Tag Archives: Fire Industry Association

BRE schedules Workshop to explore reduction of false fire alarms

Across the past 12 months, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) has been working with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to investigate the underlying causes of false fire alarms. The live investigations of false fire alarms research work is now complete and a briefing paper detailing the findings is available from www.bre.co.uk/firedetectionresearch.

The work has identified 35 recommendations for nine Stakeholder Groups that could lead towards a reduction in UK false alarms.

With the support of the Fire Industry Association and BAFE, the BRE is now scheduled to host a Workshop aimed at promoting the study’s findings, and is inviting key individuals that will adopt the recommendations from the Briefing Paper and reduce false alarms in their sector.

The Workshop is being held at the BRE’s Watford site on Monday 8 February. The overriding aim is to discuss and develop actionable methods for implementing the research findings as quickly as possible.

“Over the past ten years we’ve seen a reduction in false alarms,” stated Raman Chagger, principal consultant in fire detection at the BRE. “However, this is starting to plateau. The Workshop is aimed at reducing the more difficult false alarm causes.”

*For further detail send an e-mail to: conferences@bre.co.uk

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What does the future hold for Fire and Rescue Services?

Everyone engaged in the Fire and Rescue sector will be acutely aware that fundamental changes are already taking place to the UK’s Fire and Rescue Services, prompted largely by the need to deliver a more cost-effective service, reports the Fire Industry Association.

What’s clear is that the Fire and Rescue Services’ collective mode of operation will be very different in just a few years’ time than it is now, and that several key strands of this evolution will be determined by a co-operative partnership between the Fire and Rescue Services and the suppliers to the sector.

Following the publication of Sir Ken Knight’s ‘Facing The Future’ report in 2013, which highlighted a number of options for change, central Government has made clear its support for some strands of the thesis detailed including collaborative procurement, infrastructure sharing, mergers and a greater proportion of on-call fire fighters.

Material support has come from Government in the form of a £75 million ‘transformation fund’ that has been apportioned towards 37 efficiency-generating projects and, within this, £5.5 million to help fund the forthcoming merger of the Wiltshire and Dorset Fire and Rescue Services.

What has been apparent for some time, however, is that change is to be sector-driven and delivered and that this truism will require fire-fighting equipment suppliers to be fully engaged in relevant aspects of the evolution.

Sir Ken Knight

Sir Ken Knight

A Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) and FIRESA Council earlier this year has proven timely. Among the commitments that have already been realised was the convening of a joint seminar that has provided an indispensable focal point for the collaboration of fire and rescue practitioners with their product and service providers.

Taking place at the Fire Service College on 2 December, the seminar allowed delegates to enjoy an informative and thought-provoking agenda that brought the salient issues into focus and will empower both Fire and Rescue Service personnel and industry suppliers to be active participants in the future of our Fire and Rescue Services.

Chaired by CFOA president Peter Dartford, the programme began with a welcome from the host, Fire Service College CEO Jez Smith, who set the background for the day, duly noting the need for avoidance of duplication among the Fire and Rescue Services and the creation of economies of scale wherever possible.

The Fire Service College itself has a vital role to play in partnership with other stakeholders, and Smith called for bold leadership within the Fire and Rescue Services that will challenge existing disparate practices.

New ways of thinking and resourcing

Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt provided the Keynote Address, welcoming the CFOA/FIRESA Council Memorandum of Understanding before stating that the public sector has to exist within its means and that there must be new ways of thinking and resourcing.

Mordaunt is adamant that the need for change is overwhelming and that the pace of change must gather momentum and address issues such as product standardisation, collaborative procurement and equipment testing through the CFOA/FIRESA Council axis.

Penny Mordaunt MP

Penny Mordaunt MP

The MP also touched on Fire and Rescue Service personnel issues such as on-call fire-fighters and volunteers, and also looked to the fire protection industry to continue driving down the number of unwanted automatic fire alarm signals.

CFOA vice-president Paul Hancock encapsulated the theme of the day in his presentation entitled ‘The Importance of Working Together’, voicing strong support not just for Fire and Rescue Service collaboration but also for ‘Blue Light’ cross fertilisation (which we know to be a longer term vision of the present coalition Government).

Hancock suggested that, with less than half of the austerity measures currently implemented, the way ahead will require close working partnerships that promote a clear vision with or without direct Government involvement.

CFOA Board member Ann Millington offered a strident and entertaining view on procurement in the future, conceding that the Fire and Rescue Services need to be better clients and grasp opportunities to work together. The Fire and Rescue Services, said Millington, must achieve reward for collaboration rather than for separatism.

Importantly, Millington welcomed the creation of a ‘national back office’ that presently enjoys representation from 30 Fire and Rescue Services.

