FIRE magazine wins best comment for Coronavirus journalism excellence

FIRE magazine’s white paper, Coronavirus: A Five-Step Reset for Fire and Emergency Leaders, under the headline ‘A new architecture for society’, has been awarded the Press Gazette’s Coronavirus Journalism Excellence Best Comment – Specialist Media

  • FIRE magazine’s April comment wins journalism excellence accolade
  • The Coronavirus Journalism Excellence showcase features the best comment journalism of the crisis so far across the UK and international media
  • FIRE’s editorial comment selected from over 600 nominations across eight categories

FIRE publisher Fire Knowledge is delighted to announce that FIRE Editor Andrew Lynch’s white paper, Coronavirus: A Five-Step Reset for Fire and Emergency Leaders, has been selected for the Press Gazette’s Coronavirus Journalism Excellence showcase, featuring the best comment journalism of the crisis from over 600 nominations across eight categories, nationally and internationally.

The Press Gazette’s Journalism Matters: Excellence in Reporting Coronavirus series highlights those who have produced outstanding comment and opinion pieces during the pandemic so far. Press Gazette launched the project to showcase some of the crucial work being done by journalists during one of the most challenging times ever for the media industry.

Featured in the April issue of FIRE, the white paper is the first in a series of comments calling for resetting the approach of emergency services (see pg 4). In Coronavirus: A Five-Step Reset for Fire and Emergency Leaders, FIRE questions: ‘Could the pandemic be the first step to ‘resetting’ how society functions?’ and outlines key areas for consideration: Ecosystem, Fire and Rescue, Dynamic Leaders, Resilient Communities and Connected Communities.

Building on the white paper’s assertion that a new architecture for society is necessary, FIRE subsequently called for a Charter for Resilience in a co-authored opinion piece with Security Correspondent Dr Dave Sloggett in the May issue of FIRE.

Speaking about the recognition, FIRE Editor Andrew Lynch said: “Whilst it is flattering to be amongst such esteemed company, it is far more important to me that this provides further opportunity to shine a light on the need for a complete change in our approach to resilience and major disasters.

“We do need a reset in how we evaluate, plan for, respond to and recover from threats and FIRE will continue to press the case for overhauling the system, hence our call for a Charter for Resilience, which I do hope will grab the attention of government.

“More importantly, I hope it will lead to substantive change in making the world a better, safer place, which is why I became a journalist in the first place.”

Expert Panel

The Press Gazette’s Journalism Matters: Excellence in Reporting Coronavirus expert panel includes:

  • Former BBC output editor – Dr Karen Fowler-Watt of Bournemouth University
  • Mark Wray – Managing Director of Press Association Training
  • Editor and author Becky Slack
  • Former Night Editor of The Times – Liz Gerard
  • Professor of Journalism Innovation at City University – Jane Singer
  • Apprenticeship Training Manager at Press Association – Roz McKenzie
  • Former Associate Editor of The Independent – Michael Crozier
  • Former Group Editorial Services Director at Incisive Media – David Worsfold
  • Professor Stephen Jukes of Bournemouth University – formerly Global Head of News at Reuters
  • Brian Flynn – formerly Investigations Editor at The Sun
  • Former Editorial Director of The Sunday Times – Eleanor Mills
  • John Mair – academic and editor of 27 books about the modern media.

To read the white paper visit:

For more information on the Press Gazette’s Journalism Matters: Excellence in Reporting Coronavirus visit:

Fire service urges people to call 999

Avon Fire and Rescue Service is urging people to continue to dial 999 in the event of an emergency

The move comes after Avon and Somerset Police saw a spike in calls to 101 reporting out of control fires or bonfires. Avon Fire and Rescue Service (AFRS) would like to reassure residents that if you require the fire service or suspect a fire, always dial 999.

Simon Shilton, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for AFRS, said: “If there’s a fire, you need to act quickly. Even in these uncertain times, Avon Fire and Rescue Service are still here, ready, able and willing to respond.

“One of our key priorities is keeping communities safe so please do not hesitate to call us in the event of an emergency, or even if you only suspect an emergency. With fires, minutes and seconds can often mean the difference between life and deaths, so we would always rather you call us directly rather than 101.

