An increasing financial squeeze on Civil Defence or Municipal Fire and Rescue Services has seen a shift in the emergency response responsibility from the government to the commercial organisation creating the risk in the first place.
Furthermore, Civil Defence Fire Departments often will not have the equipment, skills or knowledge to deal with a complex and challenging industrial emergency incident.
In Europe, Directive 2012/18/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2012 on the control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances, and the UK COMAH Regs 2015 places a legal duty on Industry to create and provide an emergency response capability. For higher risk industries, this invariably means an Industrial Fire Service.
Within the Middle East, the same principle has been adopted and is quickly gathering momentum in many areas, not only within the obvious Oil and Gas industry, but now also in building and infrastructure development, particularly at the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) stages and sea ports.
The age of the Industrial Fire and Rescue Service is well and truly here.
The Scope of Works
By far, the vast majority of H&S managers within industry do not have an in-depth knowledge of the complexities and requirements of a Fire Service. In fairness, this is not their area of expertise. Yet they are often given the responsibility to write the scope of works (SOW), for inclusion within tender documents. Other organisations may appoint consultants to write the SOW for them. In both cases tender SOW emerges in various degrees of quality, some are excellent whilst others are so poor almost any technical submission will satisfy the requirements.
- What experience and qualifications will the Industrial Fire Company require?
- What is the term of the contract and mobilization timescales?
- How Many Firefighters are required to be on duty at any given time (Minimum Crewing)?
- What competency standards and qualifications will be expected?
- What type of shift system is to be employed?
- Will it be day time only or 24 hr working?
- What rank hierarchy will be required?
- Are there any employment restrictions in the country (i.e. Locals only or Ex Pat contractors)?
- Will fire trucks be provided or are they to be included in the provision?
- What Firefighting Media is available?
- What are the likely hazards to be encountered?
- Are there existing scenario specific emergency response plans or are they to be developed?
It should always be noted that procurement officers are professional in the procurement processes; they are not knowledgeable in the workings of a fire service. When a tender technical submission is received, they compare it with the SOW. If it correlates, it passes that stage, if it doesn’t, its rejected (or hopefully it’s rejected)
So, the rule of thumb must be, if you want a good fire and rescue service, write a good scope of work.
Probably the worst method a Fire Service recruiter can undertake is a simple desktop review of CV’s followed by a traditional interview, yet it is habitually adopted by inexperienced and naive recruiters.
Stage 1 should be to create a person specification, which details the knowledge, skills, qualifications, experience and other relevant attributes of the desired employee.
Experience tells us that a well-designed assessment centre which includes tests which examine the qualities identified in the person specification, is the fastest and most accurate method to be employed. For a qualified firefighter this will normally include basic skills such as hose running, ladder work, SCBA etc, plus basic numeracy and literacy skills, eyesight, colour vision and mechanical reasoning.
An important factor, especially in the Middle East, is physical fitness and excessive weight. The scourge of fast food with resultant high salt and saturated fats has led to significant health issues.
A firefighter’s job can be physically demanding on the cardiovascular system. The employer has a clear duty of care to ensure their employees are fit to do the job.
The use of a multi-stage fitness test (aka “The Beep Test”) or the Chester Step Test gives a really accurate indication of a candidate’s fitness level in terms of VO2 Max. The higher the figure, the fitter the candidate. Within the UK a recruit firefighter should achieve a VO2 max of 42 mls O2/kg/min and they should be withdrawn from duty if their level falls below 34 mls O2/kg/min.
Real world research shows that the majority of Middle Eastern applicants cannot achieve a VO2 Max of 34 mls O2/kg/min at the assessment centre. As a result, the assessor must be pragmatic and determine if the applicant can, by using cardio vascular exercises, achieve the required standard during the recruit training course.
Hierarchy and Discipline
A Fire Service, Industrial or Civil, should operate in a disciplined fashion, almost quasi military in its management. A strict hierarchy of ranks should be established to confirm the line management structure. Although the vast majority of time will not be spent at emergency incidents, the philosophy of respect of rank and instruction must be embedded and become a part and parcel of all activity, for when the emergency does occur (and it will occur) there is no room for dissent or disobedience, otherwise injury or worse may result. A fireground is not the place for a debate.