Ann Millington is firmly behind product standardisation, greater visibility of equipment innovation requirements and a whole new approach to procurement that begins with agreed specifications and proceeds towards tender with sufficiently flexible contracts via a lead authority for each product type.

In Anne’s words, repetition of these processes over 46 Fire and Rescue Services is immoral. Indeed, Millington was especially scathing of the ever-growing number of contract providers and the duplicate frameworks that emerge which are so costly and time-consuming for suppliers to address.

Creation and development of strategic partnerships

Pivotal to the proceedings was the presentation from the suppliers’ perspective given by FIRESA Council’s chairman Derek Gotts and vice-chairman Ian Callaghan. Following an introduction to the composition and work of Council, Gotts noted its primary objectives which focus on strategic partnerships with CFOA and the Fire and Rescue Services, the Fire Sector Federation, the Fire Service College, central and local Government in addition to a range of event organisers.

Gotts then moved on to the suppliers’ experience of the market over the last ten years which has seen the ultimately failing National Procurement Strategy (introduced by the then ODPM in 2005), through the austerity measures since 2010 and via Sir Ken Knight’s report to the present time of tangible moves to make substantive changes that must preserve Fire and Rescue Service capabilities with less financial resource in play.

The National Procurement Strategy brought uncertainty and a hiatus in orders and, contrary to its intentions, led to a market that sees a growing profusion of frameworks and tenders, mini competitions and framework call-offs that are as onerous as new tenders. What remains is a disjointed approach comprising elements of regional and local procurement. There’s clear evidence of duplication in many aspects of the Fire and Rescue Service/supplier interface and unnecessary waste in terms of both personnel and financial resource that must be rectified.

Graham Ellicott: CEO at the Fire Industry Association

Graham Ellicott: CEO at the Fire Industry Association

Ian Callaghan went on to detail the FIRESA Council/CFOA Memorandum of Understanding and some specific issues that Council wishes to address, among them support for product innovation, collaborative procurement (including visibility of medium-to-long term requirements), equipment specification and standardisation and remaining influential in coalition and opposition fire safety policy stretching to proposals for joint ‘Blue Light’ operations.

In particular, Callaghan emphasised the equipment evaluation scheme which seeks to eliminate what is a frankly ludicrous situation, and a prime example of duplication whereby each Fire and Rescue Service carries out its own independent assessments. Backed by output-based national specifications, suppliers envisage an open and transparent model that’s divorced from any specific procurement processes and, importantly, is dynamic, in turn enabling modified and new equipment to be evaluated as required.

Perhaps headed by a Technical Committee and with work carried out by product type by appropriate lead organisations, the aim is to establish a library of rigorous test reports that, rather than promoting a ‘winner takes all’ link to procurement, enables each Fire and Rescue Service to reach its own judgement on its preferred product from a technical and users’ standpoint.

Perspective from local Government

An Open Forum following the morning session proved lively and impassioned. While it’s not possible to recount the discussions in detail here, what became evident to all in attendance is that if, being in the real world, there will be significant challenges in getting to that better place we anticipate, there’s both the will and the vision to lead us there.

The agenda for the afternoon began with Councillor Mark Healey of the LGA Fire Services Management Committee offering a local Government perspective and a fascinating view on the realities of what the Authorities have to do in response to funding cuts. He suggested that a lack of central Government direction has created a policy vacuum that’s being filled with individual solutions.

Healey’s Devon and Somerset Fire Authority enjoys a good relationship with its Fire and Rescue Service and has already made a number of changes, including moving towards more on-call fire fighters, investing in light rescue pumps and, following the merger, making long term revenue-generating use of its unoccupied sites.

Given the likelihood of further Fire and Rescue Service mergers in the future, the address from ACO Robert Scott of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service proved an invaluable insight into the amalgamation of the previously separate services north of the border.

While its capital budget has grown from £15 million to over £22 million (although VAT can no longer be reclaimed), there were significant criteria attached to the merger including no front line redundancies or station closures, no alterations to personnel Terms and Conditions and no carry-over of financial reserves.

Scott was able to report, however, that many duplications have been eliminated and that the combined Fire and Rescue Service is proceeding with future business planning and restructuring that will achieve further efficiencies. His message to the audience was that, while the positions of the English and Welsh Fire and Rescue Services were their own to evaluate and respond to as they see fit, they would do well to shape their own futures before Government imposes its will upon them.

David Matthews, a renowned expert in the field of global standards in fire and rescue, offered an appraisal of the current position and called vehemently for greater Fire and Rescue Service involvement in the various Standards Committees.

The formal programme was completed by CFO Paul Fuller who spoke of the work of the Fire Sector Federation (which is achieving notable outputs through its various work streams).

