Fire Sector Federation Chairman Michael Harper calls for action following the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, and demands more speed and action to increase fire safety.
Fire Sector Federation Chairman Michael Harper
The Fire Sector Federation is the primary umbrella organisation for the UK fire sector. Formed in 2011 in part as a response to the ‘smaller government’ initiative; ordinary members are organisations involved in fire in the built and natural environments that share the common interest of securing a safer society from fire. It is a not for profit body supported by subscriptions and limited sponsorship that offers a public open platform of advice and has around 70 associations, companies, FRS, etc. in membership.
I became Chair last autumn and the Board and I have focussed on improved communications internally and externally with focussed work streams making effective submissions on Grenfell; building safety; third party certification and competency in particular. Our aim is to share technical knowledge through improved contact with government and other influencing bodies.
“The Federation has sought to bring its expertise to the fore and work with those of a like mind to prevent any repetition and to drive home its raison d’etre of making a safer future”
Federation Commits to ‘Getting it Right’
Since the second anniversary of the terrible Grenfell Tower tragedy there are calls for comment across a wide spectrum of interests and we are in a period of intense interest in fire safety from the public and law makers alike. It is important nationally that we “get it right” after some years of inaction. There is also a sense of needing “action this day” in a number of areas. For us in the Federation this can be a conflicting situation as we have an important role to play on behalf of the fire sector in consultation with our knowledgeable members, drawing consensus and making quality input to government consultations while maintaining contact with a wide range of influencers.
So as we all pause to think about the loss of life, injury and the scale of what is the largest domestic fire in Britain, we all must refresh and renew our efforts to stop this ever happening again. We in the Fire Sector Federation have with many others inside and outside government been trying to address the myriad of issues in a building system that so clearly failed, while also trying to identify the products that can and cannot be used in circumstances like high-rise or high-risk buildings.
This has not been an easy or indeed fast task. In fact it has at times been frustrating and painfully slow. It does of course have to be thorough and meticulous. And we must remember that alongside this internal industry and government review there are others directly involved – the residents, the Fire and Rescue Service and local authorities to name three – whose role and contribution is fundamental.
This past two years of action is of course still only a part. We hope soon that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry – the independent public inquiry set up to examine the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2017 led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick – will re-start in Phase II when we can really learn the how, what and why.
But returning to the collaboration between industry and government; you will recall a start was made first on the ground to rehouse and assists those affected by the terrible event, urgently linked to giving advice to those having buildings in similar situations. A fast forward testing of cladding panels was followed by the launch of a building systems review by Dame Judith Hackitt.
These two actions had immediate impact as unsuitable cladding had to be removed, which at a time of austerity required government finance, and Dane Judith’s interim report made it abundantly clear that it was necessary not just to tighten up where and what we could in our existing building control system with immediate effect but we had to chase down the whole culture and competency of an industry that had somehow become complacent if not, in some cases, positively indifferent about fire safety. Certainly the message at a time of raw emotions was this is not a plastering over or tweaking requirement – this is bedrock change.
“We in the Fire Sector Federation have with many others inside and outside government been trying to address the myriad of issues in a building system that so clearly failed”
What Has Changed?
So where are we, what has happened, is it enough?
The past two years has seen great effort by industry and public services alike. That is not to say it has been good enough and only a few weeks ago the Federation joined with many others to back a campaign to have public finance allocated to assist private tenants to remove the cladding from their buildings. That was an Inside Housing magazine initiative that I am happy to say resulted in an extremely fast response from government that now puts private and public tenants in the same place – able to sleep without fear.
There has also been action to implement 100 per cent of Dame Judith’s final report to stop cherry picking or conversely avoid the too difficult issues. Again we now know better what the government is thinking as it consults on proposals to create a better building safety regime. This is progress and we must give careful consideration in our responses given whatever is now put in place as the new building safety regime has to last perhaps decades and may have to cope with other significant events that may be around the corner and none of us yet know about.
However, while waiting for this landmark moment, two years after the fire, time has not been wasted. Internally, the Federation has sought to bring its expertise to the fore and work with those of a like mind to prevent any repetition and to drive home its raison d’etre of making a safer future.
We have for a number of years argued for a review of building regulations, pressed the case for defining competency, suggested strongly that third party installers offer assured quality, promoted sprinklers and alarms to protect the vulnerable and argued for better building protection. This is not about vested interest; yes some of our members are the suppliers and installers, testers and certifiers, but others are public bodies, unions and institutions; what they all share is commitment to improve fire safety.