FIRE's Philip Mason reports on the All-party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group seminar on the case for residential sprinklers.

When the history of the UK fire sector at the beginning of the 21st century is written, February's Fire Safety and Rescue Group Parliamentary seminar may just go down as a watershed event.

As usual, presenters on the day reiterated and reinforced the case for sprinklers in the strongest possible terms, putting forth both the fire safety and business argument to an audience of high-level delegates (see next issue of FIRE for in-depth coverage and presentation papers). More than that, however, it also saw CFOA, the FBU and the LGA standing together and with one voice put forward their support for the installation of fire sprinklers in residential dwellings.

The day began with Dave Curry, the Director for Prevention and Protection at CFOA, who stated his organisation's position, right from the off: CFOA is united in its support of the installation of sprinkler systems in residential homes. The conversation has moved on, he said, with questions over the effectiveness of sprinklers finally replaced by the need for a strategy to get them included as central to all discussions around new builds.  

He continued by highlighting the urgency of the situation, both in relation to safety in high-rise buildings, and the danger that increased poverty in the coming years will lead to an increase in residential dwelling fires. He also made a case for retro-fitting, particularly in relation to buildings of over ten storeys - "We must examine the building stock from the last 50 years," he said.

The next speaker was the Chairman of LFEPA and Leader of the LGA Fire Commission, Brian Coleman. Mr Coleman usually provokes a reaction, and it was no different here, as he indicated in the strongest possible way that delegates need to think of new ways to achieve their aims. Despite the current administration being "the most exciting and dynamic government for many years on the subject of fire," he predicted that they would not currently move on the subject of sprinklers.

With that in mind, he suggested that the group change its tactics to "preaching to the unconverted" - embarking on more focussed lobbying, both at national and local level in order to make sprinklers a genuinely political issue. Addressing the chief fire officers in the audience, he suggested that politicians should be taken to the scenes of fires and be made to understand about the reality of fire death, and that CFOs should regularly appear before planning committees. "If they've done it in Wales, why can't we do it in England?" he asked.

The third speaker was Dave Sibert, the Fire Brigades Union's Fire Safety and IRMP Adviser, who echoed Dave Curry in speaking about the "remarkable consensus" in the Fire and Rescue Service in relation to sprinklers. Having noted to the amusement of delegates that the FBU and Brian Coleman were in one accord regarding lobbying, he went on to talk about sprinklers from the perspective of those at the coal face. Speaking about firefighter safety, he said: "The presence of sprinklers would make a significant difference to the conditions that firefighters find themselves in." He also made it clear to delegates that the case for sprinklers has nothing to do with a reduction of firefighter numbers. Even after a fire has been extinguished, he said, residents still need to be evacuated and the property rendered safe. "A sprinkler does not mean a firefighter in every room."

He finished on a political note, suggesting that regulation often has positive effects and that this is apparent in the pro-sprinkler argument. Regulation, he said, saves lives, and postulated that the adoption of sprinklers in Wales had nothing to do with the market and everything to do with keeping people alive and homes intact.

 

Posted February 24th, 2012 at 1125 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: andrew.lynch@pavpub.com