What Surrey Fire and Rescue Service have done since April

Fire Service changes 2020 (Making Surrey Safer Plan)

Is the Making Surrey Safer Plan about making cuts?

The Making Surrey Safer Plan is not about cuts but instead rebalances our resources so that we can provide better fire cover during the day when we are busier and focus on preventing incidents from happening in the first place.

We reviewed our 999 calls over the past five years, using predictive data which shows us where risk is and also looked at emergency statistics. This showed us that we had more fire engine availability at night than was needed and not enough investment in cover in the daytime. It also showed us that we were undertaking very little prevention and protection activities during the day which we know are vital to keep people and businesses safe.

The Assurance Report on Surrey Fire and Rescue's Making Surrey Safer Transformation Strategy (PDF) has been assured by the National Fire Chiefs Council, reviewed by Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services and assured by Brunel University.

Will phase two of the Making Surrey Safer Plan changes be stopped?

The Chief Fire Officer, Steve Owen-Hughes, asked Brunel University London to take a second look at Phase 2 of the Making Surrey Safer Plan. This is best practice and will reflect changes and recent findings for instance, the Grenfell Tower enquiry and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Having considered data, feedback from staff and the Fire Brigades Union and other information, Brunel University London have now reported that they are satisfied that Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has considered the key issues in enabling Phase 2 and advised them to continue with implementation. Please see Brunel University of London's Assurance Report on Surrey Fire and Rescue's Phase 2 of the Making Surrey Safer Transformation Strategy (PDF),

Firefighter numbers and fire stations

Do you have less fire engines available for emergencies than you should?

Unfortunately, at times we have seen our crewing levels lower than our target outlined within the Making Surrey Safer Plan, more often during the day than during the night, when call volumes are much lower. Despite this we continue to meet our response standards and always send the closest available appliance to every incident.

There are a number of factors currently affecting our crewing levels. These include a shortage of junior officers following a pause in our recruitment due to COVID-19, personnel transferring to neighbouring fire and rescue services, and the need to increase central control of the booking of personnel's leave, due to inconsistencies. All of these factors are being actively addressed.

Could Surrey cope during the Chobham Common incident?

Over the weekend of the 7-9 August, every emergency incident in Surrey was attended. We maintained fire cover across the county whilst we responded to two major incidents – the Chobham Common wildfire and supporting the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Major incidents are unprecedented events that have the potential to surpass the capabilities of any service. We are the only UK fire and rescue service to have led a major incident during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Major Incident was declared at approximately 4pm on Friday 14 August, which meant that we were able to highlight that a national multi-agency approach was required. This means putting partners such as local councils, police, neighbouring fire services on alert and bringing them into the incident response. To put this in context, the recent Thursley Common incident was a bigger fire in terms of acres, but did not require as much of a multi-agency response. At its peak more than 40 vehicles including frontline appliances and specialist units were at the scene along with wildfire and high volume pump tactical advisors from other fire and rescues services and enhanced logistical support from the National Resilience Assurance Team.

Not only is receiving support from neighbouring fire and rescue services normal practice, as it is part of mutual aid agreements (part of the Fire and Rescue Services Act – Section 13/16 Arrangements) that we regularly reciprocate, due to this being a major incident, we were able to call upon national resources to ensure the best possible specialist knowledge and resources during this emergency.

Why are there posts on social media about Surrey not having enough firefighters and fire stations being closed?

There have been a number of social media posts in recent weeks regarding the availability of frontline appliances in Surrey on accounts that are not official Surrey Fire and Rescue accounts. These accounts are not run by people within the service and should not be representing the service. We recommend following the corporate SFRS accounts for the most factually correct and up to date information. These are on:

Recruitment and retention of staff remains one of our highest priorities. We are currently recruiting both wholetime and on-call firefighters, in addition to Community Resilience staff who will deliver essential prevention and protection activities to communities and businesses.

Response times

Are you responding as quickly as you should?

