The powers and duties of fire and rescue authorities are set out in Part 2 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 (FRSA 2004). Their core functions are:
(a) promoting fire safety
(c) responding to road traffic accidents
(d) dealing with other prescribed emergencies.
Fire and rescue authorities must make provision for the purpose of promoting fire safety in their areas and must, to the extent they consider reasonable, make arrangements for the provision of information, publicity and encouragement in respect of the steps to be taken to prevent fires and death or injury by fire (section 6 FRSA 2004). They must also give advice, on request, about how to prevent fires and restrict their spread and about the means of escape in the event of a fire. This may include, for example, fire safety education, smoke alarm installation and fire safety checks for householders.
Fire and rescue authorities must make provision for the purpose of extinguishing fires in their areas and protecting life and property in the event of fires These are their central ‘fire-fighting’ duties (section 7 FRSA 2004). Authorities must also make provision for the purpose of rescuing people in the event of road traffic accidents and for protecting people from serious harm in event of such accidents (section 8 FRSA 2004).
Section 9 of the FRSA 2004 allows the Welsh Ministers to confer functions on fire and rescue authorities relating to other emergencies. In this context, “emergency” means an event or situation that causes, or is likely to cause, death, serious injury or illness or serious harm to the environment, including the life and health of plants and animals.
The Fire and Rescue Services (Emergencies) (Wales) Order 2007 (SI 2007/3193), made by the Welsh Ministers under section 9, requires a fire and rescue authority to make provision for the purpose of removing chemical, biological or radio-active contaminants in the event of an emergency and for containing any water used for that purpose. The order also requires the authorities to make provision for the purpose of rescuing people who are trapped following the collapse of a building or other structure and for the purpose of certain emergencies involving a train, tram or aircraft. Fire and rescue authorities are not required to make provision for dealing with transport emergencies to the extent that they involve the collapse of a tunnel or mine.
In fulfilling their functions relating to fire-fighting, road traffic accidents and other emergencies, fire and rescue authorities must, in particular–
(a) secure the provision of the personnel, services and equipment necessary efficiently to meet all normal requirements,
(b) secure the provision of training for personnel,
(c) make arrangements for dealing with calls for help and for summoning help,
(d) make arrangements for obtaining information needed for the purpose of extinguishing fires in its area and protecting life and property in the event of fires in its area,
(e) make arrangements for ensuring reasonable steps are taken to prevent or limit damage to property resulting from action taken for the purpose of extinguishing fires in its area and protecting life and property in the event of fires in its area.
When carrying out their functions relating to fire-fighting and road traffic accidents, fire and rescue authorities must seek to mitigate the damage, or potential damage, to property. As a consequence, the actions a fire and rescue authority take when responding to an incident that could damage property should be proportionate to the incident and the risk to life. Fire and rescue authorities also have a duty under section 38 of the FRSA 2004 to take all reasonable measures for securing that an adequate water supply will be available for their use in the event of a fire.
The Welsh Ministers may, under section 10 of the FRSA 2004, direct a fire and rescue authority to respond to a specified fire or a specified emergency. The direction may require an authority to act outside its own geographical area. This power would enable the Welsh Ministers to respond to unusual event, such as a natural disaster where central co-ordination is required.
In addition to their core functions, fire and rescue authorities may respond to other eventualities. Under section 11 of the FRSA 2004, they may take any action they consider appropriate in response to an event or situation that is likely to cause death, injury or illness or harm to the environment.
A fire and rescue authority must, so far as practicable, enter into a reinforcement scheme with other fire and rescue authorities. This is a scheme for securing mutual assistance between fire and rescue authorities for the purpose of discharging their core functions under sections 7, 8 or 9 of the FRSA 2004. The participating authorities have a duty to give effect to the reinforcement scheme and must notify the Welsh Ministers of the making, variation or revocation of the scheme.
Fire and rescue authorities were given new general powers under the Localism Act 2011. Section 5A of the FRSA 2004 (inserted by section 9 of the Localism Act) gives a combined fire and rescue authority power to do–
(a) anything it considers appropriate for the purposes of the carrying-out of any of its functions (its “functional purposes”),
(b) anything it considers appropriate for purposes incidental to its functional purposes,
(c) anything it considers appropriate for purposes indirectly incidental to its functional purposes through any number of removes,
(d) anything it considers to be connected with (i) any of its functions, or (ii) anything it may do under paragraph (a), (b) or (c), and
(e) for a commercial purpose anything which it may do under any of paragraphs (a) to (d) otherwise than for a commercial purpose.
Fire and rescue authorities are enforcing authorities for the purpose of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which is main legislation dealing with fire safety duties and their enforcement. The Order applies to most non-domestic premises and places duties on the person responsible for the premises to take certain actions in relation to fire safety. (There are many other provisions relating to fire safety that apply in particular circumstances or particular types of products. Building regulations also include requirements relating to fire safety.)
Fire and rescue authorities are also ‘category 1 responders’ for the purpose of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. The principal role of a category 1 responder is to assess the risk of emergencies occurring and to make, maintain and publish appropriate plans.