“This is about helping us to help you, something we are ready to do, no matter the situation.”

Tara Bryant, Communications Centre Manager for Avon and Somerset Police, added: “We’ve noticed at points during the lockdown that we’ve had calls through on the 101 number about fires which is not something we can help with.

“The 101 service is a non-emergency number for contacting police and does not function as a contact centre for fire service. We cannot transfer calls to the fire service from our control centre and so if people see an out of control bonfire, or something similar, they need to call 999.”

Fire services offering to support care homes in Covid-19 fight

Fire and Rescue Service staff will now be offering to work with local partners to support care homes in the fight against Covid-19

This new move follows a national agreement led by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), the National Employer and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). Where there is a need this will include delivering training to staff on how to use and wear PPE properly, supporting staff on testing and training on infection prevention and control.

Chair of the NFCC, Roy Wilsher, said: “This initiative means fire and rescue services will be working with local partners and care home staff, assisting in the fight against Covid-19. This agreement means we can ensure those who need help, receive it.

“Care homes remain a cause of concern in relation to Covid-19 cases. Fire and rescue services’ knowledge, skills and capabilities mean they have a lot of expertise to offer and can play a significant role in helping care homes through training staff to increase their confidence and knowledge, while helping keep residents safe.

“Once again, this shows staff across fire and rescue services are ready, willing and able to take on additional duties and help wherever support is needed during times of crisis. This support and assistance is in the DNA of fire staff and shows their dedication and commitment to helping those who need it.”

This agreement will be underpinned with a robust risk assessment to support those carrying out the work and to keep them safe. This will include appropriate training, appropriate PPE and high standards of hygiene, with social distancing in place.

The agreement will see, where needed, the delivery of pre-designed training packages on infection prevention and control, including hand hygiene, PPE use guidance and procedures, supporting the care home staff testing, and training care home staff to train others, according to the principle of ‘train the trainers’.

  • Currently thousands of Fire and Rescue Service staff from across the UK are volunteering to support the NHS and other key services in the fight against Covid-19, with a further 10,000 staff on standby to assist as and when required.
  • This in addition to activities already agreed including: the assembly of single use face shields for the NHS and care work frontline staff; packing/repacking food supplies for vulnerable people, transfer of patients to and from Nightingale hospitals; assisting in taking samples for Covid-19 antigen testing; driving non-blue light ambulance transport; driving instruction; face fitting masks for frontline NHS and clinical staff; delivery of PPE and other medical supplies; assisting the ambulance service with driving and patient/ambulance support; moving deceased people and supporting the most vulnerable through deliveries.
  • The activities are in addition to fire and rescue services maintaining the response to emergency incidents and carrying out core duties such as prevention and building safety based on risk.

Fire services set for share of additional Covid-19 government funding

Fire and rescue services across England are set to receive a share of the additional £1.6 billion government funding to support their ongoing response to Covid-19

The additional funding shows how the response of fire and rescue services is being recognised nationally by government, says Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council.

The fire share equates to three per cent of the £1.6 billion funding announced on April 18. This follows the first tranche of funding announced on March 19, which also stood at £1.6 billion. £28.5 million has been allocated directly to stand alone fire authorities, with a further £6 million central fund available to support services that are providing assistance to ambulance services and coroners, in terms of mortuary support.

The remainder of funding for fire services has been included in the allocation provided to county councils and unitary councils that have responsibility for fire and rescue services.

The latest allocation for fire is four times more than services received in the first tranche. This is a result of the vital work of the National Fire Chiefs Council, says Wilsher, ensuring the government is aware of the wide range of work fire services have undertaken to support the country in response to the pandemic.

Mr Wilsher said: “I am delighted to see fire and rescue services receiving this additional funding to assist with their tireless response to Covid-19. This is testament to everyone’s hard work and services stepping up to keep communities safe during the current pandemic.

“NFCC has been working with government to ensure fire and rescue services received a fair share of the funding, to reduce pressure on already stretched resources. This will go some way to help reduce that burden as we move into the next phase of the response.

“However, I would have liked to have seen the funding for fire services ring fenced for those which sit under county councils and unitary councils. It is imperative that these services receive a fair share of the allocation.”

Fire services have taken on a number of additional activities showing they are ready, willing and able to support the response to Covid-19.

These include: the movement of bodies, driving ambulances, assisting vulnerable people, transporting patients to and from Nightingale Hospitals, face shield assembly and packing, assisting with antigen testing, ambulance transport, driver training and instruction, assisting with face fit and delivery of PPE and medicines.

The announcement of the allocations was made by Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP last month. It means councils across England will receive around £3.2 billion to deal with the immediate impacts of coronavirus.

According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, this will assist councils in continuing to deliver frontline services, supporting those who need it most, as well as meeting new pressures.

The funding is based on population and the latest assessments of challenges they are facing. Full allocations:

See pg 26 for more on latest fire and rescue services’ response to Covid-19.

Don’t be the cause of a balcony blaze, warns London Fire Brigade

Firefighters are pleading with Londoners not to cause a balcony blaze that could displace hundreds of people as lockdown continues and the weather improves

London Fire Brigade is issuing the advice as the concern over fires on balconies increases as fine weather continues.

Senior officers warn that balcony fires can be devastating as they can easily spread to adjoining properties, potentially leaving many people homeless if the fire is serious enough.

Many balconies have combustible materials as part of their construction and there are often combustible items stored in outside spaces so if a fire starts it can spread quickly. Another worry is that wind can fan or carry smouldering ignition sources such as cigarettes or embers from barbecues to lower or adjacent balconies.

The brigade is so concerned about the issue that Deputy Commissioner Richard Mills is writing to a number of manufacturers and retailers highlighting his concerns about barbecues that are being specifically marketed for use on balconies.

Deputy Commissioner Mills said: “These balcony barbecues are a staggeringly irresponsible idea and are being marketed carelessly, with hardly any thought as to how dangerous they are.

“They are an accident waiting to happen and they are even being advertised with images of wooden balconies and with the suggestion customers have a fire extinguisher nearby.

“There are many hazards which can cause balcony fires and they have the potential to be devastating with highly damaging consequences – with a risk to life and the potential for not just you but your neighbours to lose their homes.

“We understand people want to enjoy their outside space if they have it, especially at the moment while we are all spending more time at home, but please don’t think it won’t happen to you, because it can.

“We are attending on average almost four fires on balconies every week, and that figure is likely to be much higher during warmer weather.”

There have been more than 550 balcony fires across London in the last three years.

Recently, a barbecue caused a large blaze at a block of flats in Deptford. The barbecue was disposed of in a plastic bag and left on the balcony, where the fire started and damaged the fifth floor flat, most of the roof of the building and part of the roof of the adjoining block.

Fortunately, the residents of the affected flat escaped uninjured but around 100 people were evacuated from the building by firefighters due to the amount of smoke. Around half of the residents are likely to be permanently displaced and are being rehoused by the local housing association.

Latest statistics show a fall in number of Fire and Rescue Service incidents

Latest figures released by the Home Office show that the number of incidents attended by fire and rescue services in England have fallen

The figures – which cover the year ending 2019 – include statistics on all incidents, fire-related fatalities and casualties from fire. The number of fires attended have fallen by 12 per cent and fire-related fatalities have reduced by ten per cent.

Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Roy Wilsher, welcomed the findings; but warned that now is not the time for complacency, especially during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Fire and rescue services across the UK have taken on a number of nationally agreed additional activities; highlighting they are ready, willing and able to support the response to Covid-19.

Wilsher said: “While I am pleased to see the reduction in the number of incidents attended, it is vital we do not become complacent. Fire and rescue services are working in unprecedented times; at this stage, we do not know how Covid-19 will continue to impact our communities and the future numbers or types of incidents.

“It is clear however that the excellent prevention and protection work undertaken by fire and rescue services has contributed to these reductions, which must be recognised and praised. Unfortunately, we have had to draw back from a number of these activities to adhere to social distancing and other safeguards. We will not know the true impact for some time.

“While we are planning and modelling for a return to a ‘new normal’, Covid-19 has shown it is essential that we plan for risk, not just demand. We must be ready for infrequent high impact events, as well as the day-to-day activity. Maintaining this resilience can only support the entire UK in future years.

