In my November editorial I wrote of uncertainty over the outcome of Brexit negotiations and, of course, the ongoing pandemic. At the eleventh hour a deal was done to support the transition from being an EU member state to Independent nation and we look forward to the UK Fire Industry, with its rich and diverse innovation and manufacturing base, building on success and growing with the certainty of trade agreements.
The New Year could have been one of optimism with news of successful vaccinations seeming to shine a bright light at the end of the tunnel only for simultaneous news to break of a new, more virulent strain emerging which led to the anticipated second wave becoming more serious than the first. Lockdown measures were strengthened and the inevitable increase in demand on the NHS, its clinicians, support staff and services very quickly stretched the already in-demand services.
UK Fire has previously reported on the way in which the fire sector has stepped up from the very early days of the pandemic, creating solutions and helping in response. UK fire and rescue services have drawn praise from Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabularies and Fire Services in a report that recognises their contribution during the pandemic. Firefighters and their wider fire and rescue colleagues continue to support a range of activities from assisting with supplies to driving and crewing emergency ambulances alongside NHS colleagues. A key to the success of this had been a tripartite agreement between the National Fire Chiefs Council, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and National Employers. This agreement has been withdrawn leading to criticism from the FBU. We hope this matter can be resolved to ensure the good work achieved to date can be built on in the future.
Globally, efforts are now focused on mass vaccination programmes and improved treatments as we look with optimism to a route to some sort of new normal. Sadly, it is likely that many of us will have suffered loss through Covid-19 through its impact on those close to us. Our sincere condolences go out to those who have lost relatives, friends or colleagues to this deadly virus.
Phase two of the Grenfell Enquiry will recommence in February after a short recess with continuing evidence regarding the construction of the tower. As a result of the limited reporting of the enquiry by large media outlets, I remain concerned that the general public believe the enquiry concluded that the fire and rescue service were responsible for the death of the 72 residents. When the opportunity presents itself, I will ask people from outside of the sector what they understand to be the outcome of the enquiry to date. Sadly, the responses consistently underpin my concerns with most unaware that Phase two remains ongoing. I hear the occasional hazy reference to firefighter witness testimony, but this is often without any wider context of the events, both on the night of and in the years prior to the disaster. As a sector I believe we have a duty to ensure an accurate picture is painted to reflect what happened and what must be learned from Grenfell. For our sector, it cannot be about deflecting or apportioning blame but about ensuring the painful lessons of Grenfell lead to real and sustained improvements in building safety, fire safety, emergency response and wider planning and societal issues.
Phase two of the Grenfell enquiry remains ongoing with significant evidence yet to be heard. The long-awaited recommendations will only be published at the close of the enquiry, which is likely to be four years after the events of 14 June 2017. The legislative change that many will have expected soon after the fire is now progressing with both the Fire Safety Bill and Building Safety Bill winding their way through the Parliamentary process. An article by Saba Naqshbandi and Genevieve Woods outlining the progress of these important changes in legislation can be found in this issue.
The fire sector waits with bated breath in the hope that changes in legislation will bring about clarity for those responsible for designing, building, installing, inspecting and educating on matters of fire and life safety. This clarity needs to extend to the correct and appropriate application of standards. The sector must be looking to see the pendulum moving back from a position of cherry picking the application of standards to suit a commercial or fiscal desire to find an appropriate position where safety and standards form the foundation of design, decisions and management rather than being something that is satisfied through lip service or vague reference somewhere within a project, plan or scheme.
With an optimistic eye to the remainder of 2021, it is important to look forward to catching up with some of the things we will have missed in 2020. The top of our priorities will likely be the opportunity to meet face to face with friends, relatives and colleagues. No doubt many of you will wish to travel beyond the confines of your home villages, towns, cities and countries.
The restrictions in movement have prevented us meeting in person in both our personal and work context and whilst the explosion of video meetings and online training has enabled us to communicate in ways we could only imagine a decade ago, there remains a need to meet face to face, to touch, hold and shape the products and equipment we use in our profession and to explore the opportunities for innovation across our sector.
Like many things we used to take for granted, getting together in a group as professionals has had to be put on hold. As a sector I look forward to us meeting up at training events, conferences and exhibitions. We often reflect on the benefits of social interaction outside of a training room, conference or exhibition hall which cannot be replicated in the online environment. Can I urge readers to explore the opportunities presented by attending sector-led events? Many are free to attend such as FireEx planned to take place in London’s Excel in July 2021 and the Emergency Services Show planned for September at the Birmingham NEC. Like other events, these are your opportunities to interact with colleagues, to learn, to share ideas and to influence and improve the future of the sector. I hope to see you there.
Very best wishes.
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