Firefighting in high rise buildings: HMFSI inspection outline

Thematic inspection outline by HM Fire Service Inspectorate (HMFSI) for the arrangements for firefighting in high rise buildings.

This inspection outline document has been prepared to describe why we are carrying out an inspection and how we will go about the work. It is also intended to support our pre-inspection consultation.

Firefighting in high rise buildings requires a specific approach because of the challenges posed by access, incident command, and communications. In addition the fire performance of modern construction materials and external wall systems can add to the risk profile of high rise buildings.

The uniquely tragic fire that occurred at Grenfell Tower in London in 2017 was an extreme example of the consequences of a fire in a high rise building.

The Scottish Government Ministerial Working Group (MWG) on Building and Fire Safety was established immediately after the Grenfell Tower fire and has led a programme of work to improve fire safety in Scotland.

Under the MWG leadership, one of the Scottish Government work streams was a consideration of the implications of the Grenfell Inquiry phase 1 report. The intention of HMFSI to undertake this inspection has been referred to in the subsequent Scottish Government report and by the MWG.


We propose to conduct an inspection into the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) by examining how the Service prepares for and carries out firefighting in high rise buildings.  Eighteen metres height is a threshold used for defining high rise. While the main thrust of our inspection will be high rise domestic buildings due to the life risk, we will also consider firefighting in non-domestic high rise buildings. The SFRS’s arrangements for firefighting and rescue from other tall structures is outwith scope of the inspection.

This inspection shall consider:

  • SFRS preplanning and information gathering
  • SFRS operational procedures including incident command arrangements
  • operational equipment used for high rise firefighting
  • training and awareness of SFRS staff
  • SFRS control room procedures including fire survival guidance
  • building checks and familiarisation visits by the Service
  • how the SFRS dealt with or is dealing with the recommendations from the Grenfell Inquiry phase 1 report
  • partnership working with building owners and agents
  • how the SFRS is adapting to developments in high rise fire safety

We shall compare arrangements in the SFRS with the equivalent arrangements in some other UK fire and rescue services.

Any further evidence or recommendations from the ongoing Grenfell Inquiry may also add to our scope.


This inspection will follow the lines used for previous thematic inspections. It will be risk based and proportionate.

There will be a number of components to this inspection which we hope to undertake but we are mindful that Covid-19 restrictions may constrain what we can achieve and how we are able to visit sites and engage with persons.

We will have early engagement with the Service and establish the normal single point of contact. The inspection will then comprise:

1. Desk top analysis

We will request information from the Service relative to the subjects listed in the above bulleted list and carry out a desk top analysis of this information.

2. Interviews

We shall speak with SFRS staff who are involved with formulation of policy, gathering of information, implementation of policy, and research and development.

3. Case studies

We will select a number of high rise buildings across Scotland and examine what information the Service holds on these buildings and how it prepares for firefighting.  

We will consider how some other FRSs prepare for and tackle high rise fires.

4. Other fieldwork

We will accompany SFRS crews while they undertake routine visits to high rise buildings. We will observe relevant SFRS training, observe any exercises which occur and attend any relevant debriefs.


We will compile a report on the conclusions of our inspection which will be handled in line with our consultation and engagement strategy. The draft report will be reviewed for quality assurance.

A copy of the final report will be provided to the SFRS Board, the SFRS Chief Officer and laid before the Scottish Parliament. A copy will also be made publically available on the HMFSI website.

The report will outline our methodology and approach and will contain the Inspectorate’s key findings, conclusions and identify any recommendations we think appropriate.


The provisional timetable is:



April/May 2021

Pre-planning and consultation on the inspection outline

June/July 2021

Data collection and review of documentation

Aug 2021/Jan 2022


March 2022

Report publication

Inspection Team

The inspection team will include:

  • Chief Inspector Robert Scott, QFSM
  • Assistant Inspector Richard Gorst
  • Assistant Inspector Brian McKenzie

Responding to this Inspection Outline

Our consultation for this inspection includes with Scottish Ministers, the SFRS management team, representative bodies, Scottish Government (fire and rescue division, building standards division and housing division), and Audit Scotland.

Any comments or observations on this outline should be submitted to the Chief Inspector by emailing

The team members can also provide clarification on any content and can be contacted through the same email address.



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