Chief Fire Officer John Bonney, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, responds to our correspondent's criticism of apparent reluctance to share information in the Service
I read with genuine interest and puzzlement David Wright's recent article entitled 'Disaster Lessons Still Not Learnt' (see FIRE June, pg 13). I have to admit that I do not recognise his contention that there is a reluctance to share the details of incidents in which firefighters lost their lives, or indeed the lessons learnt. The Gillender Street fire that Mr Wright mentions clearly had the causes laid bare, why otherwise would it have led to the change in our approach to training? Changes that Mr Wright himself makes reference to.
The inference here that the great and good draw a veil of secrecy over such matters is, in my experience, nonsense. In relation to the Shirley Towers incident in my own service, this has already led to information being provided to help improve safety (CFRAU Bulletin 4/2011 - Failure of cable fixings in fires). The Villiers Road fire in London led to a training video being produced which was shared with fire and rescue services to assist in their understanding of the incident and the causes that led to the tragic death of two of our colleagues.
I would argue that there is absolutely no hesitation in sharing, where we can, information as soon as possible. Indeed, within one month of Shirley Towers I made a presentation to CFOA colleagues on our approach to the various investigations running and the agreement we had forged to ensure productive and efficient progress was maintained.
Mr Wright rightly commends Hertfordshire for the publication of their report on Harrow Court. I would add that the associated training package is a testament to the learning that has taken place from that incident and the willingness of HFRS to share their experiences. That said, Hertfordshire, along with other services, are simply not at liberty to circumvent the process of law. Revealing in their entirety the details of tragic events, dates, times, names and decisions before the police investigation is concluded, let alone the coroner's inquest, is likely to find you both in the dock and doing a massive disservice to the loved ones and colleagues of those who lost their lives. There is due process to follow.
No, the key issue is to ensure safety critical information that can protect firefighters is released as early as possible. But providing a complete account of the events and the lessons to be learnt needs to fit with the chronology set by the Coroner and the law, however slow that might appear.
To reflect on David Wright's comments around an apparent reticence to reveal lessons learnt; there is no embarrassment in revealing mistakes, but for me the greater condemnation would be not to learn or share that learning with colleagues. I believe a commitment to one's profession drives openness not silence. Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service will release a report on the Shirley Towers incident at the conclusion of the current investigations and once the Coroner has completed his inquest. We will do this because of our desire to protect firefighters in the future, whether or not the report makes uncomfortable reading.