As the hot summer draws to an end and the region looks forward to the cooler climate of the winter months, it is a good opportunity to reflect on the summers activities which focused around the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and International Conference 2019 held this year in Brighton, United Kingdom. In our last update the we highlighted the announcement that the Board of Directors of the IFE had appointed Roy Bishop OBE QFSM FIFireE as Acting Chief Executive following the resignation of the previous Chief Executive. Roy has settled well into his role and will ensure that the current growth in membership and interest in the Institution continues unabated, given there is greatly increased interest in professional competence and standards post the Grenfell tragedy.
Another new appointment announced at the AGM and International Conference was the introduction of the 2019-2020 International President, Bruce Varner CFIFireE. Immediately following the AGM, Bruce opened the IFE’s International Conference, which focussed on the theme of ‘Professionalism and Ethics in the Fire Sector.’ With keynote speeches from Roy Wilsher, Chair of NFCC and Ann Millington, Chief Executive of Kent FRS it was a compelling few days for delegates. There was also the opportunity for delegates to have their say at workshops on a range of subjects which were hosted by various experts, including ‘Passive fire safety measures’ from the ASFP and ‘Global Fire Research’ with UL’s Sean DeCrane.
Bruce has been an active member of the IFE for many years, notably as the International Generally Assembly (IGA) representative for the IFE USA Branch. He also keeps active within the fire sector in general, as a member of Arizona Fire Chiefs Association, California Fire Chiefs, Western Fire Chiefs, California State Firefighters Association, National Fire Protection Association, Sonoma County Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Society of Fire Service Instructors, Fire Department Safety Officers Association and a Companion Fellow of the IFE.
Looking forward to the year ahead Bruce highlighted that as the International President he is looking forward to meeting branches and gaining an insight into how they work within the IFE ethos and what the IFE, as an internationally reaching charity, can take away from their experiences. Bruce has already embarked on the ground work preparing an exciting array of speakers, sponsors and workshop leaders for the next International Conference in 2020. Bruce confirmed his intention that the IFE continues looking forward and meet each challenge that comes up within the ever-changing fire-sector. In addition, Bruce stated that our focus should always be on the IFE as an international membership organisation, and have the drive to reflect that in all of our work.
New Board of Directors
During the 96th AGM the IFE also announced its new Board of Directors for 2019-20 following the installation of four new Trustees. The newest Board members are James Lane as the IFERG representative, Chris Bilby as the new IGA representative, Hao-gang Tay and Peter Holland who were re-elected for this year.
Following the AGM, the first meeting of the new Board was held. The IFE Board of Directors now consists of Grant Lupton, Chairman; Bruce Varner, International President 2019-20; Peter Holland, Vice Chairman; Roy Bishop, Acting Chief Executive Officer and Company Secretary; Hao-giang Tay, Andrew Sharrad, Kristen Salzer-Frost, Trent Fearnley, James Lane and Chris Bilby.
AGM and International Conference Update
The IFE Chairman, Grant Lupton AFSM BGS CPMgr FAIM FIFireE opened the AGM and reflected on a number of issues the Institution had been involved in during the past year including its centenary celebrations, the launch of its firefighter safety data base and its participation in working groups in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
In addition, Grant highlighted a new IFE initiative for a commitment to inclusivity by becoming a signatory of the UK government’s disability confidence scheme which is a programme for organisations to think positively about disabilities and this is now being adopted by IFE members across the world. Grant also confirmed that the Institution continues to be busier than previous years and strives to make the world safer from fire. The challenge going forward is to meet the demands as fire professionals and use the IFE’s 100 years of experience to adapt and change as the world changes around us.
International Conference Day One
As is customary the incoming International President Bruce Varner CFIFireE used his address to thank outgoing President Richard Fowler MSc BEng (Hons) CMgr MCMI CFIFireE for his hard work as President in the centenary year. He stressed that Richard had travelled across the globe talking to branch members and bringing their concerns back to the Board for discussion.
For his year as IFE President, Bruce confirmed that he would continue to focus on making the IFE a truly global Institution: In the preceding year the IFE grew to 10,000 members with over 42 branches across the world. The continued growth and development is extremely encouraging and something to be proud of but we must continue to grow and adapt to the changing world around us.
He added that the IFE is now a byword for professionalism, quality and assurance in an uncertain world, providing a global network of support for fire professionals: The Institution’s role for making us all better at what we do can’t be overstated. With IFE’s help we can be more rounded professionals and have an impact on making the world safer from fire.
