Opening a consultation on ‘Reforming our Fire and Rescue Service’ notably has coincided with new measures surrounding fire safety. Change, encompassed by the Fire Safety Act 2021 and the Building Safety Act 2022, where the FSA provides amendments to the Fire Safety Order 2005 along with enactment on 28 June of the BSA offering regulatory opportunities to improve the building safety regime, appears to be everywhere.
It is also notable that a theme of all this change is ‘culture’. A word that encapsulates so much that is both tangible and intangible. However, reading through the consultation, which reflects there is a need to improve following significant major events like the Grenfell Tower fire and Manchester Arena bombing, policy alignment regarding fire and rescue service emergency response and fire-safety management is less than apparent.
While changes, like those suggested for fire safety are welcomed, the reform agenda now underway is only a part of the whole fire-safety situation. Far more troublesome is that UK fire-safety regulation looks likely to continue being reactive to tragedy.
The fire sector at the very least should seek to join all the dots in what is a complex system and create a future pathway that genuinely places prevention and protection at its heart. No one wants to wait until the next tragedy unfolds, and then work to try and plug any new gaps that have evolved.
By any measure this is not an easy task, but no one would surely argue against planning a better, more cohesive pathway to bring together all the expertise and knowledge that exists across public services, industry and government. The barriers to improved fire safety and protection are known, but tackling them often looks too daunting or remote to influence.
We can do this by moving faster to pick up the mantle to change existing cultures and work practices, and stimulate awareness to create the safe, sustainable and resilient built environment we seek. We can look at fire in the round, upscale the issue and find more effective ways to bring to bear the deep pool of our collective resources and expertise.
Developing integrated actions will always be challenging because fire is omnipresent, it transcends many government policy portfolios, is present in virtually all occupations and penetrates in multiple diverse ways science, commerce and leisure – it affects everything. And the list is ever expanding as our technologies, society and climate evolve. If not connected properly, this can and will continue to diminish effective fire-safety outcomes.
Knowing the downside of our fire-safety history is helpful in that it makes apparent that we have to create a clearer and more integrated pathway. Although that needs time, ‘quick wins’ exist, which a collective sector effort could advance.
Independent third-party certification and accreditation, common in all industrial sectors, helps assure approved standards and regulators should recognise and help assert these schemes where they offer a dependable way of demonstrating quality. Mandating third-party schemes has a track record of providing quality-assured independent evidence that the provider can do what they say and a product is fit for purpose.
An underlying principle of safety everywhere is competence. Every individual must be competent in their personal role and task if fire safety is to work properly. A founding principle is ‘knowing what you don’t know’ and being clear and not deterred from admitting that very fact; that requires investment by every individual and their employer.
Understanding how fire impacts on materials, components and elements of structure is another crucial principle. Greater investment, openness and lessons learnt of failure and success, where the fire and rescue service are often the ultimate witnesses of performance, are vital if we are to close what is a disrupted cycle of understanding.
These principles illustrate there are many aspects which have yet to be addressed across the built environment. The combined sectors led by the fire sector on fire-safety matters must recognise that they alone have the expertise to do the job, to present a clearer pathway for fire safety, which will aid policymakers and stakeholders, by being resourceful and committed to break free from the current failed response model to active assertion of good practice.
For more information, go to www.firesectorfederation.co.uk