) and capacities can be supported in order to help those communities become more resilient and self-supporting in future. There are already some good examples of such work at a local level and the SFRS should explore with local partners, including those in the third sector, how its asset base could appropriately be utilised in support of better local outcomes.
The SFRS should be innovative in its thinking and should consider new approaches to improving the safety of communities and should work closely with individuals and communities to understand their needs, maximise talents and resources, support self-reliance and build resilience. A key asset SFRS should factor in when doing this is the positive relationship and trust it has with the public. When considering how the role of the firefighter could evolve, the SFRS should maintain effective relationships with trade unions and a partnership approach with employees, negotiating bodies and the Scottish Government.
The SFRS should adopt an outcomes-based approach when formulating proposals on the future role of the firefighter and should place particular emphasis on following the Christie principles of reform.
The SFRS should work with other public services to build community capacity to respond to the changing risk profiles of communities, drawing on the good work already underway for traditional safety purposes. It should further explore the support it already offers to local Health and Social Care partners across the country in addressing wider home safety issues such as reporting signs of potential physical or financial harm when undertaking home fire safety visits. SFRS support for Health and Social Care Partnerships can be driven through the wider Community Planning Partnerships to promote cross public sector joint working more broadly.
By focussing capacity, planning and the deployment of local resources and assets with partners, the Service can make a contribution to agendas such as the prevention of slips, trips and falls among vulnerable people in their own home - reducing both the burden on the NHS and incidences of unintentional harm. The reform agenda recognises the importance of working across boundaries to ensure there are no barriers between bodies that prevent more effective delivery of services to communities, and the SFRS needs to work with partners in a constructive manner to achieve this.
The SFRS should also give consideration to integrating emergency response provision, including medical response, in a holistic way taking into account the broader aims and aspirations of the Scottish Government to integrate public service provision. As mentioned above the Service is already carrying out positive work in this regard and the changing role of the firefighter is exemplified by the commitment made by the SFRS to contribute to the delivery of the Scottish Government's strategy on OHCA by running trials where the Service responds to cardiac arrest incidents in conjunction with the Scottish Ambulance Service.
The primary aims of the OHCA strategy, launched in 2015, are:
- to increase survival rates after OHCA by 10% across the country within five years; and
- to equip an additional 500,000 people with CPR skills by 2020.
The SFRS should evaluate the effectiveness of its contribution in this area with a view to identifying scope for wider implementation across Scotland. The SFRS should examine its own role in emergency response generally and determine whether this could be widened further in conjunction with supporting partner organisations such as the Scottish Ambulance Service and Police Scotland.
Modernising emergency response
Strategic Priority 7: Modernising Response
The SFRS should develop and implement dynamic, innovative and sustainable operating systems throughout Scotland which are fit for purpose and meet local needs (covering both the Retained Duty System and whole-time firefighter work patterns).
The SFRS should ensure that future arrangements for responding to fires and other emergencies in terms of the siting of fire stations, the resources located within those stations and the crewing models at these stations are tailored to local risk and are fit for purpose for the communities which they serve.
The SFRS should ensure it is operating crewing systems for firefighters that are flexible, cost effective and reflect local risk profiles and demand patterns. This should allow the Service to maximise efficiency in terms of how it deploys its resources to fully meet the different needs of communities across Scotland. Such systems must have firefighter and community safety at their core.
The SFRS should ensure that the current Retained Duty System ( RDS) is on a stable and standardised platform in preparation for any future modifications to service delivery which emerge from the RDS Future Options Project. The recruitment and retention of volunteer and retained firefighters remains a significant challenge in some parts of Scotland and the SFRS should set out detailed plans about how it proposes to resolve relevant issues, including training, for the retained and volunteer service. As part of this process, the SFRS should consider whether training for RDS and volunteer firefighters should be tailored to local risk and geography.
Changes to the way people live and work have been happening for some time. Many more people now commute considerable distances from their homes to work, and many young people move from the communities they grew up in to find work in our cities. This presents a major challenge in the recruitment of RDS firefighters, and could also present a potential obstacle in the recruitment of younger whole-time firefighters. The SFRS should continue to develop its approach to recruitment to take account of this, and take steps to address these challenges working with employers and other stakeholders to promote the value to employers of releasing employees for RDS duties.
Any changes to the retained or volunteer services, including proposals to adopt alternative operating systems, should be progressed in conjunction with the communities which they impact. The approach should meet the requirements of the SFRS 'Engagement Framework', the National Standards for Community Engagement  and the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and deliver real opportunities to the communities of Scotland.
Telecommunications systems: current and future use
The ability to mobilise and communicate with resources effectively, in even the most remote areas of Scotland, is vital to keeping communities and firefighters safe from harm. Effective communications systems also allow firefighters dealing with an incident to call for additional support if needed. SFRS should ensure that all communications systems are kept under regular review to ensure their operational efficiency and effectiveness.
The SFRS, in common with Fire and Rescue Services in England and Wales, currently use the Firelink system (provided by Airwave). Police and Ambulance Services in Scotland, England and Wales also use Airwave systems, meaning that the three emergency Services can communicate easily with each other via radio.
As the Firelink contract ends towards the end of this decade, along with other Airwave contracts, work is already underway to procure and implement future communications capacity through a GB-wide programme - the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme ( ESMCP) - led by the Home Office. During the mobilisation and transition phases of the programme it is vital that the SFRS is fully engaged in the work that is on-going to understand how the new system will operate and is involved in the work necessary to implement the solution within the fire service ( e.g. control rooms, vehicle installations and training) to ensure it is used to best effect.
Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals
Strategic Priority 8: Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals
SFRS should develop a new approach to reducing unwanted fire alarm signals ( UFAS) demand and road risk. This approach should involve the SFRS Board setting stretching targets to support the Service's Strategic Plan in relation to this priority.
Responding to automatic fire alarms which turn out to be false alarms incurs significant costs, both for the SFRS and building occupiers. In 2014-15 false alarms accounted for 58% of all incidents attended by the SFRS - more than all other incident types. Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals ( UFAS) are false alarm signals generated from automatic fire alarm systems or other equipment-related false alarms in non-domestic premises. In 2014-15 UFAS accounted for over half of all false alarms. A report by HMFSI in 2015  noted the Service's ambitions to reduce the number of false alarms in Scotland, but that the rate of UFAS has been broadly constant in recent years.
Automatic Fire Alarm ( AFA) systems offer potential benefits providing an early alarm of fire, but this needs to be balanced against the low probability that an AFA call is an actual emergency incident, and the risks and costs associated with responding. Emergency response under blue lights and sirens can heighten the risk to firefighter and public safety due to the increased likelihood of vehicle accidents occurring.
The strategy developed by the SFRS should both encourage ownership of the issue by responsible building owners/occupiers, and ensure that the Service challenges and responds only when appropriate. As part of this process they should identify the main sources of UFAS and take all reasonable and practical steps to reduce their incidence. Evidence from elsewhere demonstrates that significant reductions in incidents attended and in weight of response can be achieved.
A marked reduction in UFAS could release significant resources to deploy on more productive and beneficial tasks, including the broader range of prevention and fire safety work noted in Chapter One, and the more innovative intervention work, such as OHCA, covered earlier in this Chapter.
Email: Iain Harron, Iain.Harron@scot.gov