FIRE editor Andrew Lynch argues in favour of placing fire safety engineering at the core of all fire safety matters and encourages chief fire officers to think likewise:
The January issue of FIRE Magazine featured aninterview with the Chief Fire Officer of Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, Roy Wilsher, in which he questioned the use of the term ‘fire sector’. He challenges: “What is ‘the sector’? Is it the Chief Fire Officers Association? Is it firefighters? Is it the Institution of Fire Engineers? Is it the Fire Sector Federation? Is it all of them? Is it part of them?”
Whilst there is some confusion over the breadth and depth of those who could be incorporated into the ‘fire sector’, what cannot be disputed is the ever-increasing collateral damage caused by fire across geo-social-political boundaries. It affects us all. Although the devastating impact of fire reaches far and spreads indiscriminate and long-lasting physical and mental harm, there is on occasion an overriding apathy from those who could and should do more to mitigate the impact, whilst conversely, Fire Service leaders often take all the responsibility.
The traditional bastion of the response segment − the Fire and Rescue Service – has been seen as the epicentre and to many, the entirety, of all matters fire. However, trends and future forecasts suggest those previously cast on the periphery – including architects, designers and structural engineers – should be given greater prominence. There may well be a huge reserve of experience and expertise posited in the Fire Service but it can no longer be seen as central to all aspects of fire protection.
The Fire Service conundrum is therefore where it posits itself going forward and how in turn previously distanced parties embrace the Service to maximise its contribution. There is an emerging need to articulate who, what and how the ‘fire sector’ or ‘fire world’ functions. The danger is in trying to involve all affected parties in all things, as pointed out by CFO Wilsher when he says: “If you’re looking at developing a ‘sector-wide’ urban search and rescue capability then it’s going to be more efficient if you don’t consult, say, fire extinguisher manufacturers”.
Chief fire officers are figuring out their position in a world of cuts whilst wrestling with bog standard hazards such as old housing stock and deprived communities alongside modern methods of construction and reducing carbon emissions.
Fire safety engineering, and the Institution of Fire Engineers in particular, is perhaps more central and potentially influential than the Fire and Rescue Service in reaching out across the full gamut of ‘fire world’ interests. That is not to dilute in any way the importance of the Fire Service, rather to seek a clearer emphasis on its purpose and place and encourage IFE members and other fire engineering experts to steer the course and take on some of that responsibility.