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BAFE supports Scottish Fire and Rescue Service research on causes of false fire alarms

A multi-agency partnership is set to study the causes of false alarms from fire alarm systems in buildings and their frequency of occurrence which will result in proposed solutions being developed to prevent recurrences in the future.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is teaming up with partners from the Association of British Insurers (ABI), British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE), the Building Research Establishment (BRE), the CBRE Group, CS Todd & Associates, the Fire Industry Association (FIA) and Glasgow City Council to undertake this groundbreaking research.

Due to the universal nature of fire alarm systems, the outcomes of this work will have the potential to impact within the UK and across Europe, including the possibility of influencing future standards and Codes of Practice in respect of automatic fire alarm systems.

Fire-fighters throughout the UK are frequently called to attend incidents resulting from false alarms generated by fire detection and suppression systems usually installed within commercial premises and often monitored remotely. The cost of these unwanted false alarm signals to both businesses and Fire and Rescue Services is estimated to be around £1 billion per annum.

Assistant Chief Officer (ACO) Lewis Ramsay, director of prevention and protection at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Unwanted false alarm signals are a significant issue for Fire and Rescue Services so it’s important we join with our partners to see them reduced. The scale of the problem is clear. Over the past three years Scotland’s fire-fighters have been called to in excess of 100,000 such incidents, which equates to over 40% of all the incidents we attend. Not only is there a substantial financial cost attached to this but attending needless incidents also means fire-fighters and resources are taken away from their communities.”

Ramsay outlined: “In a real emergency every second counts. The time taken for fire-fighters to travel to a house fire, a road traffic collision or any other incident can be absolutely crucial when it comes to saving the lives of people in danger. By working together with our partners we can gather information on the common causes of false alarms and identify approaches to reduce the number that occur.”

Each unwanted false alarm signal costs businesses around £2,900 with an estimated £300 burden also falling on the Fire and Rescue Service.

A multi-agency partnership is to study the causes of false alarms from fire alarm systems in buildings and their frequency of occurrence

A multi-agency partnership is to study the causes of false alarms from fire alarm systems in buildings and their frequency of occurrence

Benefits of automatic fire alarm systems

As well as researching false alarms, the project will also promote the benefits of having automatic fire alarm systems installed in buildings. This will be done by studying fires where systems have detected them and raised the alarm. Such occurrences will be used to highlight the benefits of automatic fire alarm systems in alerting people to safely evacuate buildings and summoning assistance from the Fire and Rescue Service such that fires can be tackled in their early stages, thereby reducing the damage caused.

The project will involve two Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Watch Managers seconded from Glasgow’s group of Fire Safety Enforcement Officers who will work alongside a fire alarm industry expert to gather live intelligence on incidents that involve the actuation of fire alarm systems. In this regard the project is unique, as previous studies have involved the use of historical data.

Glasgow was chosen as the focus area for the project as the city is considered to be geographically suitable and has a sufficient number of incidents to enable data to be captured relatively quickly.

ACO Ramsay continued: “This is a joint project overseen by an executive sub-group of the Business Engagement Forum, bringing us together with Glasgow City Council and other partners including representatives from the insurance and fire protection industries. Our designated officers and the researcher will attend incidents in the city to gather data and gain an accurate understanding of false alarm causes which is crucial for developing effective strategies to prevent recurrences. Where appropriate, the team will also attend incidents where fire alarms have detected an actual fire. This will enhance the understanding of potential consequences had the alarm system not been in place, in turn demonstrating where such systems do provide value.”

When the team has completed its research a formal report will be produced by the Business Engagement Forum sub-group. It’s expected to include recommendations useful to businesses, the fire protection industry, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and other Fire and Rescue Services as they develop practical measures to reduce the problem caused by unwanted false alarm signals.

ACO Ramsay added: “The project involves the same partnership that helped develop the new Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Unwanted False Alarm Signals Policy which will replace the eight different policies used by the antecedent services. Under this single nationwide approach, fire-fighters across Scotland will engage with duty holders and advocate a multi-stage action plan in response to the actuation of a fire alarm system.”

The cost of unwanted false fire alarm signals to both businesses and Fire and Rescue Services is estimated to be around £1 billion per year

The cost of unwanted false fire alarm signals to both businesses and Fire and Rescue Services is estimated to be around £1 billion per year

Ramsay asserted: “Cutting the number of unwanted false alarm signal incidents will reduce financial costs to ourselves and businesses, and also cut the demand placed on a community’s fire and rescue resources. One clear and immediate benefit will be to reduce the number of times our appliances have to travel under blue lights, which will lower the risk to our crews and other road users. We want to build on this work, and the research project will help Fire and Rescue Services and businesses to tackle the issue.”

Main objectives to be addressed

There’s no fixed timescale for the research to be completed, although it’s anticipated that the project may take around a year to produce a report.