Bruce finished his address by putting forward his theme of preserving the past, taking action in the present and preparing for the future: “as we seek every day a world safer from fire”.
Keynote Speaker – Roy Wilsher
The Day One Key Note Speaker was Roy Wilshire, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council. Roy started his address by highlighting the need for professionalism, expertise and competence in the Fire Service, after what he believed has been a decade of neglect.
Referring to the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, Mr Wilshire said: “Prior to that we had an Inspectorate, examinations and standards of fire cover. We had a Fire Service College that was dedicated to the Fire Service and we had a Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council. All of those were swept aside.”
Ironically, he continued, things were now coming full circle: “There’s a shift away from Localism and David Cameron’s Big Society where we were going to do everything for ourselves and everyone was going to volunteer for everything, and we didn’t need regulation or standards.”
He said the Grenfell fire tragedy had changed all that, highlighting the lack of competence across the construction sector in terms of building safe structures.
While welcoming the new fire and rescue Inspectorate which is moving into standards, efficiency and collaboration, he said there was much to do to right the wrongs of the past – and adapt to the future.
“We’ve had ten years of austerity in fire and rescue services, so we now have 25 per cent less firefighters than we did in 2010,” Mr Wilshire continued. “Diversity training and culture change; these are issues we’re being challenged on and this is rightly what we should do to make ourselves more professional in future.”
He admitted the Service had been trying to increase diversity for a long time but not too successfully. “Our message has been, we want a representative workforce which is a good thing. But also if we don’t have a diverse workforce that we take from all levels of society, we are losing out on talent for the future”.
“So we started on this journey and now for the first time ever we have an up-to-date suite of national operational guidance for firefighters in the UK and maintaining that is a real step on the way to professionalisation.”
As Chair of the National Fire Chief Council, Mr Wilshire said he was the first person to do the job full time. “I can tell you it’s a full-time job and more. The future of the fire and rescue services is at a crossroads. We need to add value to our communities, make our communities safer. We need to change to make ourselves more competent and more professional to deal with the built environment, looking at future ways of working as a Fire and Rescue Service.”
Mr Wilshire emphasised that for joint working across the emergency services it was important to ensure joined-up thinking, where commanders trained in the same place, at the same time, talking to each other: “That’s something we now call joint organisation learning. So we have a methodology where things are fed in from all sorts of incidents across the Fire and Rescue Service and this feeds into our national operational guidance, which then feeds into joint organisational guidance.
“We are learning together and becoming much more professional together as three emergency services, when we talk about professionalisation, when we talk about competence and when we talk about people doing the right thing.”
Fire Standards Board
Suzanne McCarthy started her address to emphasise her independence as the Chair of the Fire Standards Board. She admitted her background was not in the Fire and Rescue Service, but in standards and regulations. She was, however, learning fast by getting out to meet firefighters across England. “And it is for an English national fire and rescue standard board that we are creating a new suite of standards to be applied in the sector,” she said. To this end she had recently travelled to Stoke and to North Yorkshire to see how the different fire and rescue services operated.
Ms McCarthy said that after her first six months in the job there was not one firefighter she had met that did not want standards to be implemented across the fire and rescue services. As Chair of the new Fire Standards Board, she intends to work with a number of people and organisations to create and maintain a suite of standards, including the Home Office, the Local Government Association, the Association of Crime and Police Commissioners and with Roy Wilshire at the National Fire Chiefs Council.
For Ms McCarthy every service should look for consistency in standards and help with continuous development by improving accountability, achieving transparency and public confidence: “I, as a member of the public, should be assured that, for example, the London Fire Brigade is going to be at the same standard as the fire and rescue services in North Yorkshire, Stoke, or Tyne and Wear. It’s important that standards are consistently applied.”
Ms McCarthy also emphasised the need to keep the standards template in plain English and to keep it short and readable, so it’s accessible to everyone: “It will tell people where they can find guidance and what is expected that will help them achieve an outcome. We are in the process of scoping the suite of standards.”
She is also looking at the pillars of the fire reform agenda, what the minister is looking for, the inspection framework, the national change programme and other various committees and national working groups: “We’re learning from incidents such as Grenfell and we’re also using, as a reference point, the national operational guidance.” Ms McCarthy finished her address by stressing that communication and engagement were crucial to ensure that IFE members can take ideas of the changing standards back to their home countries, to talk to local firefighters and update and review new standards.
