The Grenfell Enquiry resumed on the 29 October after a short break which saw the conclusion of phase one and the questions to representatives of London Fire Brigade.
Phase two of the enquiry will focus on issues around the original design and construction and the evolution of the building since its build in 1974. This phase will not only consider the physical changes that have occurred but also advice to residents, inspection regimes and other factors material to the building’s use and maintenance.
As the enquiry has progressed, public interest and the story’s prominence has reduced in the national media, and it is critical that both UK Fire and the fire sector continues to highlight the issues raised and the lessons to be learned and provide a professional narrative to the outcomes.
In October the Government made the welcome announcement of a ban on combustible cladding for buildings in England above 18m (60ft). This brings England in line with a number of other European Union countries who have recently introduced similar requirements.
Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire made the announcement in his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference where he referred to the unimaginable horror of the Grenfell disaster, which he stated underlined the need to ensure such a disaster cannot happen again.
This is clearly a welcome commitment although I am sure others in the sector will share our disappointment that the legislation did not go further and that it will not be applied retrospectively where materials have already been fitted.
Fire-safety technology along with fire engineering present great opportunities for safer buildings and form part of this issue’s features. Modern engineering can enable the simplest of solutions to be a part of complex structures to support the safe operation of buildings. In addition, the feature on reducing false alarms seeks to address the unintended consequences of unwanted fire signals.
This issue has two features that look at advances in motor technology and are a great example of how world technology can respond to the needs of the environment we live in.
Electric vehicles are becoming more and more common with an estimated 134,000 electric vehicles on our UK roads in 2018. This is a 54% increase in just over 12 months.
We also look at advances in airbag safety and the need for safe management of vehicles fitted with such devices.
The benefits of both of these advances are clear and demand that responders remain aware of the new risks that come with this essential technology along with the appropriate actions to be taken in dealing with an incident involving such vehicles. Fredrik Rosen has provided an insight within this issue to help understand these issues.
As a former fire professional with over three decades of experience, I find myself caught between optimism and concern for our fire-safe future. I am optimistic because we have investment support for future protection hardware with technology that seemed a pipe dream just a few years ago. We have developing professionals, both current and graduating, who are highly qualified to deliver high-quality engineering solutions, joining what has now developed into a respected discipline.
My concerns surround the here and now, the legacy of previous decisions and the ease with which experience both positive and negative can seemingly become an embarrassing nuisance easily ignored but certain to come back and haunt us.
In the built environment this is apparent with buildings that have become dated, which have had poor maintenance regimes, which can be compared to other similar buildings that have been subject to major fires. Reports, recommendations and technology offer clear and simple solutions that could be achieved economically but that need to be a requirement if they aren’t to be ‘value engineered’ out of refurbishment projects
In the human environment, austerity has seen changes to support services for the most vulnerable, support that has improved outcomes for those who have received it and reduced the burden on front-line services. Under pressure to reduce budgets, it appears all too easy to save money on what appear to be soft services, yet they are often the safety net to stop those most at risk falling into the arms of front-line services.
The continued challenges to front-line services are also a cause for concern. The need for efficiencies is clear and I am sure there remain opportunities to achieve this, but who monitors the line between genuine efficiencies and cuts that simply save money but at the same time reduce value?
I recently read an article about a Fire and Rescue Service in which the interviewee stated the Service wanted to ‘not only survive but thrive in an increasingly uncertain future with a shrinking budget’. What does thrive mean for any ‘service’, and I am not confining that to fire? Does it mean they want to deliver the best response? To carry out interventions that help people to help themselves? To create the safest communities possible? I imagine it is all of these things.
Much of the success of services has been through innovation and collaboration. Sometimes the success is more financially rewarding to another front-line service rather than to the one delivering the solution. As Fire and Rescue Services are placed under increasing pressure to cease non-statutory duties, it is difficult to see how a front-line service with limited, if any, ability to generate income can do anything but survive when previous successes have to cease.
How do we create an environment and schedule for genuine, meaningful and honest dialogue that considers what is required of our services by looking at true value rather than simple cost, and what needs to be done to consider public expectations beyond the limited opinions of a few?
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