Have your say on the future of the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service

Suffolk Fire and Rescue asked for your thoughts and ideas on the future of the service. The consultation closed on 7 April 2019.

This consultation has now closed.

Why do we consult?

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service asks for the public for views on how it manages the risks it faces across the county, as well as five different areas of its work, from how it responds to automatic fire alarms, to firefighters’ shift patterns.

The eight-week consultation, which concluded in April, is part of a statutory process, with information feeding into the fire service’s Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) for the next three years (2019 to 2022); essentially a plan for how it provides its services.

The Fire Service regularly assesses all foreseeable risks that could affect its operations. This includes considering one-off types of event such as countywide flooding and terrorist attacks, in addition to the more usual responses to fires, animal rescues and road traffic collisions.

A key part of this review is to invite the public to share their views through this consultation and at a number of events around the county. The particular areas which the fire service sought your feedback on are:

  • Automatic Fire Alarms and Unwanted Fire Signals
  • Response to Road Traffic Collisions
  • Shift Patterns
  • Specialist Rescue Capabilities
  • Speed of Response to Emergency Incidents – Performance Measures


The Service intends to review and refresh its policy and attendance to incidents where an Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) system is present in the premises and has activated.

In 2017/18, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service received 4,918 emergency calls.
45% of these calls (2,216) were false alarms, of which 67% (1,482) were caused by AFAs, often due to dust getting into a detector, or the wrong type of detector is installed in a building, causing it to operate unnecessarily. This number has fallen slightly on previous years.

AFAs and unwanted fire signals can have a major impact on the fire and rescue service, business, and the wider community.

Risks of attending AFA false alarms

  • Attending these false alarms may:
  • Require firefighters to attend unnecessary calls, with the possibility of a delayed attendance to actual emergencies
  • Create unnecessary risk to firefighters and members of the public when fire engines respond on blue light conditions
  • Cause problems for occupiers of premises in lost production or sales, and general disruption to business continuity or service delivery
  • Create complacency amongst staff and the public, reducing effectiveness of the fire alarm system in the event of a genuine emergency
  • Impact on other important prevention, protection or training activity being carried out by firefighters
  • Create an unnecessary financial cost for fire services
  • Create an unnecessary impact for primary employers who release our on-call firefighters to attend incidents that turn out to be false alarms

The current approach in Suffolk 

We currently work with building owners and alarm receiving centres to prevent false alarms happening in the first place, tailor our emergency response based on the risk and likelihood of it being a false alarm, and 999 Control operators interrogate calls in greater depth to judge increasing or decreasing the number of fire engines sent to the call.

National good practice guidance is used to advise premises owners how they might adjust, repair or redesign their fire alarm system to reduce the risk of false alarms.

In Suffolk:

  • A response is always sent to automatic fire alarm activations in premises that constitute sleeping risk
  • A response is not sent to automatic fire alarm activations in occupied commercial and industrial premises Monday to Friday 0900-1700hrs. Fire engines will be sent only if a 999 call is received in person, or there are other extenuating circumstances Suffolk’s 999 Combined Fire Control operators challenge calls they consider may be false alarms.

This means they ask relevant questions of the caller and, if necessary, they send the appropriate fire engines to save life and protect property. This ‘call challenge’ may result in no fire engines being sent but could mean also that more are mobilised, based on information received and the professional judgement of the control operator.

Where changes are made to our response to automatic fire alarm calls, the associated risk must be carefully considered. For example, whilst a decision not to attend certain premises type or not to attend at certain times of the day brings some benefits, there is also risk that, where a fire has occurred, the time the fire service takes to respond to that fire will be extended. This has potential to increase risk to the building, risk to potential occupants of that building, and risk to firefighters now responding to a more significant fire.

The purpose of this consultation is to seek your views on different options to inform our future review.

