With the spotlight currently on the need for effective fire protection, CFOA's Andy Stapleton talks about the development of new qualifications for fire safety officers.

The need for a qualification for fire safety officers has been a topic for discussion for some time. With the higher level of enforcement action currently being undertaken by FRSs, there is a greater focus being brought to this subject as defendants' legal advocates start to question the competencies of the Fire Safety Officer. There is no doubt that fire safety officers have traditionally enjoyed good quality and extensive training but all too often this has fallen short of achieving a recognisable and transferable award.

The matter of a common, sector-wide approach to training was discussed at the CFOA Enforcement Working Group (EWG) and this resulted in the setting up of a task and finish group to look at this area. A request for assistance for the group had an excellent response from FRSs and other stakeholders such as the Fire Service College and the Fire Protection Association (FPA), highlighting the interest and support for this piece of work. The EWG agreed the terms of reference and the Fire Safety Vocational Development Group (FSVDG) had sprung to life.

The project team established the following workstreams:

  • To establish a new descriptor for Fire Safety Officer/Enforcer
  • To produce a VRQ for this descriptor
  • To produce a NVQ for this descriptor
  • To provide an interim measure for an entry level Fire Safety Officer to show competency
  • To produce a draft chapter on Fire Safety Competencies - Development and Training for the Community Fire Protection Planning and Management Guide 
  • To identify sources of training to complement the proposed new structure.

Expert Group 

One of the first tasks for the group was to ensure consistency and synergy with other qualifications groups within the sector. Through that piece of work it became clear that there was an existing consultation by Skills for Justice (Sector Skills Council for the Fire and Rescue Sector) on the National Occupational Standards for Fire Safety. A significant number of the FSVDG sat on the 'expert group' for that consultation and were therefore able to recognise that the resulting NOSs would be very influential in the development of any qualifications in fire safety. This lead to a decision by the FSVDG to put on hold its main workstreams whilst this review was underway. Safety officers 

The FSVDG continued to meet alongside the NOS 'expert group', thus allowing a reflective discussion amongst those that sat on the consultation group which fed directly into the action plans of FSVDG and steered the direction of travel and terms of reference of the group to best meet its original aim. It also allowed members of the FSVDG who were not on the expert group to catch up on what was happening and also to add a different perspective on what had been accomplished.

As the work of the expert group drew to a close, the consultation for the NOSs was published and opened for feedback. The expert group met to discuss the responses and it was found the NOSs were well received. The necessary changes were made and the NOSs went to Skills for Justice to receive official sanction. They are due to be published very soon and are eagerly awaited.

The FSVDG had not been idle whilst the consultation was underway and had looked at some of the other workstreams it had set itself. During the time the NOSs were being developed, the FSVDG set up a web page on the CFOA website where minutes and relevant papers are available for Fire and Rescue Service and other interested parties to view. The assistance of CFOA in achieving this was greatly appreciated against the background of the other work being carried out by them at the time.

A number of external contacts were also established to ensure that work of the group had the necessary synergy with other workstreams that may have overlapped. This involved talking to those involved in the CFOA Employee Development workstream and developing links with Skills for Justice.

The individuals that volunteered for the group have all made valuable contributions making the FSVDG a diverse group that has many skills and levels of knowledge within it. This allowed the group to rapidly develop understanding of the unique language of learning and development.

Real Challenge  

There have been at times robust challenges of this understanding, but that has been taken on well by members of the team. There have been a few personnel changes within the group, but considering the number of members involved and the level of staff movement usually associated with officers in the Fire and Rescue Service, the group has managed to hold on to most of its key members.

The next step for the group will be to start work on its key deliverables. That is, to pull together a qualification that will be accessible to FRSs across England and Wales. Although this will take a significant amount of work, the real challenge will be to allow for all of the differing arrangements that have been developed across the UK for delivery of the Fire Protection function.

The group are confident that they will be able to move quickly towards a combination of awards that will allow fire safety officers to demonstrate that they have a suitable level of competence to carry out their duties. It is also the group's desire to have a number of routes to achieving these awards, as identified in the recent Sector Qualification Strategy consultation. These could include routes involving e-based modules and locally delivered modules. Another key objective to achieving this is driving costs down in the difficult funding environment that is upon us.

Skills for Justice have been consulted throughout the development of this group and that cooperation has prompted Skills for Justice not only to recognise the benefits and opportunities associated with this work, but also to invest considerable time and energy in supporting the group in the development of this much needed qualification.

There is no doubt that FRSs want and need an externally verifiable qualification for Fire Safety Officers. It is hoped that the above shows that there is a group, in the shape of the FSVDG, willing and able to take this forward and deliver against that aspiration.