Fire Chain: The UK’s fire safety ecosystem

When first encountering the brilliant simplicity and far-reaching consequences of the US National Fire Protection Association’s Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™, this reporter’s first question was, why hadn’t anything been done like this before? The second was, why don’t we have anything like this here?

The fire framework identifies eight key components that work together identifying all risks from fire – depicted as an interconnected cog – that need to coalesce to form an effective ecosystem. The NFPA subsequently formed a Fire and Life Safety Institute aligned to the evolution of US fire safety policy. So why not do something similar here?

Well, the Fire Sector Federation has. It’s a simpler version which crystallises the stakeholders and organisations that form the fire safety community and illuminates ‘the links of an interwoven chain and the contingency between strengths and weaknesses’ (see pg 53, Defining the fire sector is critical to achieving a national fire safety strategy).

Led by Executive Director Steve McGuirk, the Fire Chain for the first time articulates the breadth and scale of the fire sector – a previously amorphous, constantly shifting set of stakeholders from across industry, many of which have previously been lumped into the construction bucket in spite of strong fire connections. From policy through to design, approvals, construction, occupation, occurrence of fire, investigation, and finally, recovery and rebuild, the chain is colossal in scope yet simple in articulating the impact of overlapping regulatory frameworks.

This can now be used by the Federation to develop thematic domains to develop collaborative thinking and share good practice leading to a strategic overview and consensus. This is pivotal to achieving a national fire safety strategy previously outlined in the white paper.

Talk of a Fire Congress has surrounded the Fire Sector Federation since its evolution from the Federation of British Fire Organisations to the sector-led ‘voice’ of fire safety in the UK, but is now a real possibility where stakeholders can come together to ensure lessons have been learned and progress is being made.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the slew of recommendations from the Hackitt Report and the forthcoming Grenfell Tower Inquiry findings, the UK fire sector needs to be primed to respond and ‘assemble all these links in a cohesive way that can help achieve a national, strategic approach’. As Steve concludes, ‘we need to simplify the complexities and deliver meaningful collaboration, as it is the only way to ensure a coherent approach and an integrated sector going forward’.

In addition, as the Fire Chain encapsulates such a wide breadth of stakeholders, it is worth reiterating the phrase, ‘fire knows no boundaries’ in relation to joined-up government. Considering fire and health, education, international trade, home affairs, local communities and more, a similar exercise on encapsulating central decision-making and policy would not go amiss.

Overcoming ambiguity, ensuring sector-wide cohesion and collaboration, clarifying expectations, responsibilities and ownership, and unifying as a truly sector-wide body is a bold and ambitious initiative that has already brought wide support across the sector. As the aforementioned Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 2 report is due out next year, the movement could not be more timely or necessary to ensure fire safety measures are enforced, enriched and entrenched for generations to come.

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