Innovative research by the University of Chester and Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) has helped measure the effectiveness of the service’s comprehensive fire prevention programme.

Research by Tom Simcock, a Gladstone Fellowship PhD student and researcher in the university’s Faculty of Education and Children’s Services, was funded by CFRS to investigate how successful the changes in approach by the organisation have been.

His article, Evidencing Organisational Change in the UK Fire and Rescue Services, has been published in FIRE magazine.

CFRS has undergone a number of changes in order to meet the goals of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, including a pioneering new approach to prevention with the delivery of a fire safety intervention programme, the Home Safety Assessment (HSA).

CFRS was delivering 67,000 HSAs annually up to 2009, and previous research, also conducted by the University of Chester, found that there was a relationship between the HSAs and the reduction of accidental fires in the home.

Ground-breaking agreement

Following an innovative and ground breaking data-sharing agreement with the NHS, CFRS has since started to target the delivery of HSAs to those most at risk in the community, especially the elderly people.

Tom’s research focussed on the impact of HSAs and whether participants changed their behaviour after the HSA. He also looked at whether they continued to follow the advice, tested their smoke alarms regularly and felt safer in their homes since taking part in the HSA.

Tom devised and issued a short questionnaire to a random sample of Cheshire residents who had received a HSA in the last three years, asking questions including: how valuable it had been; if they had followed the advice; and if they had, or had not, changed their behaviour as a result.

The majority of respondents were aged between 70 and 79 years old.

Once analysed the results highlighted how useful the HSA had been in promoting fire safety advice. The results indicated that receiving a HSA was likely to lead to the participant continuing to take fire safety behaviour on board, resulting in them feeling safer in their own home.

The findings also highlighted the role of two important psychological factors involved in the uptake of fire safe behaviours. The first of these factors in changing fire safety behaviour was the individual’s self-efficacy and how confident people felt in following the advice they had been given.

The second was how valuable people perceived the advice they had been given.

Response to prevention

Tom also carried out research with CFRS employees, to investigate the organisation’s transformation from response to prevention.

Through focus groups and interviews, the results suggested that a creative culture where people’s ideas are encouraged and valued is vital for an adaptable and successful public sector organisation.

Effective leadership can reduce resistance to organisational change by motivating and inspiring their colleagues about the future. Increased working with other agencies can not only help to improve life for vulnerable adults but also be more cost-efficient.

These organisational changes have also created an unexpected benefit, with the Community Safety Advocates who deliver the HSAs becoming a new ‘front line’ in helping vulnerable adults and referring them to other agencies.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Mark Cashin, said: “This study has reinforced what we knew, which is that our prevention work, particularly our Home Safety Assessment programme, is helping to drive down the numbers of fire related incidents.

“It is also equipping people with the knowledge to keep themselves, their family and their property safe. We will use the findings to further enhance the service we provide as we strive to protect some of the most vulnerable in our community.”

Tom said: “I was really excited about working with Cheshire Fire on this project, it was a fantastic opportunity to work with this service when they have been going through a fundamental change in their approach to community safety work.

“One of the most interesting and enjoyable parts of doing this PhD has been the opportunity to listen and interact with diverse groups of people within and outside the organisation. I was made to feel so welcome by everyone there, especially the fire crews. I especially enjoyed being invited for breakfast by one of the fire stations and listening to what they had to say.”

The work that is being carried out by CFRS is now being taken forward nationally and through innovative data-sharing agreements all Fire and Rescue Services in England will be able to access the same data.

Furthermore, the NHS, Public Health England and the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) have just signed a consensus on developing the HSA process through Safe and Well visits to help vulnerable people in their homes right across England and the UK.