General

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s response to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) regarding the fatal fire in Banstead on Friday 19 March.

The thoughts of everyone within Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) are with the resident’s family and friends.

Early detection of a fire is always key, it alerts someone to the fire and can also allow them the chance to get to a safer place before we arrive.

In regards to this particular fire in Banstead, it is now clear from investigations that the fire had already taken a firm hold in the house by the time we got the first call from neighbours. Therefore, the claim that response time specifically played a factor in this individual sadly losing their life, is not correct.

The only realistic way this person’s life would have been saved, is through proper prevention and protection work – a Safe and Well Visit and working smoke alarms would have very likely made a positive difference.

Points raised in the campaign:

The FBU’s claim that response played a factor in very sad loss of life here is not correct. We have listened back to the 999 calls which indicate that the fire was “well developed” and had already taken a hold of the house by the time the fire was identified by neighbours. Therefore, in this particular case the response time would not have been a factor in the victims’ chances of surviving. 

We are confident that our professional crews are well trained and equipped to respond to incidents as quickly and safely as possible. However, response time to incidents can always be affected by many factors – both in and out of our control – and therefore prevention is always the best guarantee of safety

Any learning that comes from incidents are taken forward by the service as we seek to continually improve.

  • Our 10-minute response time is a target that we aim to achieve on average in critical incidents like this.
  • The seven minute 57 seconds expected response time for Banstead is an average for the whole Borough of Reigate and Banstead, not this resident’s address.
  • The campaign states that “three firefighters were stranded” at Epsom. This was due to firefighter COVID-19 bubbles (a process in place to keep our staff safe during the pandemic; agreed with the FBU). Furthermore, the staff were not at Epsom fire station at the time of call.

Two fire engines from Sutton Fire Station (London Fire Brigade) assisted this incident because they were the next closest fire engines. We always send the nearest fire engines that are available irrespective of where they come from, Sutton crews arrived just a minute after our first fire engine.  Mutual aid is part of a national agreement for all fire and rescue services and we regularly reciprocate this. On this day, our fire engine availability was 20 and our minimum requirement is 16 at night (7pm to 7am).

Comparing incidents

Comparisons between the two incidents mentioned are flawed because SFRS was alerted to the Banstead fire at a vastly later time in the development of the fire than that of the fire in Camberley on Friday 26 March.

As previously mentioned, early detection is vital in alerting both residents and emergency services to the occurrence of a fire and will have a major impact on the outcomes of any fire we attend

The role of the FBU:

The FBU are a representative body for terms and conditions of their members, they are not part of the fire and rescue service.

A national report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in 2020, stated that the FBU were “holding back” some services in deployment decisions. It also added that “Leaders of emergency services shouldn’t face these restrictions on how they use their staff.”

In addition to this, in 2019, the national report stated that the “FBU should not unduly dictate how fire services are provided to the public”.

Our Making Surrey Safer Plan:

Since full implementation of the Making Surrey Safer Plan in January this year, 85% of critical incidents were attended within our 10-minute average target.

This is an improvement on the same time frame in 2020, which saw 74% of critical incidents attended within the 10-minute target.

Our 2018 inspection report told us we weren’t using our resources efficiently – resources includes our people, fire engines, equipment and tax payers money.

Our focus on a huge increase in protection and prevention work aims to do just that, while our more sophisticated and data-led response tools mean are firefighters and firefighting equipment are more agile – located where they need to be, when they need to be there.

The reason our response model changed was because it was out of date. It hadn’t changed in 50 years, meaning it was no longer representative of Surrey and therefore the risks we face today.

We would like to thank all of our staff who are attending these incidents and we will continue to support them.

How you can help:

If you’re worried about someone you can refer them to us for a free Safe and Well Visit which aims to prevent fires from happening as well as fit fire detection equipment and refer people on to other services if needed too. Visit www.surreycc.gov.uk/fire to book or refer someone.

Our reform of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service is built on the fact that the best way to save lives is to stop incidents happening in the first place.

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