Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by CACFOA (December 2001)


  The Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association (CACFOA) is the professional association for all Chief, Deputy and Assistant Chief Fire Officers in the UK Fire Service. Those Officers, of whom there are approximately 200, act as the Principal Officers to UK Fire Brigades and the advisors to all UK Fire Authorities. The association and its members also provide advice to both central government, through the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR), and the Local Government Association (LGA).


  The 1947 Fire Services Act gives statutory duties relating to incidents involving fire and suspected fires. The primary role of the Fire Service in the context of a terrorist attack is to extinguish fires, carry out rescues and control the inner cordon within which the emergency services are operating. Consequence management, risk reduction and minimising the impact of incidents are tasks that are consistent with the normal role of the service.

  Furthermore the Act allows Fire Service personnel and equipment to be used for purposes "other than firefighting". It is the development over many years of these non-statutory roles in areas such as incidents involving hazardous materials and search and rescue, which has drawn attention to the Fire Service capability and expertise in responding to acts of terrorism and potential CBRN incidents.

  Subsequent to the terrorist events of 11 September 2001 the Fire Service has been reviewing its strategic and tactical responses to catastrophic acts of terrorism and is reassessing its previously held planning assumptions. This will be supported through a structured national risk assessment process.

  It is important in terms of planning for the future that we have the capacity and capability to respond to incidents on a scale not envisaged prior to 11 September. The new dimension in terrorism presents us with demands that are currently beyond our conventional capacity. The result of our risk assessment is that additional investment is required in the level and range of resources available for deployment to enhance the Fire Service capability.

  The post 11 September emphasis on activities which are not currently part of its statutory duties now features prominently in the Fire Service response to CBRN terrorism. One of the most significant changes is the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the DTLR and the Department of Health transferring, in certain circumstances, the responsibility for mass decontamination to the Fire Service. This builds upon the Service's present capability in relation to dealing with hazardous materials and the decontamination of its own staff in such circumstances.

  In summary, it could be said that the UK Fire Service has an infrastructure to meet adequately the demands placed upon it by disaster. Its strength lies in the quality and competence of its workforce, who function as uniformed disciplined teams within a common structure. It is a service which trains to national standards, is equipped to national standards and which operates through mutual co-operation and mutual aid. However, the sheer scale of disaster post 11 September 2001 is beyond the capacity of the UK Fire Service currently, but could be within its capacity if additional resources were provided to build upon its infrastructure.


  In May 2001 CACFOA Operations Committee commissioned the drafting of an advisory policy document entitled "Conventional and Non-conventional (CBRN) Terrorism. Fire Brigade Procedure: Pre-Planning and Operations at Terrorist Incidents". This document, adopted by CACFOA in October 2001, addressed a range of issues including intelligence sharing, pre-planning, multi-agency training and mutual aid. The document also reviewed strategic Command issues following the attacks on the US.

  The scale of the attacks on 11 September 2001 drew attention to the issues of resource management and resilience over a prolonged period. Although individual Brigade's could mount an initial response, under current arrangements this could not be sustained over a prolonged period. This has indicated the need for strengthening not only individual Brigade resources, but also mutual aid and re-enforcement schemes between Fire Authorities on both an inter and intra regional basis. CACFOA is currently discussing this matter.

  Furthermore, management of CBRN incidents demands a cohesive multi-agency response. No agency can resolve such an incident in isolation. CACFOA policy strongly recommends the development of closer inter-agency liaison and working with the express intention of reducing risk to the public, first responders and the environment.

  The scale of the attacks in the United States and the consequent impact on strategic planning has required a co-ordinated UK Fire Service response. This has been particularly important in servicing the requirements of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS), Civil Contingencies Committee (CCC) and its sub-committees.

  To assist Brigades in addressing these issues Her Majesty's Fire Service Inspectorate (HMFSI) has established the New Dimension Group to examine the Fire Service's ability to respond efficiently and effectively to incidents of the magnitude of the 11 September. This group comprises representatives from CACFOA, Local Government Association (LGA), Fire Brigade Union (FBU), HMFSI and the Fire Policy Division of the DTLR. Project teams (detailed below) have been set up to review specific areas that have been brought to the fore by 11 September and the bio-terrorist attacks in the US and elsewhere.

  Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR) whose task is to develop a system to ensure the ability of USAR in incidents beyond the normal response of a brigade.

  Mutual Aid Team whose task is to develop and enhance existing mutual aid arrangements to ensure that the UK fire service is sufficiently equipped to provide a consistent national response to large scale incidents.

  Decontamination and Hazardous Substances Team whose task is to develop the facilities and procedures to enable an effective provision for the mass decontamination of people affected by CBRN contamination.

  Appliances, Personal Protective Equipment and Vehicle Specifications whose task is to review existing capabilities and identify weaknesses in terms of equipment and geographical distribution of available resources.

  Training and Personnel whose task is to consider the support necessary to maintain the confidence, health and safety of fire service personnel in New Dimension scenarios.


  CACFOA has considered these issues in conjunction with our emergency service partners, local authorities and the Military. It is recognised that the MACP scheme does not constitute a guarantee and that the level of assistance will be dependent on current military commitments in the UK and abroad. However, the benefits to responding agencies, including the military of planning, training and exercising together are well recognised and include allowing all parties to identify gaps in liaison, operational procedure and policy.