The main objectives are:
• The collation of comprehensive data in relation to unwanted false alarm signal incidents
• Identification of the common causes of unwanted false alarm signal incidents, including appropriate classification
• Improved engagement between the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the fire industry and businesses in relation to unwanted false alarm signal incidents
• A reduction in the volume of unwanted false alarm signal incidents within the Glasgow city area
• Provision of intelligence to help reduce the volume of unwanted false alarm signal incidents across Scotland

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s Unwanted Fire Alarm Signal Policy ‘go live’ date was 1 December 2014. It replaces existing policies which varied between the eight Fire and Rescue Services that operated in Scotland prior to April 2013.

A previous study undertaken by the BRE entitled: ‘The Causes of False Fire Alarms in Buildings’ is available at: http://www.bre.co.uk/podpage.jsp?id=1752

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FIA calls for additional fire protection in key-critical community buildings

Isn’t it high time that all businesses were required to carry fire insurance on their buildings? Fire Industry Association (FIA) CEO Graham Ellicott reviews this key issue and explains why the FIA believes designers and building owners should consider the use of additional fire protection in buildings that are critical to local communities.

At a fire seminar that I recently attended, a risk manager from an insurer commented that fire losses continue to increase with those from larger fires leading the way. Currently, these losses stand at approximately £4 million per day. The risk manager went on to state that insurers are now dealing more with buildings on fire rather than fires in buildings.

The rationale of the UK Building Regulations is that ‘in an emergency, the occupants of any part of a building should be able to escape safely without any external assistance’ (Approved Document B to the Building Regulations). However, in many cases the designers of buildings/structures or the owners of an existing building may want to go further and increase the level of fire protection installed in the building so as to give the fire services more time to extinguish any fire that might occur. This could lead to a reduction in the amount of damage caused and, in turn, influence the subsequent insurance claim.

Added fire protection will provide extra comfort for insurers and also fire-fighters who may have to enter a fire-ravaged building after the occupants have escaped. Surely, in buildings that are critical to the community such increases in the amount of fire protection are to be applauded as nobody wants to see a school destroyed or a hospital badly damaged, do they?

Increased levels of fire protection in buildings don’t all have to be red, unwieldy and ugly on the eye. For example, many building users are concerned about excessive use of wiring for alarm systems and unseemly trunking and conduit. They’ve no need to be. Those days are gone as wireless systems with stylish multi-detectors that are easily hidden may be quickly and economically installed.

Graham Ellicott: CEO of the Fire Industry Association

Graham Ellicott: CEO of the Fire Industry Association

Indeed, it’s not just fire detection systems that may be sympathetically incorporated within any design. In general, most modern fire protection products (for example recessed sprinkler heads, flush control panels, bendable fire-resistant partitions and concealed door closers) are designed to blend in with the background.

Fire insurance on buildings

This is all good and sound advice, but isn’t it time all businesses were required to carry fire insurance on their buildings? Even very small companies are required to hold Employers Liability Insurance, so why no requirement for even a basic level of fire insurance, particularly so when many businesses experiencing a major fire cease to trade within a year of its occurrence? Too many buildings key-critical to communities, such as local Government buildings, carry no fire insurance at all.

While it’s all very well specifying an increased level of fire protection for a building, it’s equally necessary to ensure those protection systems are properly installed and maintained. At the end of the relevant phase of construction, the fire protection installer will issue a Certificate of Conformity which will claim that the product has been installed in accordance with the terms of the contract. What does the Certificate of Conformity mean? Is it really worth the paper it’s written upon?

From the FIA’s point of view, the Certificate of Conformity’s worth is greatly enhanced if it’s issued under the auspices of a third party certification scheme. Such schemes mean that competent operatives have correctly installed the specified products and that independent inspectors have randomly inspected the work.

Another good reason to make sure that the fire protection systems in buildings are properly installed and maintained is the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. This states that an organisation will be guilty of the offence of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death and amounts to a “gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased”. An organisation that’s found guilty of corporate manslaughter will be liable for an unlimited fine.

Importantly, the Act also allows the court to call for a publicity order that requires the offending organisation to publicise details of its conviction.

The FIA believes that designers and building owners should consider the use of more fire protection in buildings that are critical to the community, such as public buildings including schools, hospitals and community centres. The value to the country of keeping these buildings operational far outweighs the small additional cost of an extra level of fire protection.

Not just a ‘nice to have’ exercise

Extra fire protection is not just a ‘nice to have’ exercise. It could mean the difference between a community-critical building either surviving or not in the event of a blaze. Third party certification breeds good practice and means worthwhile Certificates of Conformity are issued. This will give confidence to the specifier, client and the enforcer that the job has been carried out to the highest standard.

Should a disaster occur, lawyers will come looking for the person with the biggest pockets. It’s highly likely that the use of a third party certificated company would be seen as the basis for a sound defence in the event of a lawsuit concerning the performance of fire protection systems.

In the worse case scenario wherein somebody is killed in a fire, the possibility of a breach of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act becomes real and, again, the use of a third party certificated company could be highly beneficial to the accused organisation defending such an action.