The Service intends to review how it responds to road traffic collisions (RTCs). The review will focus on:

  • The level of road traffic collision risk and 999 demand in Suffolk
  • The type of fire engines provided
  • The equipment carried on those fire engines
  • RTC training provided for firefighters
  • Modern vehicle technologies and emerging risks

The number of road traffic collisions (RTC) attended by the fire and rescue service has decreased from an average of 479 each year between 1994 and 1998, to 313 in 2017/18. Since 2013/14 the number has remained broadly the same, with only small annual variations. Road traffic collisions represent only about 6-7% of all 999 incidents attended. Almost all fire service response to road traffic collisions leads to us working in partnership with Suffolk Constabulary and the East of England Ambulance Service.

The Service has continued to evolve its approach to road traffic collisions to ensure fire engines, equipment and training has kept pace with new vehicle technology. This technology includes safety systems such as multiple airbags, passenger restraints and vehicle compartment strength, and an increasing range of vehicle fuel systems. These developments have changed the nature of incidents attended, injuries sustained, extrication techniques, and immediate priorities for those firefighters first on scene.

Every fire engine in Suffolk has trained firefighters and equipment to deal with road traffic collisions. In addition to standard fire engines, the Service has six ‘Pump Rescue Tenders’ and three ‘Emergency Rescue Tenders’ located strategically across the county. These vehicles carry more specialist rescue equipment for dealing with road traffic collisions, including those involving heavy good vehicles. 2018/19 has seen every fire engine provided with new and significantly improved battery-operated rescue equipment, replacing older rescue tools that had reached the end of their operational life.

Alongside these 999 emergency response arrangements, the Service carries out a broad range of road traffic collision prevention work, focussed at those drivers most at risk, including young male drivers and
motorcyclists. Much of this prevention work takes place in partnership through the Suffolk RoadSafe partnership board with Suffolk Constabulary and Suffolk County Council.

We will use this information to review and refresh our approach to provide the best response to those living, working and travelling through Suffolk, in addition to improving the safety of our firefighters and other emergency responders.

The shift patterns we use to crew our fire stations and to provide the more senior officer response to incidents are an integral part of how we provide our service. The types of shift pattern we employ takes account of many different and complementary factors:

  • Matching resources to risk and demand
  • Providing a resilient 24/7 fire service capability
  • Responsibilities decreed by statute and public expectation
  • Speed of response to 999 emergencies
  • Need to maintain the 24/7 availability of specialist fire and rescue capabilities
  • Value for money assessment

The Service currently operates five different shift patterns to provide an operational 999 response. These are
summarised below:

  • 24/7 full time shift system – full-time firefighters available at the two fire stations in Ipswich, one in Bury St Edmunds and one at Lowestoft South
  • Day crew shift system – full-time firefighters available during weekdays at Newmarket and Haverhill fire stations
  • On-call shift system – part-time firefighters who carry an alerter and are available to respond to 999 call for usually between 90 and 120 (but up to 168) hours each week. When available for emergency calls, they remain within approximately five minutes of the fire station and respond to emergencies as required. This shift pattern is used to provide cover on all our 35 fire stations, and is the only shift pattern on 29 of them
  • On-call crewing reserve – a small group of firefighters who work weekdays and primarily support the on-call shift system to improve the availability of fire engines
  • Flexible duty officer shift system - a shift pattern with several different variations to ensure officers, up to and including the Chief Fire Officer, are available 24/7 to respond to significant 999 operational incidents

The evolving nature of the Service means that changes have been made recently to some of these shift patterns.

The purpose of this IRMP consultation is to seek your views on our intention to keep all these shift patterns under review. We need to do this to ensure we continue to provide an effective, efficient, and resilient service that matches our resources to risk across the county, and ensures we provide the best possible service to Suffolk’s communities.

Every firefighter is trained and equipped to respond to and deal with aspects of incidents that involve working at height or rescue from water and mud. However, to respond to some more specialist incidents, additional training and equipment is required to enable firefighters to do their job safely and effectively. This IRMP proposal refers specifically to those firefighters provided with the additional training and equipment for Advanced Working at Height and Water Rescue.