  Whilst we are aware of a response capability within the United Kingdom, CACFOA is aware of the constraints placed upon such military support due to response times and other military deployment responsibilities. It is for this reason that reliance on military assets is not factored into Fire Service pre-planning assumptions. We believe that local disasters require an approach that can be achieved by strengthening the local, regional and national civil contingency emergency planning framework.


  With regard to the broader aspects of national contingency planning, CACFOA did have early reservations regarding lack of representation for the Fire Service on the various planning groups including the Civil Contingencies Committee. However, we are pleased that the situation has now improved with the Fire Service being represented and actively engaged in the various committees, sub-committees and working groups co-ordinated through the CCS.

  However, the roles of individual Government departments and the Civil Contingencies Secretariat need to be clearly understood by all agencies likely to be involved in the response.

  Intelligence or information sharing between agencies is vital to pre-planning assumptions. In understanding the responses of all organisations strategic commanders are able to reduce risk to first responders by balancing risk, response and resources. To facilitate Fire Service involvement in national and local contingency planning and information exchange, Chief Fire Officers and other nominated Principal Fire Officers have been security cleared to the appropriate level.

  Consideration of incidents on the scale of New York and Washington also highlights the extensive involvement of organisations such as utility companies and transport providers in both the immediate response and longer-term recovery stages. Liaison between the emergency services and these agencies needs to be developed to facilitate informed decision making—for example in prioritising the restoration of essential services.

  CACFOA recognises that the Fire Service has an important role to play in the protection of the public from the consequences of a terrorist attack. A great deal of work has already been done to put in place appropriate plans, which only utilise existing resources. However, as highlighted earlier in this document, prolonged attendance at incidents on this scale would be severely limited.


  Emergency Services and local authorities are clear about their own and each other's roles in the response to a major incident. Inter-agency Major Incident committees provide a forum for local information sharing and the development of procedures for the response to major incidents in many areas.

  However, CACFOA welcomes the Cabinet Office's recognition in its Emergency Planning Review discussion document that national, regional and local emergency planning arrangements must be strengthened. New statutory duties must recognise the wide variety of organisations that would be included in the response to an incident of this scale—such as utility companies and transport providers in addition to emergency services and local authorities.

  CACFOA believes, that it would be appropriate for the government to reflect on the issues raised by the 11 September and invite comments on the Cabinet Office discussion paper specifically in the light of the vastly different scale of these attacks and the rise of asymmetric terrorism. This would allow the lessons learned from the attacks to be incorporated in future legislation.

  The Review Discussion Paper suggested a community leadership role for local authorities. Communities benefit most from an integrated approach to emergency planning where stakeholders fulfil their roles and responsibilities through collaboration and partnership. The expertise and experience of Fire Services in planning for and responding to emergencies must not be overlooked in this review and any new emergency planning duty should fall equally upon all key stakeholders, including the Fire Service. The need for standards to ensure consistency of emergency planning across regions/nationally and a means to ensure the responsibility is fulfilled is key to the future of emergency planning. However, it must be recognised that any additional responsibilities placed on the Fire Service must be properly funded and recognised in future legislation.


  CACFOA is highly aware of the requirement for joint media strategy in these events and the importance of dissemination to the Public. For this reason it encourages its members to address and resolve these issues.

  The provision of timely and accurate information to the public in the event of an incident is essential to an effective response and the maintenance of public confidence. Generally liaison with the media is co-ordinated by police services however, fire services are involved in a co-ordinated response and provide information about key competencies such as hazardous materials and search and rescue and issues of health and safety on the incident ground.

  Under the Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations 2001, England and Wales' Fire and Civil Defence Authorities, county council fire authorities and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority have the duty to make arrangements for the dissemination of information to the public about a nuclear or radiological incident and the protective and precautionary measures to be taken in such an eventuality.


  Currently, Fire Service attendance to incidents other than fire, does not form part of its statutory duty. Consideration should therefore be given to either amend legislation to make such attendance part of Fire Service statutory duty, or issue guidance in order to provide clarity regarding the exercise of powers to deploy Fire Service resources to incidents other than fire.


  CACFOA is concerned at the delay in progress with the bids for additional fire service funding submitted by the HMFSI subsequent to the attacks on the US, CACFOA does not believe that the service is currently in a position to respond effectively to events such as those experienced in the US, or in a way that secures the safety of the public and of firefighters.

  It is recognised and accepted that the fire service would be a first responder to a UK event similar to those in the US. However, the ability of the service to respond effectively should be seen in the light of increasing pressure on fire service resources over recent years. In order to secure an efficient and safe fire service response, additional funding is required to support appropriate planning and training and to fund the purchase of the necessary equipment.

  A specific area of difficulty is that of mass decontamination of the public. Following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the DTLR and the Department of Health, the fire service has taken on an additional responsibility for which it receives no funding. Until funds are released for the purchase of the equipment necessary to support fire service involvement in mass decontamination, the country does not have an effective mass decontamination capability.

  On behalf of CACFOA and its members, I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to contribute to the Defence and Security in the UK inquiry. CACFOA would also welcome the opportunity to attend the inquiry and provide oral evidence to expand on the issues raised by this submission.

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