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Home Secretary announces intention to merge blue light services

The need for further public sector spending cuts by the Government will mean integrating the police, fire and ambulance services such that the ‘still large fiscal deficit’ can be reduced, Home Secretary Theresa May has announced.

In a speech made at Think Tank Reform on 3 September, the Home Secretary stated: “With a still large deficit and a record stock of debt, there will need to be further spending cuts. In the policing landscape of the future, I believe we will need to work towards the integration of the three emergency services.”

May said that the next and “even tougher” challenge is “how we can reduce demand for public services through smarter policy. The need to go on reforming will not end with this Parliament.”

It’s thought that while front line services may not change, there could be ways in which to share back office functions and be located on the same site.

Some localities have already started to merge services. Theresa May referred to Northamptonshire, where Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds has launched joint operations planning teams involving both the police and fire services. Indeed, Simmonds has been a great supporter of integration and has spoken about the future possibility of sending just one emergency vehicle to the scene of an accident which would be equipped to deal with a variety of situations.

Earlier this year, (then) fire minister Brandon Lewis outlined some examples of where plans to share blue light services have been put in place in order to save money. These included a predicted saving of £4 million in Hampshire where the police service, fire service and Hampshire County Council are sharing offices and a potential £3.5 million saving in Merseyside, where the fire and police services are planning to share a Control Room.

Home Secretary Theresa May MP

Home Secretary Theresa May MP

Cautious but firm approach needed

In an editorial following the Home Secretary’s announcement, The Guardian reported: “Although there are many successful examples of local collaboration – fire officers administering emergency First Aid, or police travelling in the same vehicle as firemen – the prospect of real integration sheds a cold light on existing management structures. The ambulance service has been (painfully) consolidated into ten regional trusts which would not lightly be levered out of the NHS in the name of integration. However, there are still 43 resolutely unconsolidated police services and 46 fire and rescue services, with 46 different governance, organisational and operational structures. While deaths from fire in the home are, happily, at a record low, the number of fire-fighters and the cost of running the fire service remains the same.”

Graham Ellicott, CEO of the Fire Industry Association (FIA), commented: “Any integration or consolidation of the blue light services will undoubtedly be difficult and a cautious but firm approach will likely be needed. However, before any approach is attempted the FIA believes that it would be prudent to try and bring more consistency to the operation of English Fire and Rescue Services.”

Graham Ellicott: CEO at the FIA

Graham Ellicott: CEO at the FIA

Elaborating on this last point, Ellicott explained: “For example, each of the 46 services operates a different attendance policy when it comes to automatic fire alarm systems. Surely in the 21st Century there could be more consistency brought to this situation, particularly so given that Primary Authority Schemes have now been extended to fire. Such schemes offer assured advice from one Fire and Rescue Authority to a business that operates across more than one local authority area.”

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Independent review on firefighters’ conditions of service opened by the Government

Fire minister Penny Mordaunt has launched an independent review to ensure that firefighters’ conditions of service support their front line work of preventing fire and protecting the public.

The review will be led by Adrian Thomas, an expert in the field of personnel management and staff resourcing. Thomas will now consult extensively with fire and rescue authorities, firefighters and representative bodies and report back in February 2015.

A report written by former fire chief Sir Ken Knight – entitled: ‘Facing the Future’ and published last year – outlined how improvements could be made to front line services if firefighters’ conditions of service were reviewed.

This review will consider whether the current Terms and Conditions are conducive to building the fire and rescue service of the future and look at national arrangements for agreeing conditions around:

*management practices and crewing arrangements
*collaboration and integration with other emergency services
*the use of on call firefighters
*clarity of process in the fair recruitment and remuneration of chief fire officers and fire officers

Penny Mordaunt MP

Penny Mordaunt MP

Official national statistics show that fire deaths in England have continued to fall, with 5% fewer deaths than last year continuing a trend that has witnessed a near 40% drop since 2004.

The figures also show that, last year, fire and rescue services attended 170,000 fires – the second lowest number of fire incidents ever recorded.

Launching the review, Penny Mordaunt MP commented: “Firefighters put their lives on the line every day and deserve a workplace that’s fully focused on fire prevention and protection. We have a responsibility to each and every firefighter to make sure their conditions of service, some of which are decades old, fully support the challenges modern firefighters face every day.”

Mordaunt added: “This review will involve a massive piece of evidence gathering, in particular from firefighters themselves as they have the expertise and ideas to take the service forward. I hope as many firefighters as possible will contribute. The process will give fire chiefs an up-to-date assessment of the workplace around which they can then implement lasting improvements so that firefighters may continue to serve the needs of their communities to the best of their abilities for years to come.”