The Service currently has five Advanced Working at Height teams and three Water Rescue teams, strategically located on fire stations across the county. Neighbouring fire services also have these specialist rescue capabilities and we call upon their additional resources as required.

The table opposite shows the number of times our firefighters have responded to these specialist rescue
incidents in the last three years. On each occasion the specialist capability would have been sent to the incident, although the emergency may have been resolved without the need to have used that specific capability.
15/16 16/17 17/18
Advanced Working at Height
37 31 38
Water Rescue Incidents –
including mud and ice
17 33 19

The Service intends to review how it responds to these incidents by analysing the workload and response data
of our existing specialist rescue provision. The review will focus on:

  • The level of risk and 999 demand requiring specialist rescue capability in Suffolk
  • The equipment provided to meet that risk and demand
  • The training required for firefighters to provide this capability
  • How that capability is provided at 999 incidents

We will use this information to review and refresh our approach to provide the best response to those living, working and travelling through Suffolk, in addition to improving the safety of our firefighters and other emergency responders.

As detailed in our IRMP, our response to 999 emergency incidents forms part of our risk management arrangements, alongside our Prevention and Protection work. How long it takes firefighters to respond to 999 emergency incidents is an important element of those response arrangements.

Since the early 2000s there have been no national response measures or targets for fire and rescue services in England. Instead, measures about how long it takes firefighters to respond are determined locally by the Fire Authority.

Local speed of response measures in Suffolk were first set in 2010/11 and have remained the same since. The measures are:

  • Standard 1 - The Service will endeavour to attend all property fires within 11 minutes from alerting the first fire appliance. This is to be achieved on a minimum of 80% of all occasions.
  • Standard 2 - The Service will endeavour to attend all property fires within 16 minutes from alerting the second fire appliance attending the same incident. This is to be achieved on a minimum of 80% of all occasions
  • Standard 3 - The Service will endeavour to attend all road traffic collisions within 13 minutes from alerting the first fire appliance. This is to be achieved on a minimum of 80% of all occasions.

The speed of response performance against these measures has been set out in more detail on pages 13-15 of our IRMP. This section of the IRMP also includes other ways in which we measure our speed of response performance, most notably the average time it takes firefighters to respond to incidents across the county. This data is further broken down into rural and urban parts of the county, where the way we crew fire engines is different and reflects the risk in the area.

The IRMP also includes reference to Government’s annual reporting of speed of response, providing a further set of performance information and comparison with other fire and rescue services.

To add context to what ‘speed of response’ is, the information below breaks down the 999 emergency incident process into four phases; from the time you make a 999 call to the time firefighters arrive on scene.

  • Phase 1 – Time taken for the 999 Combined Fire Control operator to answer your call
  • Phase 2 – Time taken for the 999 Combined Fire Control operator to gather information from the caller and select the correct fire engines to send to the incident, and alert the firefighters who will crew the fire engines
  • Phase 3 – The time taken by the alerted firefighters to leave the fire station and start their drive to the emergency scene
  • Phase 4 – The time taken to drive to the emergency scene

As part of this IRMP we are seeking your views about our intention to review how we measure our speed of response performance.

There are several outcomes we want to achieve in this review, and these are set out below:

  • To simplify the performance measures to make them clearer and easy to understand
  • To have a measure, or measures, that capture all the incidents we attend – the current three measures only capture about 20% of incidents
  • To include all four phases of the speed of response as detailed previously – the current three measures capture only phases 3 and 4, and phases 1 and 2 are measured separately
  • To consider reporting separately on those incidents attended in more rural areas, where the firefighters responding first are on-call firefighters, and more urban areas where the firefighters responding first are fulltime firefighters

Full Integrated Risk Fire Plan

You can read an at-a-glance overview of the IRMP, however we recommend that you read the proposals and the full IRMP document. Consultation for these proposals is now closed.

We will now use the feedback from the consultation to draft the final version of our IRMP. The final version will be presented to Suffolk County Council cabinet on 16 July 2019.