Just one week after emergency safety measures were put in place at a Woking high-rise development after flammable insulation was found, an inspector has found Surrey’s Fire and Rescue Service “needs to do more” to prepare and train for incidents in tall buildings.

In a report released on Wednesday, September 13, an inspector gave Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) a “requires improvement” rating to seven areas, with three areas rated “adequate” and one rated “good”.

This comes hot on the heels of residents in the New Central development – which rises to 21 storeys at its peak – being subjected to a ‘waking watch’. 

According to the national fire chiefs council,  a waking watch is when trained people “continually patrol” a building and its perimeter to detect fires, raise alarms and alert emergency services. Waking watches should only be used, the fire chiefs council says, “where significant risk of fire spreading in a building has been confirmed, to allow time for a more sustainable plan to be made without the need for residents to leave their homes”. 

Inspector Roy Wilsher’s report said he was satisfied with some aspects of the service’s performance in keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks, but said he was ‘disappointed’ with tall building policies and procedures.

Under the category of responding to major and multi-agency incidents, Mr Wilsher rated the service “requires improvement” and that more needed to be done to “prepare and train for incidents in tall buildings”, such as the Grenfell Tower tragedy in which 72 people died in Kensington in 2017.

He said only a “limited amount” of realistic training and exercising at tall buildings had been done, and that it hadn’t included all staff groups that would be expected to respond to such an incident.

Mr Wilsher’s report said the service “has procedures in place detailing the role of the evacuation officer but no effective tall buildings evacuation policy for operational and control room staff. 

“The service should address these policy gaps as a matter of urgency.”

The inspection also highlighted a new “cause of concern” with the service being unable to accurately identify how many high-risk premises it has.

The inspector said within 28 days an action plan should be provided which would look at identifying the highest risk premises and making sure all staff were aware of expectations of them.