Our performance data (see table below) from 1 April to 30 September 2020 shows that despite seeing a 47% increase in time spent at emergencies needing a fire engine, we are:

  • exceeding our target response time for critical emergencies by approximately three minutes
  • getting to emergencies faster than this time last year by approximately one minute
  • and in less time than our modelling data predicted.
TypeTarget2019/20 performanceModellingCurrent performance
First appliance10 minutes8 minutes and 15 seconds8 minutes and 6 seconds7 minutes and 16 seconds
Second appliance15 minutes12 minutes and 51 seconds12 minutes and 50 seconds11 minutes and 50 seconds
Other emergencies16 minutes9 minutes and 14 seconds8 minutes and 10 seconds

8 minutes and 14 seconds

Percentage of first Frontline Appliance to Critical Incidents in 10 minutes

  • Since 1 April 2020 = 94%
  • Preceding 5 Months = 76%

Average Frontline Appliance Availability from 1 April 2020

Weekday daysWeekend daysNights

Why did SFRS take 25 minutes to respond to a fire in Esher caused by a lightning strike recently?

The afternoon of Thursday 13 August saw wide parts of the country, including areas of Surrey, being severely affected by the significant extreme weather, which led to widespread flash flooding that impacted all emergency services and the wider transport network. The flooding resulted in a large number of roads, including parts of the M25, being impassable. This affected our response time as crews made their way through very heavy traffic and navigated around the road closures. In addition to this, our crews were dealing with two major incidents – the wildfire on Chobham Common and supporting the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Joint Fire Control centre received over 176 weather related 999 calls during this time as a number of homes and businesses were also affected by localised flooding and lightning strikes. We learn from each incident, especially those in unprecedented situations such as this.

Did it take 25 minutes to respond to a fire at a bungalow in Woking recently?

On Monday 10 August at 1.40am we were called to an address in Elm Close in Woking. Within two minutes, Surrey Police confirmed no fire attendance was required.

A further call from the police confirmed fire and rescue service attendance was now required and we attended within 10 minutes of that call which is in line with our response standards. The second frontline appliance also met response standards as arrived within 15 minutes.

Support from other fire and rescue services

Why are London Fire Brigade and other fire and rescue services attending fire and rescue incidents in Surrey? Is this because you don't have enough resources?

It is normal practice to call upon neighbouring fire and rescue services to support us and ensures the nearest and most appropriate appliances and equipment attend an emergency. This is an arrangement we also use during busy periods and we regularly reciprocate this support for other fire and rescue services.

Chobham fire station

Why aren't you keeping Chobham fire station open 24/7?

A decision was made in 2012 that daytime cover was no longer required at Chobham and that it should only be staffed during nights and at weekends, with weekday cover coming from neighbouring fire stations. However, following that decision, neighbouring stations experienced some staffing difficulties and as a result 24-hour cover at Chobham was in fact maintained on a temporary basis. Those staffing issues have since been addressed and the removal of daytime cover at Chobham was implemented on 1 April 2020. This decision was made safely, based on evidence and to ensure we use our resources most effectively.


Did you experience an outbreak of COVID-19 following a recent training course?

This wasn't an outbreak. One operational firefighter tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday 25 July 2020. As a result, Test and Trace protocols were implemented by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service.

All of the people identified through Test and Trace were tested and were found to be negative but self-isolated as per government guidelines. Appropriate control measures and operational adjustments have been put in place.

We have reintroduced safety critical training courses such as breathing apparatus training. The service did consult with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) regarding control measures to ensure we were as safe as possible. In addition to this, a Health and Safety Representative, who was an FBU member, was seconded to enable this consultation to take place. The decision was made to re-open our training centre after consultation with the FBU.

Animal rescue

Is it true that Surrey has no large animal rescue unit when Painshill fire station is unavailable? Does Surrey Fire and Rescue respond to large animal emergencies?

Yes, this is true. However, we are committed to preventing animal suffering. This is not a statutory function of the fire and rescue service and we do not receive funding for this. We want to work more closely with partners, farmers and animal owners to do our best to prevent incidents involving animals and avoid the need for rescue.

The National Framework for Fire and Rescue in England makes it clear that additional services, such as animal rescue, should not impact on our core service and so we have introduced some charges to cover these types of calls.

In addition to this, two Rural Affairs Officers have been recruited to work with landowners and farmers to prevent wildfires and the need for animal rescues.

Staff welfare

What do you do to protect the welfare of your staff at incidents?

At any incident the initial response can be busier, faster moving and sometimes more stressful but the welfare of staff and partners is always part of the coordination of an incident. A Welfare Officer is allocated to ensure staff wellbeing. Initial food and drink is always available on frontline appliances and provisions are in place to ensure refreshments continue to be available.

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