Andrew LynchIn his final column of 2015, editor Andrew Lynch reports on FIRE’s ambition to help deliver sustained public and firefighter safety:

FIRE is uniquely placed to bring the fire sector together to drive forward change. Using the philosophy and practical nous of the integral approach, we focus on what works and find consensus by transcending petty party differences in favour of progressive unity to improve public and firefighter safety. It is a simple but wholly effective method.

Our recent Excellence in Fire & Emergency Awards were a prime example of exalting partnership and collaborative working across the blue light services and industry to improve efficiencies and public safety. It is a celebratory occasion the sector deserves and embraces. In the age of information overload, FIRE’s intent is to scrutinise, evaluate and extract the nuggets to elevate what works – and these awards provide shining examples of excellent service provision.

The integral approach is an ethos, however, that is far from easy as building agreement can be painful and hard work. This year's Congress on Firefighter Safety could have been a convoluted exercise in disparity; instead it proved a panacea with the concept of Total Firefighter Safety becoming a distinct possibility in the not-too-distant future. At least the ambition is there. Over 100 years of reporting on disasters has given FIRE an evidence base, incentive and determination that surpasses short-term squabbling.

Nevertheless, there are myriad contributory factors to firefighter safety in an increasingly complex environment. From front line kit and associated personal protective equipment to modern methods of construction, the concept is not one that can be easily assembled and put on show to demonstrate a fully kitted out and instructed ‘firefighter of the future’. The clarity of the Total Firefighter Safety concept belies the complexity of the component parts. Whilst every possible factor was considered – incorporating operational guidance, training, the opportunities and threats provided by political fluctuations and governance structures – the recurring theme was one familiar to most readers: knowledge gaps.

Underpinning knowledge is key to the development of the annual Fire Related Research Event this year entitled RE15. Partnership working between brigades and academic institutions on display here needs to be further encouraged and explored to bring the much needed rigour and scrutiny to ensure the underpinning knowledge is properly utilised by all fire and rescue services. It was also clear that the cycle of knowledge requisite to deliver what a vision of Total Firefighter Safety looks like could only be completed by universal fire sector consensus. There needs to be joined-up working across all fire and rescue services and across the wider fire sector to ensure knowledge is shared and the learning implemented.

The last piece of the puzzle is leadership and ensuring Total Firefighter Safety – ergo ever-improving public safety – has primacy over the vagaries of political decision making. Only then will the concept of Total Firefighter Safety become clear and the emerging model stand up to scrutiny.