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Guidance documents issued to assist fire risk assessor selection procedures

The task of selecting a competent fire risk assessor has been made easier thanks to the publication of two key guidance documents, as the FIA’s general manager Martin Duggan reports.

The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council is a work stream that operates within the wider Fire Sector Federation. The Council has now published a set of criteria against which the competency of those undertaking fire risk assessments can be judged.

There’s no legislative requirement for the fire risk assessment procedure to be carried out by a competent person. This is to avoid an implication that, under the legislation, every duty holder needs to employ the services of a fire safety specialist (such as a consultant) to carry out their fire risk assessment.

However, for many premises the duty holder seeks the services of an external consultant (‘a fire risk assessor’). In the case of larger, more complex or high risk premises, this is often appropriate as the task might well be beyond the abilities of the duty holder.

Some members of the business community feel that it would be helpful to be able to access information on fire risk assessors with an appropriate level of competency to help them comply with the legislation. There has been growing concern regarding the competence of those who provide fire risk assessments on a commercial basis (ie for a fee).

Data from the English Fire and Rescue Services suggests that the main compliance failure leading to enforcement action is a failure by duty holders to carry out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment. This is coupled with the emergence of inadequate fire risk assessments for premises that have suffered multiple fatality fires.

The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council has published a set of criteria against which the competency of those undertaking fire risk assessments can be judged

The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council has published a set of criteria against which the competency of those undertaking fire risk assessments can be judged

As a result of these concerns, the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council (which is made up of a broad range of relevant fire sector stakeholders, including the Fire Industry Association) emerged with the encouragement of Government. Its objective has been to establish agreed, industry-wide criteria against which the competence of a fire risk assessor may be judged. It’s anticipated that these criteria will be used by professional bodies and third party certification bodies who register or certificate fire risk assessors, and also by commercial companies providing fire risk assessment services. The ‘competency criteria’ was published in December 2011.

In February last year, the Competency Council published ‘A Guide to Choosing a Competent Fire Risk Assessor’. This document is provided to help those with this responsibility decide who should carry out a fire risk assessment so that the premises comply with the applicable fire safety legislation.

Appointing a specialist

No matter who carries out the fire risk assessment, the duty holder retains the responsibility for ensuring the adequacy of that assessment. If you’re employing a specialist to undertake your fire risk assessment, while you are not expected to be an expert in fire safety you should make reasonable checks to ensure that they’re competent to do the job properly.

It’s important that the person who carries out the fire risk assessment is competent. There are two principal methods by which people can demonstrate their competence:
• Professional body registration schemes
• Certification by a certification body that is UKAS accredited for the activity

It’s also important that the company for whom the fire risk assessor works has adequate management systems in place, even if the fire risk assessor is self-employed. Competence of a company to deliver fire risk assessments can be demonstrated by third party certification of the company courtesy of a UKAS accredited certification body.

Martin Duggan: general manager at the FIA

Martin Duggan: general manager at the FIA

The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council recommends the use of fire risk assessment companies (including sole traders) which are third party certificated to appropriate schemes and operated by certification bodies which have been UKAS accredited to certificate against such schemes.

With two documents already published, the work of the Competency Council may be over – or is it? The proof of competency of fire and rescue services’ inspecting officers is now being discussed. What criteria should be used to check and how will this be measured are obvious questions to pose.

Could the Competency Council rise again to help?

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Computer modelling project aims to improve fire prevention

A new project will bring fire-fighters and academics together to improve fire prevention by predicting where and when fires are more likely to occur.

The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University are working with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue to develop the PREMONITION computer simulation.

The project will use computer modelling techniques to pull together geographical, demographical and behavioural data to build up a picture of an area and predict where fires and other emergencies might occur.

The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University are working with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue to develop the PREMONITION computer simulation

The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University are working with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue to develop the PREMONITION computer simulation

Some of this information is already available to fire services through online sources, or from local authority records, but due to the vast amount of data it’s often difficult to make sense of it. The simulation will combine all of the various strands of information and use it in real-time to support decision-making.

It will enable fire services to make better decisions about where to allocate resources and improve planning and fire prevention initiatives.

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s spokesperson Nicola Smith commented: “The research we are supporting with our academic partners is a cutting-edge exploration of behaviours during our prevention and response activities. Partnerships with well-respected organisations like the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University will place us at the forefront of modern approaches to delivering improved community safety.”

If successful, the simulation could be rolled-out for use by other fire services across the country.

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Fire risk assessments in schools: could we be sleepwalking into a disaster?

Government statistics show a steady downward trend in fires in schools from approximately 1,300 incidents in 2000-2001 to 700 in 2011-2012. However, we shouldn’t become complacent – arson in schools still accounts for nearly 180 fires every year. The Fire Industry Association’s technical manager Philip Martin explains the fire risks facing modern schools and what can be done to keep these locations safe.