Discipline does not, however, mean bullying or beasting. Good teams’ function on mutual respect and honour. And, as the old saying goes, an officer must earn respect, it isn’t a given.
Policies and Procedures
To support discipline, hierarchical controls, quality and safety the industrial fire service should develop and employ a whole portfolio of policies and procedures. These are known by many names which includes Policy, Code of Practise and Brigade Orders amongst other titles. They all perform the same role.
They specify who is to do what, why, when, and where. These are the rules to be followed and can form the very basis of an ISO 9001 manual. They help employees develop and stop them making errors or getting into trouble. They are not a stick to beat someone with.
Examples may include amongst others;
- Training Policy
- Promotion and Appointments
- Anti-Bribery and Corruption
- Uniform and PPE
Competency Based Training
A Fire Service must train, and train and train until their emergency response skills become instinctive. Frequent incident types become the bread and butter for the firefighter, they are constantly refreshing through real experience.
But the knowledge and skills for rarer and infrequent incidents must be based on pure training. For example, most Industrial Firefighters will never deal with a full surface tank fire, yet they must know how to deal with it, safely…. just in case.
Everyone will suffer from skill decay; you start to forget as soon as the training is completed. It isn’t a precise science; we all lose knowledge at different rates. Routine training for the sake of training can be wasteful of both employee and instructors time.
The trick is to assess an individual’s skill decay and deliver tailored training to fill the identified gap. Assessment against a recognised standard such as “NFPA 1081 Standard for Industrial Fire Brigade Member” gives a credible judgement, which can be measured.
Other useful standards include;
1002 Driver Operator
1006 Technical Rescuer (which sub-divides into Rope Rescue, Confined Space, Road Traffic etc.)
1041 Fire Service Instructor
1021 Fire Officer
1031 Fire Inspector and Plan Examiner
Added Value Activities
The Industrial Fire Service can assist the client company by providing many additional services as a free of charge part of their daily routines. And in the process save expenditure from company budgets.
- Site Safety Induction Training for all contractors
- Working at Height Training
- Confined Space Training
- First Aid at Work Training
- Fire Extinguisher Training
- Fire Warden and Fire Team member Training
- Inspection and Maintenance of Fire Extinguishers, Fixed Installations and Media
- Fire safety Risk Assessments
Incident Management Systems and Protocols
The Fire Service will inevitably be seen as the expert in Incident Command, as it is probable that they will have attended emergency incidents previously and will have learned from the experience.
The clients appointed “On Scene Commander” (OSC) could be an engineer who is well versed in the process, but may have never taken charge of an emergency incident. And, as those firefighters amongst us know only too well, an emergency incident is chaotic in its incipient stages. People will be scared, anxious and maybe overwhelmed. It is imperative that control and command is quickly established. The senior fire officer is well placed to support the OSC, to provide guidance, advice and support.
Adoption of protocols as included in the US FEMA ICS 100 & 200 creates a foundation structure, common terminology and unity of command, within a unified command structure.
FEMA ICS, however, does not detail tactics to be employed. Scenario Specific Emergency Response Plans (SSERP) must be developed for each and every “credible” scenario identified.
A scenario is deemed to be credible if there is suitable and sufficient evidence on which to base a risk management decision by using incident frequency data, historical information, similar incidents in industry and/or the application of precautionary principles requiring the considered judgment of a subject matter expert Fire Officer.
Unless this process is utilised, emergency planners can run away with their imagination and specify unrealistic incidents that are never likely to occur, and in the process procure equipment which is not required and train personnel in procedures that will never be used.
Of course, the Black Swan can always appear no matter how good your research is. A “Black Swan” is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.
Costs and Value for Money
An industrial Fire Service provided by a specialist organisation is often less expensive than direct employment, and most definitely removes the headache from the client company. It can provide a turn key solution, allowing the client to get on with their main business, with the confidence that if something does go wrong, the experts are on site to deal with it.
And here lies a note of caution, there are a multitude of “manpower” providers in the Middle East, ensure you engage a specialist, who knows the business. A specialist may initially cost slightly more, but to quote John Ruskin (1819-1900);
“It is unwise to pay too much, but it is worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money, that is all. But when you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the things it was bought to do.
The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot… it cannot be done.
If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is best to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.
There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell for a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only, are this man’s lawful prey!”
For more information, go to www.unityfireandsafety.com