Day Two of Conference
Keynote Speaker – Ann Millington
Ann Millington, Chief Executive, Kent Fire and Rescue Service, stepped up as the keynote speaker. Her excellent and often very funny presentation focused on professionalism and ethics in the fire service, tying in with the theme set for the year.
Ms Millington’s central premise was that diversity, change and the ability to adapt are key for a successful fire service. She applauded the IFE for examining the nature of ethics at the conference and began by looking at how most people aspire to be part of a group or unit to comply with rules laid down by authorities or strong leaders – although it is not always the best way to instil professionalism and ethics in the workplace. “Compliance is not worth it just for compliance sake,” Ms Millington told the audience.
Implications for Competence – Post-Grenfell
Next on the stage was Neil Gibbins QFSM NDipM FIFireE, Director, GIB Fire Risk Services and former IFE International President, who continued the discussion on ethics, knowledge competence and the assurance processes.
He joined Ms Millington in advocating that processes needed to be modernised for identifying the right people to do the right roles. He then widened the debate to encourage best practice, quality and standards in all areas of society, from the construction industry post Grenfell to the safety of tumble dryers and fridge freezers.
“Something’s gone wrong with the system even wider than buildings,” Mr Gibbins said. “I’ve personally been involved in work looking at product safety recalls; we need to bring together the sector to try to sort out what’s going wrong with tumble dryers and fridge freezers and other things that people are buying and putting in their homes; things that are not working properly.”
He acknowledged that companies were now recalling faulty goods and this was set to continue, but there had been a significant failure rate leading to fires in those devices.”
Mr Gibbins concluded by stressing that incompetence shouldn’t be allowed – ever. “How do we build safety into everyone’s psyche? We need people everywhere who know enough about fire and other safety risks to behave appropriately and be sensible with the challenges of modern technology and modern designs.”
Regulating Fire Safety in Crown Premises
Jeremy Yates, Crown Premises Fire Safety Inspectorate, gave an insight into the working of the Crown Inspectorate, particularly regarding the UK’s prison population.
He told the audience: “The prison population stands at 88,000, which is a modest sized town. Last year, there were 1,027 significant fires with 86 injuries and 35 deaths. So of the 1,027 fires in prisons, 835 of those were cell fires where somebody set fire inside a room, knowing they were locked in.”
Mr Yates said the issue often relates to the patterns of behaviour that are specific to that environment. “People mould themselves into an environment – so in custodial fires in particular, when we investigate fires we see that some of those are there to disrupt the prison regime. You’re also looking at a population that is a typically vulnerable population.”
He added that given the difficulties in security and control and as these buildings are dispersed over a wide area, often there’s a lack of expertise among the fire and rescue services to deal with these fires. This is further complicated by the fact that each crown building normally has other private sector organisations operating within them.
“One of the reasons why we get so much deliberate fire setting in comparison with buildings in other sectors is because crown buildings are where the state interacts with the citizen and also confronts them.”
As a result of its recent inspections, Mr Yates said the Inspectorate had created a document called Prison Fire Safety Expectations, which is an inspection standard and is recognised by the courts. It is also a bespoke fire safety standard for residential accommodation.
“The important thing here is that the principles we developed have now been adopted by the Prison Service and written into their own guidance.”
Women in Engineering: How does fire compare?
Finally, Kristen Salzer-Frost, lecturer in Fire Engineering at Glasgow Caledonian University, gave a presentation on the role of women in the fire sector. Predictably, current statistics do not bode well for women and fire engineering.
Ms Salzer-Frost said that the percentage of women in the engineering workforce had not improved recently compared to other sectors. “If you look at medicine, they have a much better balance, as is also the case in law. But engineering just seems to be really lagging behind.
Ms Salzer-Frost believed there are two major reasons why we need to address this issue; firstly there is a big skill shortage in engineering in general, but particularly in fire engineering. “If we’re losing all these women disproportionately, how many of them could have been retained to help deal with the skills shortage?
“Possibly, more importantly, if we’re thinking in terms of professionalism and ethics, we need that diversity of perspective. By not having it we are losing specific knowledge and experience and that leads to the age-old problem of ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’
“If we’re going to move on with our profession and foresee problems and save lives, then we need that diversity of perspective to see where these issues are and to bring different ideas to the table of how you might be able to solve these problems.”
IFE October Examinations
On 7th October 2019 the local branch will be hosting an examination centre in Dubai, UAE. The exams will be taking place at the Johnsons Control Training Academy and it is pleasing to see candidates siting the new papers in passive fire protection.
For more information, go to www.ife.org.uk/branches/GCC-UAE