Schools are changing places. They’re facing budget cuts and increasing demands to accept students of all abilities. For their part, secondary schools are being pressured into concentrating more on vocational studies, which could suggest an increase in laboratory and workshop activities.

Budget cuts could result in a reduced investment in fire safety measures, just as there’s an increase in the number of vulnerable people and hazards. It’s a potentially dangerous combination.

We need to bear in mind that fire safety legislation, which requires a fire risk assessment to be carried out in all schools throughout the UK, is focused on life safety. However, the biggest concern for many school governors may be the risk of arson. The life safety fire risk assessment isn’t concerned with property protection, but any measure taken to preserve life will tend to protect property.

The Fire Risk Assessment

The first question you should consider when carrying out a fire risk assessment is: ‘How can a fire start?’ The answer naturally falls into one of two groups: accidentally or deliberately. Not all hazards can be eliminated but they can all be managed. The Government’s guidance on educational premises covers this quite thoroughly.

When considering measures to prevent arson it helps to use your imagination. Stand outside the premises when it’s locked and empty and ask yourself how you would start a fire. Remember, most arsonists come prepared with nothing more than a lighter. That bin full of paper or pile of timber against the wall will start to look very appealing.

The life safety fire risk assessment isn’t concerned with property protection but any measure taken to preserve life will tend to protect property

The life safety fire risk assessment isn’t concerned with property protection but any measure taken to preserve life will tend to protect property

We need to think about physical security and removing or securing combustibles away from the school buildings, particularly away from overhanging eaves. We then need to think about intruder alarms and CCTV, both as deterrents and response mechanisms. Finally, we need to consider fire detection and sprinklers. BB100 offers some very sound advice on these matters.

As the fire risk assessor, you will need to look at the physical fire safety measures, the hardware and the management of fire safety, the software. Oddly, the hardware is probably the easier to assess as you can see and touch it. The software can be a puzzle.

You may have detailed procedures and comprehensive records but you need to be confident that they will work if put into practice. It could be useful to ask members of staff specific questions about what they’re supposed to do and what they would actually do. Ask them direct questions about what they know in relation to fire safety and who is responsible for what on site.

Taking responsibility: who’s in control?

This raises another question: ‘Who’s in control?’ Getting everyone in academic institutions to work together can be difficult. However, to make the premises safe someone has to take control, both generally and in an emergency. Legally, the organisation has to appoint an individual or individuals to be responsible for all aspects of fire safety. If more than one person is given responsibility, they should be co-ordinated and share information between them. Everyone in the organisation must be clear about their part in maintaining fire safety.

It may seem obvious that fire protection equipment such as fire alarms, extinguishers and emergency lighting should be serviced on a regular basis. Also needing a system of inspection and maintenance are elements such as fire-resisting walls, floors (ceilings) and doors, along with fire exits, extract systems (such as cooker hoods), ducts (especially fire dampers in ducts), fire safety signs and notices, fixed electrical systems and portable appliances (to name but a few).

Much of this maintenance isn’t costly or time-consuming. A simple walk around can be sufficient for inspecting and maintaining systems, and could be combined with a check on security systems and general housekeeping. There are two key points to note. Maintenance has to be planned and it has to be recorded. A simple logbook can help. The FIA has developed a new logbook which is available from FIA member companies.

Philip Martin: technical manager at the FIA

Philip Martin: technical manager at the FIA

The management of fire safety also needs periodic review looking at various aspects such as who is responsible for the management system, staff training, procedures (and not just the emergency procedures), records of maintenance supplier contracts and, of course, the fire risk assessment itself.

Fire drills will prove that the evacuation strategy works. Government guidance recommends that such a drill is carried out at least once a year and, preferably, every term. To be effective the drill needs to be planned, people informed and the drill monitored to avoid unnecessary risks (such as accidents on stairs).

The results of a drill can give valuable information on planning, training and the effectiveness of the facilities like alarms and escape routes.

Occasionally, a full evacuation isn’t desirable for safety reasons. In this instance, some form of simulation or desk top exercise may be sufficient – but only in exceptional circumstances.

Safe escape for everyone?

Naturally, schools should be open to students of all abilities. The premises should be adapted to ensure students can get into the premises and access all its amenities.

However, everyone must be able to get out in an emergency. We need to consider people with mobility and sensory impairment as well as those with intellectual and emotional impairment and how they may respond in an emergency. Think about both the hardware and the software when you ask yourself these questions…

*Can we use lifts in an emergency?
*Do we have procedures in place?
*Do we have properly trained and equipped staff?
*Can individuals with special needs be accommodated within the general evacuation procedure or will they require a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP)?

