INSPECTORS have identified a number of areas for improvement in the fire service in Somerset.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has issued a report on the service in Devon and Somerset.

And Inspector Wendy Williams said a number of areas were identified which need to be improved.

"We are satisfied with some aspects of the performance of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service," she said.

"But there are several areas where it needs to make improvements."

She said the service was 'good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies and preventing fires and other risks', as well as 'protecting the public through fire regulation and responding to national risks'.

However, she said it requires improvement in how it responds to fires and other emergencies, 'not least as it is failing to meet its response standards'.

"At the time of our inspection, it hadn't tested the fitness of its operational staff for over three years so could not assure itself that all members of operational staff met the minimum fitness levels required to perform the role of a firefighter," she added.

Responding to the findings, Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell said: “I am pleased that inspectors identified that the Service is ‘good’ at keeping people safe and secure from fires and other risks.”

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He continued: “I very much welcome the inspection report which confirms that we are good at understanding the risk of fires and other emergencies, good at preventing fires, good at protecting the public through the regulation for fire safety and good at responding to national risks.

“We are also classed as good in securing an affordable way of managing the risks of fires and other emergencies now and in the future and are good at the way in which we train our staff.

“We accept that we ‘require improvement’ in the way we respond to fires and other emergencies, need to do more to use our resources to manage risk, need to further promote our values and culture, further improve fairness and diversity and develop leadership and capability.”

He said inspectors recognised the service's operational response was quicker than other predominantly rural services.

"We think that being able to provide a fire engine to three out of four incidents within 10 minutes can be seen to be something of an achievement given our large geographical area," he added.

"However, we can do more to improve our availability of our ‘on call’ fire stations and hope to finalise improved arrangements with trade unions shortly which will further improve our response times.”

He said the service accepted the report in full and has already addressed many of the areas identified for improvement since the inspection, which took place in June.

The report came as the service consults over major changes to how fire services are provided, including the possibility of shutting fire stations in a bid to battle funding cuts.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority is responsible for the governance arrangements for the Service.

Cllr Sara Randall Johnson, chair of the authority, said: “The Authority welcomes the introduction of service inspections by HMICFRS.

"It is a shame the time between inspection and publication has been so long.

"The service has changed during this period and will continue to improve its performance.

"The recommendations provide a focus for both members and the service to consider, as we strengthen public safety. Prevention and protection activities lay at the heart of all we do.”