Paul Walker, Chief Fire Officer (CFO) for Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the International Lead Officer for the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) chaired a roundtable event at the Department for International Trade, Westminster, London on 25th September 2017.
Speakers included senior representatives of Dubai Civil Defence (DCD); His Excellency, Major General Rashid Thani Al Matrooshi, Director General, Colonel Ali Hassan Mohammad Ahmed Almutawa, Assistant Director for Smart Services, Captain Tayeb Taher Mohammad Sharif, Deputy Director Monitoring and Inspection Department and Mr Terry Johnson, Senior Fire Service Advisor DCD.
UK speakers were Richard Mills, Assistant Commissioner, London Fire Brigade, Mark Hardingham, CFO, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service and Business Safety Lead Officer for the NFCC and Neil O’Connor, Director for Building Safety, Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
A welcome address was given by Rob Foreman, Deputy Regional Director for Europe, Africa, Middle East, Central and South Asia in the Department of International Trade, Defence and Security Organisation.
CFO Walker then introduced the session which had been organised in the wake of the Grenfell Tower Fire to consider the learning that could be gained through the shared experiences in London and Dubai.
London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner, Richard Mills gave an overview of the tragic fire in the twenty four storey Grenfell Tower describing the incident itself, command structure, operational response, tactical challenges, strategic challenges and the investigation and enquiry framework.
Richard described what he called “an unprecedented fire in both size and how it had to be tackled” sharing some of the tactical challenges faced by Firefighters which extended beyond firefighting and rescue. He also described the immense challenges for fire control staff who took the many emergency calls for the incident, the operation to ensure the building remained stable after such a severe fire and the post incident and ongoing welfare support mechanisms.
Richard’s presentation reflected the immense challenges faced by the Firefighters and officers of London Fire Brigade and the efforts taken to save lives and rescue so many from the building. It was also a tribute to those who sadly perished despite such valiant efforts of the emergency services who faced the unprecedented events on 24th June 2017.
In conclusion Richard gave an overview of the internal review team established by London Fire Brigade to assist in the Public Enquiry, the Inquest for Her Majesty’s Coroner the internal review for the Brigade and other investigations.
CFO Mark Hardingham gave a presentation on the initial impact of Grenfell and initial reflections from the UK National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).
The Grenfell fire presented significant challenges for Central Government, Local Government, the Fire Engineering Sector and Fire and Rescue Services (FRS). With the NFCC having only been formally established earlier in 2017, it has proven to be a unifying organisation able to support and communicate across organisations.
Mark described how the NFCC had quickly had to operate within the environment of an immediate post-election Government, the terrorist incidents in Manchester and London and then the Grenfell fire.
In the days that followed the fire the demand for information, in particular in relation to high rise buildings and cladding, was immense. Coordination of information and an ability to transmit, receive and process data was required. Through support from the West Midlands FRS and others a communications hub was established with specific information requests being channelled through this single link.
Regular situation reports continue to be promulgated and this communication link has become the respected channel for information exchange reducing duplication and ensuring commonality of understanding across the forty six FRS’s in the UK.
Moving forward Mark described how the NFCC will continue to support the investigations and enquiries as well as being engaged in the independent review of Building Regulations. He concluded by reflecting on the key issues for the NFCC in relation to Grenfell.
DCLG Director, Neil O’Connor gave a presentation on his department’s review of the building safety programme in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. A building safety programme has been established to assess whether there was an imminent risk to other buildings and the testing processes that have been established. The programme itself is working in the context of an investigation, inquest and public enquiry.
Neil described the programme which has four stages;
- Identify – Finding the buildings that are not safe
- Assure and Remediate – Making Buildings Safe
- Review – Identifying the changes needed to make buildings safe in the future
- Implement – Making the changes needed to make buildings safe in the future
Neil provided an overview of the processes in place to identify buildings that are potentially unsafe and some of the initial results and actions.
Dame Judith Hackett has commenced work on an Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, this will report to both the UK Government Communities Secretary and the Home Secretary. The Independent Review will produce an interim report in November 2017 and a final report in spring 2018.
The afternoon session provided the opportunity for delegates to hear and learn from their Dubai colleagues.
Terry Johnson, Senior Fire Service Advisor to Dubai Civil Defence introduced His Excellency, Major General Expert Rashed Thani Rashed Almatrooshi, Colonel Ali Hassan Mohammad Ahmed Almutawa and Captain Tayeb Taher Mohammad Sharif.
His Excellency, Major General Rashid Thani Al Matrooshi started the presentation by describing how in the past DCD had concentrated their efforts towards emergency response. In the last 15 years that focus has shifted more towards fire prevention and in helping the people of Dubai to become fire aware and fire safe. His Excellency said that the result of these efforts has led to a position where many fires are prevented or are safely dealt with before the arrival of the Fire Service.
Terry Johnson gave an overview of the history, context and vision of the DCD and how it is becoming more engaged with communities. The benefits of investment and development of DCD were clearly illustrated from both tactical equipment and preparedness through to the strategic management role of the organisation in Dubai’s rapid growth and development.
The presentation then moved to focus on the experiences and learning from incidents involving high rise buildings. The fire at the Address building in Downtown Dubai on 31st December 2015 was delivered as a case study which illustrated the benefits of active and passive fire protection systems. Over 4000 people were successfully evacuated from the hotel with sprinklers initially holding the fire back and building design containing the fire.
The journey taken from design to build for a new building was covered next. DCD review plans and specifications for new buildings as well as exercising due diligence on construction materials.
Information on buildings is uploaded to the DCD database providing Firefighters, Command Staff and Control Staff with instant access to building information when needed through the state of the art Control Centre or through mobile devices.
Building standards and maintenance are covered by the UAE safety code which was first published in 2011. The code was drawn from global best practice, including NFPA standards, United Kingdom regulations and Singapore building codes.
After the launch of the code a mechanism was put in place to receive and consider feedback which was used to review, upgrade and develop the codes leading to the publication of a second edition in 2016. The standards within the code are enforced by DCD.
Building products and components are subject to a registration and accreditation scheme, this accreditation requires annual renewal. There are specific arrangements around the standards for facades and cladding.
Fire Engineering specialists are required to be registered and the performance of building systems are used as a measure of a company’s performance. In Dubai, a number of companies had their operating licence revoked as a direct result of performance issues.
Many buildings in Dubai are managed through facilities management companies who take on the responsibility for fire related issues. DCD work with facilities management companies on shared fire safety campaigns and active training.
Beyond construction DCD continue to actively monitor their complex risk through the operation of a 24/7 monitoring centre for buildings systems. The fully intelligent centre actively monitors not only the fire alarm and suppression but the wider integrated building systems of 56,000 properties. In the first year of operation this active monitoring has resulted in a 42% reduction of reportable fires. DCD are currently developing a home monitoring service for individual dwellings.
DCD carry out an initiative where homes are visited, where there is compliance the home receives a seal of approval, this is mandatory for commercially owned residential buildings. DCD are planning to launch a home safety initiative similar to that which is common in the UK.
Terry concluded by describing the Dubai Government’s 10x programme. This is a drive to deliver large scale innovation with the purpose of taking services forward by ten years based on information drawn from predictive analytics and historic data.
Finally Terry gave his thanks to the organisers and the attendees and expressed his optimism for a continued positive relationship between DCD and the UK fire sector.
For more information, go to www.nationalfirechiefs.org.uk