Last month marked 25 years ago to the day that I first entered the fray with FIRE magazine as a 20-something with a receding hairline. Back then I had a fervent belief in journalistic integrity and soon adopted a dedication to firefighter and public safety. As a 50-something with no hairline, journalistic integrity remains sacrosanct and that fervent belief in improving firefighter and public safety has never wavered, although I’m largely none the wiser as to how I made it this far.

The commitment to improving firefighter safety arose from my first foray into the Fire Service – a conference on the risks of sandwich panel buildings in Bedford. I was dumbfounded by the severity of risk facing firefighters entering these constructions, coming not long after the tragic death of Avon firefighter Fleur Lombard – the investigation in the blaze precipitating a step change in perception on PPE – and foreshadowing the appalling deaths in Atherstone-on-Stow.

Decades of grappling with the issues, collaborating with all and sundry to try and make a difference and building innumerable close friendships across the fire sector divides has left a profound imprint on this reporter. As always, if I were to mark my own homework I would say something along the lines of “ok” but “could do better”.

With that in mind, the panoply of risks facing firefighters today will be chartered through FIRE magazine’s Firefighter Risk Index, created to up the ante in identifying existing and, equally importantly, impending hazards marked by the rapid escalation with the impact of climate change and greater understanding about chemical hazards (find out more about the upcoming webinar).

From that first conference in Bedford, the delicate balance between risk to personnel and saving a saveable life has been wrestled over with the understanding of incident command psychology and modelling making significant leaps forward, if not always in tandem with adequate understanding to update standard operating procedures. However, that link between firefighter and public safety has never changed, it is a complex equivalence that cannot be disentangled.

It is an ambitious, some would say a foolhardy endeavour, but one that is well worth mapping. Only, that is, if there is a clear objective in working towards mitigating those dangers by collaborating to first identity best practice and guidance, then fill in the gaps where necessary and ultimately, disseminate expert knowledge and workable solutions. As usual, that requires working together, collaborating with industry and fire sector suppliers, seeking knowledge and understanding from outside the sector and from overseas and being open and transparent about past failures in order to truly make firefighters safer.

Being open and transparent about past failures is requisite for cultural change as depicted throughout this issue (see pages 10 and 16-20), not least in FIRE’s white paper, Ten key principles for creating a respectful culture, which I recommend as essential reading (see pg 34).

Finally, last month also sadly marked the passing of Jonathan O’Neil OBE, having led the Fire Protection Association for the last 24 years (see Obituary on pg 9). Jon was a stalwart of the fire sector, devoid of stuffiness and utterly committed to driving change without fear or favour. An inspirational campaigner, Jon will be sorely missed by all who knew and valued his drive, determination and good humour.