Fire engineering − has the 1918 title stood the test of time?
IFE main board Vice Chairman Andy Goves MA MSc LLB(Hons) FIFireE explores the genesis of fire engineering and within the Institution and asks if it is still relevant today:
The impetus for this article followed an IFE Board meeting last year and discussions over the relevance of the title 'fire engineering' given the increasing diverse range of activities being undertaken under the umbrella of the Institution, suggesting it might be necessary to revisit the original charitable objectives.
The author researched this subject, presenting a paper at the inaugural Board meeting held in the new IFE headquarters at Stratford upon Avon earlier this year - a very fitting venue as photographs of the original visionaries who created the Institution in 1918 adorned the walls of the conference room and watched over the current Board members.
The logical starting point for this article rests in examining three critical areas:
• The inaugural meeting in 1918 to set up the Institution of Fire Engineers
• The charitable objectives of the Institution
• The description of fire engineering as originally espoused by Professor David Rasbash.
Inaugural 1918 Meeting
It would be relevant to revisit the raison d'etre for founding the Institution in 1918 at the inaugural meeting where Chief Officer Neal submitted a proposal to form an Institute of Fire Engineers and the draft of a proposed constitution, describing the term of fire engineer as: 'The art or science of utilising or controlling natural forces and materials, or to manage by ingenuity and tact'.
This inaugural meeting considered the objects of the Institution would be:
(a) To promote the science and practice of fire engineering work and all branches connected thereto, and to give an impulse to ideas likely to be useful to the members of the Institute and to the community at large.
(b) To enable members to meet and to correspond and to facilitate the interchange of ideas respecting improvement in the various branches of the science, and the publication and communication of information on such subjects.
(c) To perform all other things incidental or conducive to the attainment of the above objects or any of them.
Present Statutory Basis
The Charity and Trustee Investment [Scotland] Act 2005 sets out 15 charitable purposes and one analogous purpose. Charities are asked to identify at least one charitable purpose which applied to their activities.
IFE Charitable Objective
The object for which the Institution is established is:
To promote, encourage, and improve the science and practice of Fire Extinction, Fire Prevention and Fire Engineering and all operations and expedients connected therewith, and to give an impulse to ideas likely to be useful in connection with or in relation to such science and practice to the members of the Institution and to the community at large.
IFE Charitable purposes:
- Advancement of Education
- Advancement of the Arts, Heritage, Culture or Science.
In researching past IFE activities for this paper, these would appear to fall into the following categories:
• IFE Branch and group activities [UK and international]
• Annual conferences
• Continuous Professional Development [CPD] events
Clearly, there are a number of IFE activities for which information may not be readily available, either through a local activity such as a group meeting or visit, or other activities for which no application has been made for CPD awards.
For the purposes of this paper, the author has chosen to research and analyse the readily available major pieces of evidence and then assess them against the statutory background and professional opinions described later in this paper.
An analysis of 685 applications to the IFE for Continuous Professional Development [CPD] hours reveals that all but 23 of these have a direct and identifiable theme derived from fire engineering. Of the remaining applications, the majority could be described as 'rescue-related', typically road traffic collision extrication or international search and rescue deployments and urban search and rescue training in the UK.
Six applications are clearly identifiable as relating specifically to flooding responses and/or water rescue training. It remains a statutory function under Section 7 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 for all English and Welsh Fire Authorities to plan for fire risks within their geographical boundary - which includes fires involving water borne craft or requiring boat access to isolated land risks etc. In addition, Section 11 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 gives a fire and rescue authority the power to take action it considers appropriate in the event of flooding. Similar provisions are contained within the Fire [Scotland] Act 20053.
Where there have been CPD applications which appear, at first sight, not to be directly related to fire engineering in its purist application, these encompass the far wider areas epitomised by the expansion of roles undertaken by the Fire and Rescue Service − most noticeable since the modernisation agenda embarked upon from 2003 to date.
Overall, there is clearly an overwhelming amount of evidence from examining CPD applications that these remain true to the strict interpretation of fire engineering.
The inaugural lecture given by Professor David Rasbash in Edinburgh on November 14, 1974 provides remarkable foresight in his description of fire engineering. Copies of this inaugural Rasbash lecture could not be located within the UK but, following extensive work by the Fire Service College Customer Services' Librarian, a copy was eventually located in the Fire Safety Institute of the USA and made available.
The following quotation is taken from the concluding paragraph of Professor Rasbash's 17 page inaugural lecture. It is clear from studying his work that he introduces the themes of safety and risk decades before the term 'risk assessment' became common parlance within our profession.
"Could it be that my subject is neither man nor fish but a gawky representative of a new species? This species could have as its discipline the understanding and thence the bringing of a modicum of control to the hitherto intractable quality called 'safety', a word whose aura must surely extend beyond ourselves to our fellows, to those that follow us and even to mankind. And in the shadow of safety there is always risk which comes strongly into the light when the emphasis of our studies turns to the adventurous journey of mankind through time, space and such as might lie between. In pursuit of gaining the measure of safety and risk we could well find ourselves ranging unashamedly from physics to history, why even beyond. For will we not be concerned with bringing what has been called 'acts of God', amongst which fire has had such a terrible ranking, into the regime under man's control? What impudence, but if true it would be new variation on an old theme indeed!"
Rasbash also introduces themes in his lecture regarding 'hazard and safety - value and threat' and 'keeping the community safe'. In the author's opinion, there is much in Rasbash's original work to underpin the modern application of fire engineering.
Revisiting the 23 CPD activities not being directly related to fire engineering in its purist sense suggests that these now form part of the evolution from Rasbash's original definition. Fourteen areas of fire engineering were defined by Professor Rasbash back in the 1980s and these have been extracted from the 2002/3 Academic Accreditation Handbook which then existed. Once again, evolution can be clearly evidenced as these areas have been slightly amended and extra elements added; for example fire modelling which was not readily available back in Professor Rasbash's time in 1974. This document was included in the IFE handbook to give colleges/universities an outline of what was expected from a properly accredited fire engineering degree course.
Enquiries made of several eminent fire professionals drew similar comments that the subject of fire engineering has not been defined in recent years but broad consensus emerged in that there was clearly an evolving nature of fire engineering which, from research undertaken to date, indicates that evolution and not revolution can be demonstrated here.
What does emerge from all these discussions and research, in the author's opinion, is a common understanding that fire engineering may be described as a 'broad church' and continues to encompass a wide range of allied subjects.
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