Fire chiefs pledge to 'learn and improve' after complaints and compliments set out

Tyne and Wear fire chiefs have revealed a report on compliments and complaints over the past year, with a pledge to continue to “learn and improve”.
Deputy chief fire officer Peter Heath.Deputy chief fire officer Peter Heath.
Deputy chief fire officer Peter Heath.

At a recent meeting of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority’s Governance Committee, an annual report was presented looking at data between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022.

Out of the 63,848 ‘official’ interactions recorded with the public over this period, the fire and rescue service received 86 compliments and investigated 27 complaints.

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Compliments were linked to the service’s Covid-19 response , prevention activities and emergency response, as well as its work with the third sector and “good deeds undertaken by staff on and off duty”.

Of the 27 complaints investigated, four were upheld, three were partly upheld, 19 were not upheld and one was withdrawn.

Upheld complaints included two linked to “on duty conduct”, one linked to “inconsiderate parking” and one linked to “damage to property”.

The fire and rescue service categorises complaints as “an expression of dissatisfaction about our action or lack of action by one or more members of the public [which] may be about the standard of our service provided by us or on our behalf, or the manner in which it was provided”.

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According to a report presented to the Governance Committee, complaints allow fire chiefs to “investigate, correct and learn from circumstances of underperformance to avoid these occurrences happening again”.

Where a complaint was upheld or partly upheld, the report added, an apology was provided along with an explanation and the action(s) taken to “put the matter right to avoid it happening again”.

Deputy chief fire officer, Peter Heath, told the meeting the fire and rescue service uses complaints as an opportunity to “learn and improve the service we provide”.

He continued: “Whilst it would be easy to say that a complaint is not a good thing and clearly we would like to get it right all the time, we recognise with so many interactions sometimes things are not what people would expect.

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“But we do see that as an opportunity to keep improving so that’s the spirit in which we’re bringing this [report] here”.

During the meeting, Newcastle councillor Ged Bell, a former firefighter, asked whether staff were “actively encouraged” to pass on all compliments.

Cllr Bell told the meeting: “I know from experience that a number of compliments might be of the verbal variety […] there also may be letters or emails which are sent into departments or stations which never get recorded.

“I‘m wondering whether or not we could actively encourage all staff to report any of the compliments that actually come in because it’s great but I think we can do better”.

Councillors heard there had been a campaign within the fire and rescue service to encourage staff to record both compliments and complaints.

According to a committee report, the number of complaints in 2021/22 was consistent with previous years and the reporting and recording of compliments had increased.

Deputy chief fire officer, Peter Heath, said work was ongoing to encourage staff to report compliments and complaints but that the fire and rescue service had “some way to go”.

He added: “The verbal factor, we have had some discussion around that and in my personal view, fire services are very humble organisations.

“What we have done is try to provide to this committee and to the public something that we can put our hand on and say we’re not asking you to believe us because it’s there and there’s the evidence.”

During the meeting, councillors also praised the scale of work fire and rescue service staff do across Tyne and Wear.

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South Tyneside councillor Joan Keegan said: “Not only do you work for the fire service but you seem to become social workers, whenever you go out there’s a range of things that you do that help people.

“You have different hats on when you go out to different circumstances and I really think it’s excellent.”

South Tyneside councillor Wilf Flynn added: “As long as the compliments outnumber the complaints, that’s a plus.”

More information about compliments and complaints can be found on the fire and rescue service’s website: