Terrorism rejuvenated?

Security Correspondent Dr Dave Sloggett reports on the implications of the Afghanistan withdrawal

Tumultuous events in Afghanistan have captured the headlines in the last few weeks. What was supposed to have been an orderly draw-down of foreign troops almost turned into a rout as people fearing for their lives wanted to leave the country as quickly as possible. Sadly, some of the events that occurred are unlikely to be easily forgotten.

Given the catalyst for going to Afghanistan were events that occurred 20 years ago on September 11, it is perhaps worth noting that, aside from Russia and China benefitting strategically from the humiliation of NATO, the one group of people who will be celebrating the change of power in Kabul, is international terrorist groups. Their cause célèbre will be rejuvenated.

With a government installed in Kabul that has in the past befriended Al Qaeda, we need to take a moment and reflect on what these events mean for a possible resurgence of international terrorism. Having lived in the shadows of so-called Islamic State for many years, the group once led by Osama Bin Laden will be desperate to conduct a major terrorist atrocity somewhere in the West. Equally, so-called Islamic State will also wish to capitalise on the moment. They will want to show that their patience has been rewarded.

This challenge arises just as we emerge from the pandemic. This was a period when international terrorists had few targets of value to attack. But anecdotal evidence exists from social media analysts that suggests terrorists have not been idle during the pandemic. If anything, their attempts to recruit disenfranchised people has grown. This means, as the Home Secretary has publicly acknowledged, that we have a potential for terrorism to return to the streets of the UK.

It is therefore of paramount importance that the lessons that have emerged from the terrorist attacks that have occurred over the last five years are rapidly learnt and inculcated into the operational processes and procedures followed by our emergency services. The lessons that have emerged from the detailed Inquiry into events at the Manchester Arena attack need to be understood.

Reading the transcripts of the daily testimonies and cross examinations of key players involved in the response, they appear anxious to put the event behind them and move on. All too often evidence has been given that suggests the problems have been solved and reassurances have been given to the public, and specifically those who lost loved ones, that such events cannot happen again. Such assurances appear naive and misplaced.

While this desire to suggest all the problems have been solved is understandable, the evidence from the Inquiry also highlights deep seated cultural problems that simple quick fixes will not solve. Specifically, the issues that clearly emerged from the failure of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Protocols (JESIP) to be followed in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The Manchester Arena Inquiry must be the last time the fundamental questions concerning the emergency services ability to coordinate a response to an attack are asked.



British firefighters deployed to help Greece wildfires

British firefighters were deployed urgently last month – at the Home Secretary’s request – to help Greece fight wildfires that devastated parts of the country

Teams from Merseyside, Lancashire, South Wales, London, West Midlands and Northumberland fire and rescue services flew to Athens as the National Fire Chiefs Council’s (NFCC) National Resilience team responded to a formal request from the Home Secretary to give operational assistance to Greece.

The team of experts were deployed alongside their Greek counterparts in tactical firefighting. Any team sent by NFCC is entirely self-sufficient; ensuring that no additional burden is placed upon a country already suffering demands on its resources when faced with the aftermath of sudden onset disasters.

As the team were deployed, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “I’ve seen first-hand this week the devastating wildfires ripping through Greece and the UK stands shoulder to shoulder with our Greek friends at this difficult time.

“I’ve asked the National Fire Chiefs Council to send out a specialist team to provide support in responding to this emergency. I am immensely grateful to the brave firefighters for stepping forward and volunteering to help and their expertise will be invaluable in supporting the Greek emergency services.”

Mark Hardingham, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, commented: “NFCC’s National Resilience function is in place to deploy both in the UK and overseas – and the team is highly skilled at responding to extreme events such as these. We can offer professional and technical skills to our fire family in Greece at a time when help is needed; it is ingrained in the professional nature of FRS staff to assist.”

The fires were largely due to the country’s most severe heatwave in 30 years, with temperatures soaring to more than 40 degrees centigrade in some areas.

Prior to leaving, the 21-strong team met with the Deputy Minister of Civil Protection in Athens, Nikos Chardalias, to receive an official thank you for their hard work.

The team worked under gruelling conditions – with soaring temperatures and constantly changing weather conditions – in a bid to offer vital assistance to the Greek authorities. From the time the team arrived, firefighters worked tirelessly in a range of locations across the Peloponnese area in Southern Greece, moving to a number of different areas as Greek authorities required urgent assistance.

The highly trained team worked across several villages to help protect people and properties. Alongside the firefighting, the crews used chainsaws to remove trees, created fire breaks to prevent the movement of embers and helped to protect electrical power feeds and damped down wildfire hotspots to prevent them spreading. They worked clearing roads allowing fire vehicles access, while creating escape and evacuation routes.

Specialised drone operators used technology to identify fire movement and carried out thermal assessments. This brought huge benefits in planning where activity should be carried out and how long they could safely work in an area for.

Fire Minister Lord Greenhalgh said: “I am extremely grateful to our team of 21 firefighters from across the UK who supported the Greek emergency services in responding to the wildfires. As they safely return home, I would like to thank them for their vital contribution to improving the situation in Greece.”

Mark Hardingham commented: “I am incredibly proud of the National Resilience team of firefighters and officers who have worked tirelessly in Greece. They have worked under arduous conditions in soaring heat, with their sole priority being the protection of lives, property and the wider environment.

“This just goes to show how adaptable, professional and passionate UK firefighters are about their roles; regardless of who needs their help they are always ready, willing and able. In addition to those who went to Greece we had many other firefighters from across the UK volunteering if further assistance was required.

“The entire country can be proud of the role the highly skilled and professional team played and I look forward to welcoming them home on their safe return. The situation in Greece remains serious and we are on standby to offer further assistance, as and when required.”

Previous deployments include Iraq, Turkey, Algeria, Pakistan, India, Iran, Mozambique, Indonesia, Haiti, New Zealand, Japan, Bosnia and Nepal.



New planning requirements on fire safety come into force

The new requirements, known as planning gateway one, will ensure that high-rise developments consider fire safety at the earliest stages of planning

  • New fire safety planning requirements have come into effect for relevant developments involving high-rise residential buildings
  • Follows expert recommendation for fire safety to be considered at planning application stage
  • Part of biggest changes to building safety regulation in 40 years

Residents should be safer in their homes thanks to new planning requirements that came into force last month, say the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The new requirements, known as planning gateway one, will ensure that high-rise developments consider fire safety at the earliest stages of planning. Developments involving high-rise residential buildings must demonstrate they have been designed with fire safety in mind before planning permission is granted – including through their site layout – and with access provided for fire engines.

This information will be submitted as part of the planning application in a fire statement.

Housing Minister Rt Hon Christopher Pincher MP said: “This is a key step in our progress towards a new, risk-based building safety regime that will ensure fire safety is prioritised at every stage in the development of high-rise buildings. I am pleased to appoint the Health and Safety Executive as the statutory consultee, which will be on-hand to provide their expertise to local planning authorities on these important fire safety elements.

“We are driving up the standards of safety for people’s homes and our new regulator – to be introduced under the Building Safety Bill – will provide this essential oversight, from a building’s initial design, to providing homes in the future.”

Local planning authorities must seek specialist advice on relevant applications from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), as the statutory consultee on fire safety, before a decision is made on the application. In future, this role is likely to become part of the new Building Safety Regulator – which, led by HSE, will oversee a new safety regime for high-rise residential homes.

Peter Baker, Chief Inspector of Buildings at the Health and Safety Executive, said: “The introduction of planning gateway one is an important milestone in the journey to radically reform building safety so that residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes. It will ensure that fire safety is considered from the very beginning of a building’s life and that developments benefit from integrated thinking on fire safety.”

The Health and Safety Executive is now a statutory consultee for planning applications involving relevant high-rise residential buildings and will apply risk-based fire safety knowledge and expertise to evaluate planning applications. This will enable local planning authorities to make sound and informed decisions.

See pg 59 for Fire Sector Federation response and pg 61 for more Fire Protection News.



Latest fire statistics show a decrease in the number of incidents attended

Latest figures from the Home Office show a seven per cent decrease in the number of incidents attended by fire and rescue services in England in the year ending March 2021 compared to the previous year

The number of fires overall has decreased by two per cent, while fires in high-rise flats and maisonettes have dropped by six per cent. The number of fire fatalities fell from 245 to 240 – the lowest figure in a financial year since comparable data became available in the year ending March 1982.

Responding to the national statistics, NFCC Chair Mark Hardingham said: “It is great news that the number of incidents attended by fire and rescue services in England continues to fall; this is testament to the great work that FRSs continue to undertake around prevention and protection, and the innovative ways in which they have delivered this during the pandemic, when face-to-face interventions were not always possible.

“It’s important to remember that these figures relate to a period when life was significantly impacted by the Covid pandemic, so we must see them in context and continue to recognise the on-going work that is required to ensure communities remain as safe and resilient as they can be.

“Despite the huge amount of positive and proactive work carried out nationally and locally, incidents, and sometimes very serious incidents, do still happen; it is of critical importance that we maintain a well-resourced FRS to respond professionally and safely to national and local emergencies.

“Of equal importance is the regulatory role of the FRS in the built environment, alongside the on-going work at a national level to drive building safety reform.”

Overall, records show a 20 per cent decrease in incidents in England compared to ten years ago. Mr Hardingham added: “Resolving and responding to incidents such as wildfires, flooding and other climate-related events is something that the public has come to expect from the FRS. We need to continue to develop our understanding of the impact of this on the future role of the FRS as part of resilient local communities, and act accordingly to ensure FRSs are resourced and equipped to be able to respond professionally, safely and appropriately.

“We have also seen the additional work undertaken by firefighters during the pandemic, as well as increased collaboration with our partners, both in responding to incidents and in other areas of their work. Now more than ever it is essential that we have a well-funded, appropriately resourced and adequately-equipped Fire and Rescue Service that is fit for the future and the challenges that lie ahead.”



Calls for safety advances to be preserved at Gillender Street anniversary

Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack spoke out on the 30th anniversary of the Gillender Street fire in Tower Hamlets, London at which two firefighters died in the fire after running out of air

Fire Brigades Union (FBU) General Secretary Matt Wrack has personal links to the tragedy, having worked at Kingsland Fire Station with one of the firefighters who died, and having attended the tragedy himself on behalf of the FBU.

The fire, on July 10, 1991, claimed the lives of Terry Hunt and David Stokoe. The fire was not brought under control for several hours, and was attended by more than 25 fire engines. Breathing apparatus safety procedure was later criticised in relation to the fire.

Matt Wrack has drawn a clear link between the tragedy and current attempts to weaken breathing apparatus regulations for today’s firefighters, saying that the progress made after this fire and several other tragedies is in danger of being turned back, as he criticised current National Fire Chiefs Council guidance.

The union unveiled a red plaque to mark the 30th anniversary of the tragedy, and remember the firefighters who lost their lives. The union’s red plaques commemorate firefighters who died in the line of duty.

Matt Wrack said: “This was a tragic loss of life that has stayed with all concerned ever since and which devastated families and workmates. David and Terry did their duty and went into a dangerous warehouse fire, but paid with their lives. We continue to remember their bravery today, and they continue to be missed by family, friends and colleagues. At the FBU we are committed to remembering them, and fighting for firefighters‘ safety today.

“After the fire, we learnt lessons which informed later progress on breathing apparatus procedure. Yet attempts are now being made to try and weaken protections around breathing apparatus. This tragedy and tragedies like it show that this is never an option.”

See pg 26 for our report on the fallout and repercussions from the Gillender Street tragedy.



Making A Difference: showcasing how fire and rescue services provided vital support during the pandemic

The National Fire Chiefs Council report on Making A Difference, showing how fire and rescue services across the UK supported their local communities during the Covid-19 pandemic

Making A Difference tells the story of how fire and rescue services throughout the UK worked with partners to prevent the spread and limit the impact of the virus. It is a celebration of the incredible efforts fire and rescue services have made to help our communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report is an impressive read – it comes as no surprise to see so many examples of the UK FRS working with organisations at a local level to bolster community responses to the pandemic. While the report cannot capture all the great work of every FRS, NFCC would like to thank each and every FRS and member of staff who assisted during the pandemic.

The story is not over. We are proud to shine a spotlight on just some examples of what has been done and to provide a reminder of this vital work.

We will continue to feature all the good work over the coming weeks and months. The document – along with the invaluable data every FRS has provided throughout the pandemic – has been used to inform ministers and others about the life-saving work from every FRS.

The pandemic was unlike anything else we have experienced. Every FRS adapted quickly to working in different ways, drawing on their strengths to help everyone in communities get through and ultimately emerge from this challenging period.

Fire and rescue services do not work in isolation and the strong tradition of collaborating with other organisations in all areas of our work has never been more evident.

Mark Hardingham, Chair, National Fire Chiefs Council, commented: “It comes as no surprise to me to see so many examples of fire and rescue services working with organisations at a local level to bolster community responses to Covid-19. I am proud that staff in all areas of fire and rescue services were able to contribute in so many ways.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we must take time to learn and ensure we build on and strengthen our partnerships as they are fundamental to how we move forward and continue to be ready, willing and able.”



Fire Service response to climate change reality check

National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Mark Hardingham reports on how the UK FRS has a key role to play in successfully mitigating, managing and responding to climate change’s growing impacts on society

The recent United Nations Climate Change report made for stark reading; I am in no doubt its findings impact upon all fire and rescue services (FRS).

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report gives a clear warning: ‘This is a reality check; climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying. It is already affecting every continent in multiple ways. We will cross the global warming threshold of 1.5 degrees unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions’.

The time for action is now. Climate change is having an ever-increasing impact on the UK FRS and climate-related incidents are increasing in number and severity.

We only have to look at recent news to see how world events are dominated by climate change. We have seen devastating floods and wildfires in the US, Siberia, Europe, China and Australia. And this does not take into account the longer wildfire season we are seeing in the UK; it now starts as early as January, putting additional strain on FRS. Flooding is now commonplace and more severe – it is another risk the FRS ably responds to – but as these incidents increase, so does the impact on FRS and their finite resources.

The report comes ahead of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention taking place in Glasgow this October, where world leaders will meet to further discuss how to tackle this ever-growing and very real threat.

In August, NFCC’s National Resilience function – at the request of the Home Secretary – deployed a team of 21 firefighters to assist our colleagues in Greece. It was evident from media reports that severe wildfires had taken hold across the country that was in the grip of the most severe heatwave in three decades. After mobilising quickly, the team worked under gruelling conditions – with soaring temperatures and constantly changing weather conditions.

UK firefighters are always on standby to be deployed at the request of governments. The highly trained team – including wildfire experts – protected people and property, created fire breaks, and cleared roads to allow fire vehicles access, while creating escape and evacuation routes for communities. Specialised technology such as drones were used to carry out thermal assessments and identify fire movement.

Back in the UK, the NFCC climate change position is clear: this is one of the key global issues of the 21st century and the UK FRS has a key role to play in successfully mitigating, managing and responding to its growing impacts on society.

NFCC will work to influence governments so there are formalised responsibilities across the UK FRS, including funding and equipment for the response phase of emergency incidents linked to climate change and helping communities to become more climate change resilient over time.

We are also responding to the government’s consultation on its new National Resilience Strategy. This has never been more important as we face these growing threats. Risk and resilience will form a key part of our response, ensuring we have an FRS which is fit for purpose, properly resourced – and able to respond when required to do so.

Both Covid-19, climate change and other natural disasters all have an impact on response and capabilities. I know we have a world class FRS on standby to offer vital and professional assistance when required. This new strategy must recognise the outstanding role firefighters and FRS staff play.

Alongside risk and resilience, accountability, partnerships and investment are other areas we will respond to. This is not just about the FRS and UK resilience; it is about partnership and improving global resilience.

Recent events – alongside the UN Climate Change report – show there is a clear public need and expectation placed on the FRS to be able to offer swift and effective assistance to ever-changing risks. These expectations are central to our joint submission, with the Local Government Association, to the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review. We have outlined the need for a fair funding settlement for FRS so chief fire officers, and their fire authorities, can run their FRS effectively and in a sustainable manner, making the best use of staff, fleet, equipment, property and technology.

In closing, as ever, there is a wide range of work underway to meet the many challenges facing us all. I am encouraged by the way these are met with pride and professionalism across the UK FRS. I will continue to work on behalf of those FRS and seek to maintain the NFCC as the professional voice of the UK FRS as they continue to be the excellent, trusted and respected service our communities rely on and richly deserve.



Competency will drive confidence in changes to fire safety

IFE Chief Executive Steve Hamm reports on long-awaited changes to fire safety in high-rise buildings, innovations in building materials, and advances in renewable energy and energy storage, which all present fresh challenges and opportunities for those involved in preventing and tackling fires

Regulations and legislations governing fire safety are in the spotlight and all professionals involved in the sector need to keep pace with changes, as well as responding to consultations on how they will be applied in practice. As always, the devil is in the detail.

The new Building Safety Bill strengthens the whole of the building safety system to create a new robust regulatory regime in higher-risk buildings, setting out clear duties and responsibilities on those who commission, design, construct and refurbish higher-risk buildings as well as those responsible for ensuring buildings are safely managed when occupied. Making sure that those delivering the work are suitably qualified and competent is a key part of the regulations, and rightly so.

Communities need to be confident that everything possible is being done to keep the buildings they live, learn and work in as safe as possible and that they are being protected from harm. Effective accountability will help to eliminate blame culture and ensure complete transparency when it comes to addressing any issues.

As the Fire Safety Act 2021 is likely to be brought into force at the end of this year or the beginning of 2022, it too will bring to bear greater focus on accountability in managing fire risk in buildings. The emphasis on competency and being suitably qualified is important.

As well as minimising risks and maximising the opportunities to protect lives, competency builds trust and resilience. Trust is vital when you are dealing with multiple stakeholders and particularly when you need to encourage the high standards of practice and behaviours needed to protect lives, buildings and the environment from fire.

Understanding who is responsible is vital and ensuring that fire and rescue services and other practitioners are kept up-to-date with the changes being made will facilitate decision-making that helps keep building occupiers and, indeed, frontline responders, safe from harm. The recent confirmation from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) that the IFE Registration of Fire Safety Inspectors will be introduced from this year is a great example of how professional registration with IFE can recognise an individual’s competence and technical credibility in the wider fire sector.

For the IFE, competency is about more than knowledge and qualifications, it is about maintaining the high levels of ethics and standards that drive advances in fire safety, life protection and innovation around the world.

As the international professional body for those in the fire sector, we are a beacon of expertise; more than that, we bring people together to inform innovation in practice and respond to new and existing challenges in fire safety.

Our members are actively involved in all aspects of fire prevention and management and we see their commitment to seeking out and setting the highest standards every day.

Members have a vital role to play in shaping how we deal with future challenges and we are seeing a greater role for international collaboration and knowledge sharing as we learn from incidents and research being undertaken around the world.

Our training, CPD, qualifications and technical updates are at the heart of our role in illuminating a fire safe world. We bring together the schedules, events and work of our special interest groups to create a more transparent and accessible hub of information to both support competency as well as inform and develop best practice.

We have reviewed our current qualifications, introducing a new suite of qualifications inspired by global industry needs and feedback from our members and examiners. Already, these have been well received. We plan to build on this success by bringing in at least two new qualifications for 2022, potentially in subjects including Technical Rescue and Fire Risk Assessment.

Our focus on competency is underpinned by a new learning resources facility as a member benefit. The last year has seen adoption of learning opportunities for our members online and increased collaboration and knowledge sharing around the globe. These activities will enable us to stay at the forefront of knowledge in the fast-changing fire risk scenarios associated with climate change and sustainability innovations such as renewable energy and electric vehicles.

As part of this work, we are also reviewing and reinforcing our training accreditation regimes, building closer relationships with higher education and university establishments around the world to broaden the depth and diversity of skills and competency across technical and social disciplines.

Our work will create clear competency frameworks and accessible career development pathways for all at a time when establishing credentials in all aspects of fire safety is more important than ever.

For more information on becoming a member, or training and CPD opportunities visit: www.ife.org.uk