It would have been hard to miss the devastating scenes in Paris last month as the Cathedral of Notre Dame was severely damaged by fire. Within minutes videos were being streamed live from the scene by onlookers before the media had even arrived. Once again, the world witnessed the destruction of internationally acclaimed heritage in full high definition prompting immediate speculation over the cause, questions over the actions of firefighters whilst they were still engaged in efforts to save the building and even an eminent global leader added their suggestion as to how the fire should be fought.
It is, of course, very sad to see such an iconic building so badly damaged, but it is also a tribute to pre-planning and actions by stewards that a safe evacuation was executed, and no one was injured. Furthermore, it is now clear that the firefighting operation limited the damage and protected major elements of the cathedral. Added to this, salvage operations by staff and firefighters have ensured the safety of priceless artefacts and items with significant historic relevance and value.
Like other fires and incidents that make global news, the days and weeks that follow will undoubtedly deliver much talk about how action must be taken to avoid such a fire in the future. Spokespersons will declare their commitment to protecting heritage and fire will become a high-agenda item, but I do fear that as weeks turn to months and before months turn into years the high place on the agenda will slip to make way for the next critical need and fire will once again become something that happens to others.
Is there a way to prevent this perpetual cycle of high profile to seeming insignificance? How does the fire-engineering profession use its experience and knowledge to advise and guide those in positions of influence at the time when their interest is heightened and then maintain that interest to deliver the necessary change? Is it possible to use the profile of incidents like Notre Dame when the news has faded without being accused of shroud-waving and scaremongering?
In the case of this most recent incident, immediately post fire the generosity of benefactors and a commitment by the French Government indicates that Notre Dame will rise from the ashes to continue its importance in French history moving forward.
This issue of UK Fire includes features on an exciting range of diverse technologies that can deliver greater levels of fire safety in the built environment. I recently reviewed a professional fire journal from 1979, in which was a report on the Woolworths fire in Manchester alongside information on automatic fire detection, modern fire appliances and a range of other fire-related products that saw little change in the two to three decades that followed. Today, within this issue of UK Fire, we see technology and solutions that were beyond my own imagination just a few years ago. As a generation we have seen an exponential growth in technology, and the investment of forward-thinking and innovative fire-engineering and communications businesses has ensured that the fire sector benefits from new and emerging technology.
Technology is, of course, just part of the solution. Human behaviour and the skills and knowledge of fire professionals are critical in the application of technical solutions, the reduction of risk and, when necessary, dealing with the incidents that do occur.
Recognising the importance of properly skilled and supported staff remains critical to delivering safe solutions and effective emergency response when the need arises. The issues surrounding mental health were for too long a taboo subject, confined to conversations behind closed doors. It is pleasing to see that fire and rescue services continue to lead in lifting the veil of secrecy and removing the associated stigma to create a safe environment in which those who suffer from the debilitating effects of mental health can be open and receive the support and assistance of health professionals and their colleagues in finding a solution and route to wellness.
For many years a stated aspiration of public services has been to reflect the communities they serve. Whilst there has been success in many areas of both the private and public sector, the fire and rescue service still has some way to go to achieve this in particular with the gender balance, with women still representing less than 10% of the operational workforce. It is encouraging to see the efforts of fire and rescue services to attract more women and to see some of the fantastic achievements of those who currently serve. I am hopeful that we are now starting to see a change in attitudes that will see a sustained rise in women successfully joining the fire and rescue service although I recognise there have to be combined and continued efforts to achieve this and all in the fire profession have a part to play in this. As I reflect on my own career I hope that I was supportive of all of my colleagues, regardless of gender or heritage. I have to say that with the knowledge I now have regarding the unseen barriers to recruitment I do recognise that I could have done more to make the role of a firefighter more appealing to women. We cannot turn the clock back, but we can accept there are opportunities to address the balance through dispelling myths and ensuring genuine equality of opportunity.
Thank you to all who have contributed to this edition of UK Fire. Our aim is to raise knowledge and understanding of the fire profession so if you have a technical article, a story, or an idea you would like to share, please get in touch.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org