“The stark reality is we need to ensure services can maintain a resilient response while planning for this new normality in unprecedented times. There are a number of unknown factors which we need to be able to respond to and understand.

“We also need to consider the role of fire and rescue services in future, incident command and responding to emergencies is in our DNA and I am sure there is much more to support UK resilience.”

Key findings from the latest statistics show:

  • A four per cent decrease in incidents attended
  • A 12 per cent decrease in the number of fires attended overall
  • Total deliberate fires decreased by nine per cent
  • Fires account for 28 per cent of all incidents attended, fire false alarms 41 per cent and non-fire incidents 30 per cent
  • Fire-related fatalities fell by ten per cent.

Safer living through better legislation

National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Roy Wilsher reports on programmes and projects of work flowing from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 report

It is hard to believe three years’ have passed since the Grenfell Tower fire, which affected the landscape of building safety and how fire and rescue services respond to high-rise building fires, especially those with unsafe cladding systems.

My first thoughts remain with the families and all those affected by the unthinkable tragedy. I know with the Inquiry being on hold due to Covid-19, this will undoubtedly be impacting people waiting the answers they rightly need.

The fire highlighted areas that needed urgent attention, first and foremost why building regulations were not followed correctly. But the recommendations made by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 report are actively being worked on to inform NFCC programmes and projects.

However, ACM PE remediation has not happened quickly enough; with 20 years of building safety failure I have repeatedly made it clear to government that we need fundamental reform of building safety including some industry culture and competence.

Unsafe Cladding

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee met last month and raised a number of points relating to the speed of remediation of dangerous cladding. It is a point I made to the committee when I gave evidence last year – and continue to make through NFCC’s work.

This was further endorsed by Sir Martin Moore Bick in the GTI Phase 1 report, where he stated unsafe cladding must be removed as soon as possible.

This situation has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, as people spend more times in their homes, fuelling anxiety about their safety. Mounting costs are building up for many leaseholders who – in many cases – are being forced to pay for ‘Waking Watches’; part of temporary interim measures that were supposed to last months, not years.

The fact that a number of building owners have not taken responsibility for cladding and have placed the burden on residents is both irresponsible and immoral.

“With 20 years of building safety failure I have repeatedly made it clear to government that we need fundamental reform of building safety”

Building Safety Fund

However, steps are being taken to rectify the situation. In March, NFCC welcomed the budget announcement of a £1 billion Building Safety Fund to assist with the removal of unsafe cladding from buildings more than 18 metres in height. However, I have raised concerns over the height threshold and the definition of high-risk buildings: high-rise does not necessarily mean high-risk, it depends on a number of factors, including build quality.

The additional £20 million for NFCC and fire and rescue services to support fire protection is welcome and will assist the future protection programme of work, but this needs to find its way into base budgets for the future.

We are currently working on – via our new Covid-19 and Protection committees – what this protection work will look like in transition, as lockdown restrictions change and evolve.

We now need to see a firm timetable detailing when unsafe cladding will be removed. We heard from ministers that there was an ‘ambition’ it would be removed by this summer; now it is hoped contractors will be back on site with ACM cladding removed by mid-2021, but there is currently no deadline for completion.

Fire Safety Bill

The new Fire Safety Bill aims to improve fire safety in buildings across England and Wales and will empower FRSs to take enforcement action on external wall systems and hold non-compliant building owners to account. This is area power we have been calling for since 2017. But this needs to be supported by powers and processes to accurately identify any cladding system.

As part of our response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s review into building regulations and fire safety, plus the renewed interest in protection, we formed NFCC’s Building Safety team, which had the express remit to assist with dedicated advice and inputting into future government policy development.

While funding has largely come from a government grant, the expert skills of the team and the support of the wider FRS has been demonstrated through excellent policy work and thorough responses to related consultations to ensure better building safety in the future.

First and foremost, we want people to feel safe in their homes through better legislation, regulation and clear lines of responsibility to ensure we do not see another tragedy of the scale of Grenfell unfold. It is a day which will never be forgotten as we remember all those who lost their lives.