Fire Sector Summit

needed to evacuate, the NFCC seeks care homes and hospitals of any height as a minimum. But if buildings below 18m are not included, it believes they should be required to meet BS 8414/BR135. Unlike the FPA, the NFCC thinks BS 8414 is robust, provided that what passes the test is the same as what is actually used, although ‘we don’t object to changes in BS 8414, it just needs to be repeatable and scientific’. He argued: ‘An industry that allows no recognised

competence to design, install and maintain critical life safety equipment cannot be right.’ At a minimum, fire services should contribute at the design and construction phase, and lead on firefighting facilities in the occupation phase. Information available on site throughout a building’s lifetime is essential to firefighters’ assessment of its safety and structure, and can inform tactical decisions. Certification and testing of construction products

must be more effective. ‘Desktop studies for doors and other products seem to be the norm without any empirical evidence,’ he added. ‘We’d like to see a correspondence to the

proposed new structure of ADB which clearly sets out dwellings vs non-dwellings, and we think will lead to greater transparency and clarity over certain types of new builds’, and their intended use. In addition, a review of the FSO should look into everything that has not worked to date. The NFCC and government are keen to pilot some of the changes Hackitt recommended, and NFCC believes the JCA should be mandated to regulate any building if needed, with a phased roll out focused on highest risk buildings. ‘We’d like the JCA to set standards nationally and for local people to implement them.’

All this activity will continue to place strain on

already stretched ‘fire protection departments’ and also FRS workloads (it having lost 35% of inspecting officers due to austerity). ’Sometimes there is a disconnect between protection and operations,’ he said, ‘but firefighter safety is always at the forefront, and safer buildings will always mean safer firefighters.’

Challenges to face

FPA chair Chris Hanks stated that ‘Grenfell’s profound effect’ was still being felt 18 months later, and acknowledged challenges still to face. Last year’s Summit expressed the ‘shame we should feel’ as an industry, and while ‘really further forward’ with a ‘greater insight on what went wrong’, the sector should think ahead. He felt encouraged but had also heard ‘alarm

bells’ during the day, having ‘heard lots of good but lots of jargon and acronyms’, and a ‘hope’ for cooperation, which was ‘not good’. With the fire industry and insurers having campaigned for 20 years about the ‘dumbing down’ of fire safety, both had ‘become complacent’. Insurers have


known that – for example – stay put works in good buildings, but also that letting buildings burn is not good economic sense, and many ‘don’t feel confident about big buildings in a fire’. Grenfell would have cost around £20m to £30m to rebuild, while a potential professional negligence cost would reach around £1bn, and on either point ‘insurers can afford it – money is not the issue’. Rather, they regard themselves as ‘custodians

of UK property’, so an uninsured building can’t get built, and they should want to know it will be built safely. It was the FPA’s and insurers’ belief that current controls ‘are not working and are not fit for purpose’, so a ‘culture change’ is needed. He asked why the sector only finds things ‘are not right after a disaster – why does it take a tragedy to do that? These fires should simply not be happening’. Both sectors are ‘unhappy we’ve not been listened to’, and he had ‘little sympathy for insurers who lose money if they don’t say what is wrong’. It was remarkable that Grenfell was ‘not

considered a likely scenario’, as lab testing conditions are ‘not the same as real life’, and firefighters are ‘not equipped’ to deal with a 22 storey fire. Mr Hanks said six years ago there was a ‘tragedy waiting to happen’, but he ‘didn’t think it could possibly be as bad’ as it was. The aim is a ‘complete mindset change to fire

across the board’, and a ‘commitment to regular change, to put good words into action’

William Roszczyk and Jan Wassall are editor and production editor of Fire & Risk Management. For more information, view page 5 DECEMBER 2018/JANUARY 2019 39

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