August marks the UK’s sixth successive month of living with COVID 19 and the tragedy and heartache suffered by so many through the ravages of the Global Pandemic. World news remains dominated by COVID-19-related stories and the economic, societal and political impact with stories of businesses that have been lost, scenes of unrest and political game playing and point scoring. Behind the headlines every one of us continues to live our lives adapting to the constraints required to contain the spread of this unseen menace.
The Fire Industry Association conducted a survey into the impact of COVID 191 on the Fire Industry. Unsurprisingly, as an industry built on planning for, mitigating and responding to emergencies, all those involved in fire engineering are working hard to continue operating and delivering in an uncertain world. The survey author states that the report ‘understandably contains the fears, challenges and struggles faced by many within our industry but in equal measure it highlights the resilience, optimism and innovation that has been brought to the forefront during this pandemic.’ Of course, the impact of COVID-19 cannot and should not be downplayed, but through medical science and human endeavour there is confidence we will emerge to create a new normal in which we will operate in the future.
The Grenfell inquiry resumed hearing evidence on Monday 6 July 2020. More than three years after the fire 160 buildings are still fitted with failed ACM cladding systems with remedial works yet to be commenced. As a result, short-term emergency measures designed to offer additional fire-safety protection to residents continue to be the only safety net in place. It seems a national disgrace that known fire-safety failures of such a scale have been allowed to remain in place with no coherent plan for resolution. Whilst nobody can have expected an overnight fix it is simply unacceptable that nothing has changed in over three years.
Remaining with the enquiry, sadly, a prediction made in my editorial of February 2019 has come to fruition. I shared my concern that media interest in the enquiry would fade leaving the fire industry and fire professionals with the task of ensuring the lessons of Grenfell are learned and acted upon. The mass media is a fickle industry where, even without Brexit and COVID-19, headlines and stories focused on the ‘private lives’ of celebrities force life-safety issues further down the news feeds and out of public sight. Aside from the inaction and injustice arising from Grenfell it is also a tragedy that those who could and should have acted to prevent the catalogue of failures in the decades, years and months leading up to the fire will not face the same level of public scrutiny as the firefighters and other emergency responders had to face in the earlier phase of the enquiry. The media focused on the decisions of those who had only minutes and seconds in which to act and had no shame in pointing the finger of blame. Whilst lessons are learned from facts, action on the scale required from Grenfell needs exposure to those facts supported by a weight of public opinion.
As fire engineers, our goal is ultimately to protect people. Within the UK we have a strong and positive history of helping others through a range of charities and voluntary organisations that provide support where statutory agencies are not able to. Many of those in our profession will have either directly or indirectly benefited from the work of the charity and voluntary sector and it is a sad fact that these very organisations have been badly hit by current events with most seeing their income streams severely reduced. As an industry, I hope we will continue to support those organisations who have helped us in our time of need in this, their time of need.
Despite the unusual environment we find ourselves in it is important that we focus on a positive future. Changes to the ways in which businesses have operated and society has functioned during COVID-19 has delivered some benefits on a global scale. Exposure to the pandemic and the global response it necessitated has focused many minds on the Climate Emergency.
The positive impact of reduced carbon emissions provides evidence that must surely silence even the most hard-line opponents of carbon reduction. The ability of manufacturers to change their production lines to deliver urgent medical equipment and supplies in record time demonstrates the agility and ability of modern industry. Emerging ‘green technology’ and a greater conscience and understanding must create optimism for a cleaner and greener world in the future. This is as important in our sphere of fire engineering as it is in wider industry and we will watch with interest as fire engineers contribute to the momentum for sustainable buildings, green power and a society in which carbon emissions reduce.
To all of our readers and our advertisers, we hope you are able to take time out over the remainder of the summer to recharge the batteries and move towards a more positive period for the country and our profession. For those enduring particularly challenging times we look forward to the post-COVID-19 era, and please remember the team at UK Fire and MDM Publishing are keen to support you in any way we can.
Wishing you well, stay safe.
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- Impact of COVID-19 on the Fire Safety Industry,
Fire Industry Association 2020