When we are driving, the need to look back before we make a move on the road is a basic principle of safety that we learn from day one. I think that applies to most things in life where, before we commit to a new move, idea or technique we look back to see whether we recognise anything that might prevent making the change safely. Although this is the right approach, sticking with the driving analogy, we also have to make sure we aren’t over cautious to the extent that we get stuck and hold others back. We also have to remember, when looking at the actions of others, that whilst we can look back after the event, hindsight is just that and must be used with caution.
Once again, I am going to mention Grenfell in my editorial. Last month London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton and others from her team addressed the London Assembly. It remains my view that the actions of all who responded to Grenfell gave all they could with the knowledge they had in the most difficult of circumstances. The use of the word unprecedented when describing events has become common, directly contradicting the word’s meaning, but on 14 June 2017 there was no comparison for London Fire Brigade to look to because Grenfell was truly unprecedented.
Many people who appear to be blessed with the wisdom of hindsight have levelled criticism at London Fire Brigade since the incident. It is well publicised that the Brigade have already taken steps to address areas from which they have learned lessons and this will continue. The Commissioner herself has personally taken the opportunity to address communities in London, providing an honest description of the challenges crews faced and to offer reassurance to the many thousands of residents who live in high-rise buildings. She has also asked the government to assist in developing research to evaluate the appropriate use of the ‘Stay Put’ policy where shortcomings in design and construction heighten risk to residents in the event of a fire. If London Fire Brigade, who have been heavily criticised despite the fact they had to deal with the failings of others, can benefit from hindsight then why can’t those responsible, not only for Grenfell but for other buildings with inadequate fire protection, take a similar approach? Why can’t those who made mistakes in the past use the benefit of hindsight and take responsibility for their own actions and take urgent steps to remedy failures and shortcomings? I am not naive, I know there will be many a legal professional working to mitigate blame and financial costs to those who ought to be implementing remedial measures but that doesn’t resolve the here and now.
Thank you Commissioner and thank you London Fire Brigade for having the mettle to rise above the criticism, to take responsibility for your own actions and for standing up for what is right, perhaps others with direct and indirect responsibility could follow your example.
I was fortunate to have attended the Emergency Services Show this year along with many colleagues from fire and other emergency services. I was impressed with the representation of staff from across the emergency services spectrum, volunteers and professionals alike. In 1984 I attended what was then the Fire Exhibition at the NEC. I went as a wide-eyed fresh-faced firefighter with my career ahead of me. I marvelled at the emerging technology and left with a collection of new product material that I read over the following weeks.
Over many subsequent years of attending the Fire Exhibition in various guises my interest regularly drew me back to the innovation, but experience and confidence also allowed me to engage with exhibitors to discuss the merits and opportunities of their products. In the late eighties I submitted an idea to a visual warning light manufacturer which, despite eliciting no response from the said manufacturer, looked remarkably like a product they later launched that is now commonplace across the blue light services. Whilst a little disappointed not to have had any response, I wasn’t expecting to make money from my idea, a recognition that it was (or was not) a valid idea would have been nice but then again, maybe I had simply identified something already in development. The reason I mention this is that over the years I have discussed the value of practitioners attending trade shows when they may be in no position to make the necessary purchasing decisions. Overwhelmingly, exhibitors have told me that the opportunity for one-to-one engagement holds value in itself and there is no doubt that practitioners, ultimately the product end users, will be influencers if not immediately then at some point in the future. This is important for two reasons: if you are a reader who has never taken the opportunity to look at the shop window that trade shows create then I would encourage you to do so, those ideas you have to improve the tools of your trade may influence the future; if you are an exhibitor or potential exhibitor, I call on you to embrace and value the opportunity that talking to your end users presents. In 1984 I had limited opportunity to influence purchasing decisions; later in my career I became a decision maker.
Staying on the theme of trade shows, over recent years the adoption of accessible workshops has grown. Open-sided accessible presentations and discussions are a big feature of modern exhibitions and conference events and it is pleasing to see the large attendance these attract. Continuous Professional Development (CPD) has long been recognised as a key to maintaining professional competence. Unfortunately, for some, access to CPD can be difficult and where opportunities do exist they may be limited to members of organisations whose membership fees have subsidised these events, which is of course understandable. The advent of ‘pop up’ theatres at trade shows has opened up the opportunities for professionals to attend relevant learning and the accessibility has enabled attendees to sample sessions beyond their normal recognised sphere of specialism. This undoubtedly contributes to a broadening of skills and knowledge as well as breaking down barriers between services, organisations and disciplines. What a fantastic achievement and yet another benefit for attending.
These events demonstrate a growing hunger for knowledge and learning. UK Fire is well placed to act as a mechanism to disseminate this for developers, manufacturers and practitioners and we would like to help but we cannot do that on our own. If you have an article, some research, a product idea or other feature that could provide useful learning, we would like to help you to share it. If you need help in developing this into an article for print, please just ask. Help UK Fire to become your windscreen and rear-view mirror to broaden the learning horizons of our great profession.
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