Guided by Government, the Fire Risk Assessors Competency Council (a stakeholder group supported by the fire safety industry) drafted a set of competency criteria and signposted ways of assessing the competency of fire risk assessment organisations

Guided by Government, the Fire Risk Assessors Competency Council (a stakeholder group supported by the fire safety industry) drafted a set of competency criteria and signposted ways of assessing the competency of fire risk assessment organisations

In the past, schools used to employ simple fire alarm systems comprising a few call points and bells. False alarms were rare and the consequences minor. Now, most buildings will have an alarm system with automatic fire detectors, mostly smoke detectors that will often be monitored by operators at an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC). Smoke detectors respond equally to the smoke from fires as well as dust, steam and smoke from burning toast in the staff room, for example, which has led to more false alarms.

The FIA has a website dedicated to false alarms. Visit: http://www.fia.uk.com/en/cut-false-alarm-costs for more information.

Understanding your Fire Service

Over the last few years, the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) across England and Wales has been under severe pressure to reduce costs. Stations are being closed and the number of fire fighters reduced. Automatic calls to the FRS are frequently ‘challenged’ and, depending on where you are, an automatic signal relayed to the FRS via an ARC would be classed as ‘unconfirmed’. This may result in fewer fire fighters attending on an initial basis, with the crew arriving at normal road speed (no sirens or flashing lights) – or, in some cases, not at all.

It’s important that you find out about your local FRS’ policy. Also, give the ARC instructions to call key holders as well as the FRS. When the premises are occupied, someone should make a 999 call rather than relying on the ARC in the event of a real fire.

Most people assume the fire brigade will rescue everyone and save the building. This needs to be examined a little more closely. Legally, and morally, if we are responsible for premises and the people on/in them, that responsibility includes being able to get everyone to safety in an emergency. If fire fighters have to rescue people it indicates we have failed.

We should not have to rely on the brigade to evacuate people, and that includes those with special needs. Moreover, they – ie the brigade – will not risk fire fighters’ lives trying to save your property. This means that once a fire becomes established in a building the brigade will tend to attack the fire from outside. Sadly, this often results in the total loss of the building.

Listen to the experts

Many hold the view that, in all but the simplest of premises, a lay person – even supported by the Government guides – wouldn’t have the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out a thorough fire risk assessment. Many Boards of Governors and local authorities are so concerned about this that they only use consultants to do the work. Whether they use a staff member or employ a consultant, how do they know the assessor is competent?

Guided by Government, the Fire Risk Assessors Competency Council – a stakeholder group supported by the fire safety industry – drafted a set of competency criteria and signposted ways of assessing the competency of fire risk assessment organisations. These two documents are available on the FIA’s website at: http://www.fia.uk.com

The FIA maintains a strong position, advocating that anyone carrying out work of a specialised nature should work for an organisation which is third party accredited to a UKAS-accredited scheme such as BAFE SP205.

Could we be sleepwalking into a disaster? The answer very much depends on you. We haven’t had a fatality in a day school in many years. Let’s keep it that way.

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100 in 100 2013: Statistics Update 16.8.2013

The latest statistics for the 100 in 100 2103 apprenticeships drive have been communicated to campaign supporters by Skills for Security.

The 100 in 100 campaign aims to place at least 100 new apprentices across the security sector between IFSEC International 2013 (which ran at the NEC in Birmingham from 13-16 May) and the Security Excellence Awards, which take place at the London Hilton Hotel, Park Lane on Wednesday 23 October.

The campaign is orchestrated by Skills for Security and CSL DualCom with support from the British Security Industry Association, the National Security Inspectorate, the Fire Industry Association, the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board and – in its capacity as Media Partner – UBM Live’s Security and Fire Portfolio (organiser of IFSEC International and the Security Excellence Awards).

Importantly, the campaign is fully endorsed by skills minister Matthew Hancock.

The 2013 100 in 100 campaign logo

The 2013 100 in 100 campaign logo

Last year’s campaign resulted in 320 new apprenticeships, and the aim is to beat that total in 2013.

The latest set of statistics produced by Skills for Security in relation to the current campaign are hugely encouraging. To date, 39 new apprentices have already been signed up by Skills for Security while 88 apprentices are signed up for non-Skills for Security schemes. Appointments are booked to sign up a further 26 apprentices for the systems/locksmiths apprenticeships.

At present, 120 companies have expressed an interest in recruiting 173 apprentices.

Jayne Sale – head of commercial services at Skills for Security – commented: “We will be issuing a further e-bulletin in the next couple of weeks and have sent dedicated bulletins to organisations in the South West and Essex, as well as surrounding counties, to generate interest in the new venues.”

Sale added: “In terms of the locksmiths apprenticeship, we’re starting to make progress and we;re ready to begin booking appointments to sign learners up from mid-September onwards. There’s a significant amount of interest in this apprenticeship.”

Taking on new apprentices is a great way of developing your security business. To find out more about employing an apprentice as part of the 100 in 100 campaign for 2013, call Skills for Security’s Customer Relations Team on 01905 744000

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