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Opening the AGM, Chairman Grant Lupton reflected on a number of issues the Institution had been involved in during the past year including its centenary celebrations, the launch of its firefighter safety data base and its participation in working groups in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
In addition, Mr Lupton said a new IFE initiative was a commitment to inclusivity by becoming a signatory of the UK government’s disability confidence scheme: “It’s a programme for organisations to think positively about disabilities and this is now being adopted by IFE members across the world.”
Mr Lupton added: “The Institution is busier like never before, striving to make the world safer from fire. The challenge going forward is to meet the demands as fire professionals and use the IFE’s 100 years of experience to adapt and change as the world changes around us.”
Incoming International President Bruce Varner used his address to thank outgoing President Richard Fowler for his hard work as President in the centenary year. He stressed that Mr Fowler had travelled across the globe talking to branch members and bringing their concerns back to the board for discussion.
For his year as IFE President, Mr Varner said he would continue to focus on making the IFE a truly global institution: “Last year we grew to 10,000 strong with over 42 branches across the world. Our continued growth and development is something to be proud of and we must continue to grow and adapt to the changing world around us.”
Institution of Fire Engineers International President Bruce Varner
He added that the IFE is now a byword for professionalism, quality and assurance in an uncertain world, providing a global network of support for fire professionals: “The Institution’s role for making us all better at what we do can’t be overstated. With IFE’s help we can be more rounded professionals and have an impact on making the world safer from fire.
“Nothing has made this more prominent than our work with organisations involved with the recent Grenfell fire tragedy. The work of our membership is to help to implement changes as a result of the Hackett report. It’s not only a step forward in building a safer future, but also a step forward for the Institution. We are at the very forefront of change as the world adapts.”
Mr Varner then adopted this year’s conference theme that had been suggested by Mr Fowler; professionalism and ethics in the fire sector. He said it was a topic that holds so much relevance at this time. “If the world of the fire professional continues to move forward with the recommendations from the Hackett report, it’s vital for the Institution that we keep pace with the world around us and continue to uphold professionalism and ethics that have formed the foundation of our organisation for more than 100 years.”
He then finished his address by putting forward his theme of preserving the past, taking action in the present and preparing for the future “as we seek every day a world safer from fire”.
Roy Wilshire, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, started his address by highlighting the need for professionalism, expertise and competence in the Fire Service after what he believed has been a decade of neglect.
Referring to the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, Mr Wilshire said: “Prior to that we had an Inspectorate, examinations and standards of fire cover. We had a Fire Service College that was dedicated to the Fire Service and we had a Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council. All of those were swept aside.”
Ironically, he continued, things were now coming full circle: “There’s a shift away from Localism and David Cameron’s Big Society where we were going to do everything for ourselves and everyone was going to volunteer for everything, and we didn’t need regulation or standards.”
He said the Grenfell fire tragedy had changed all that, highlighting the lack of competence across the construction sector in terms of building safety structures. “How we moved from very rigid hard building regulations into something that allowed solid petroleum to be built on the outside of a building is still part two of the inquiry,” Mr Wilshire added.
While welcoming the new fire and rescue Inspectorate which is moving into standards, efficiency and collaboration, he said there was much to do to right the wrongs of the past – and adapt to the future.
“We’ve had ten years of austerity in fire and rescue services, so we now have 25 per cent less firefighters than we did in 2010,” Mr Wilshire continued. “Diversity training and culture change; these are issues we’re being challenged on and this is rightly what we should do to make ourselves more professional in future.”
He admitted the Service had been trying to increase diversity for a long time but not too successfully “Our message has been, we want a representative workforce which is a good thing. But also if we don’t have a diverse workforce that we take from all levels of society, we are losing out on talent for the future.
“So we started on this journey and now for the first time ever we have an up-to-date suite of national operational guidance for firefighters in the UK and maintaining that is a real step on the way to professionalisation.”
As Chair of the National Fire Chief Counsel, Mr Wilshire said he was the first person to do the job full time. “I can tell you it’s a full-time job and more. The future of the fire and rescue services is at a crossroads. We need to add value to our communities, make our communities safer. We need to change to make ourselves more competent and more professional to deal with the built environment, looking at future ways of working as a Fire and Rescue Service.”
Mr Wilshire emphasised that for joint working across the emergency services it was important to ensure joined-up thinking, where commanders trained in the same place, at the same time, talking to each other: “That’s something we now call joint organisation learning. So we have a methodology where things are fed in from all sorts of incidents across the Fire and Rescue Service and this feeds into our national operational guidance, which then feeds into joint organisational guidance.
“We are learning together and becoming much more professional together as three emergency services, when we talk about professionalisation, when we talk about competence and when we talk about people doing the right thing.”
“The future of the fire and rescue services is at a crossroads”
Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council
Suzanne McCarthy started her address to emphasise her independence as the Chair of the Fire Standards Board. She admitted her background was not in the Fire and Rescue Service, but in standards and regulations. She was, however, learning fast by getting out to meet firefighters across England. “And it is for an English national fire and rescue standards board that we are creating a new suite of standards to be applied in the sector,” she said. To this end she had recently travelled to Stoke and to North Yorkshire to see how the different fire and rescue services operated.
“But the important thing – and this is what Roy was saying – is they are all about protecting their community that they serve. And I applied for the role as Chair because I feel that the services need to be as professional and effective as possible. “
Ms McCarthy said that after her first six months into the job there was not one firefighter she had met that did not want standards to be implemented across the fire and rescue services. As Chair of the new Fire Standards Board, she intends to work with a number of people and organisations to create and maintain a suite of standards, including the Home Office, the Local Government Association, the Association of Crime and Police Commissioners and with Roy Wilshire at the National Fire Chiefs Council.
For Ms McCarthy every service should look for consistency in standards and help with continuous development by improving accountability, achieving transparency and public confidence: “I, as a member of the public, should be assured that, for example, the London Fire Brigade is going to be at the same standard as the fire and rescue services in North Yorkshire, Stoke, or Tyne and Wear. It’s important that standards are consistently applied.”
She said that every standard was going to be evidence-based and that standard “is going to be consulted on and going to be reviewed. It’s going to be impact assessed. And then when it’s actually put into place, it is going to be kept under review.” She added that as everything develops and changes “we need a circle of standards that moves with the times. This could be from fresh evidence by inspection bodies or through technology changes. What looks good today, would not necessarily be the same tomorrow”.
Ms McCarthy also emphasised the need to keep the standards template in plain English and to keep it short and readable, so it’s accessible to everyone: “It will tell people where they can find guidance and what is expected that will help them achieve an outcome. We are in the process of scoping the suite of standards.”
She is also looking at the pillars of the fire reform agenda, what the minister is looking for, the inspection framework, the national change programme and other various committees and national working groups: “We’re learning from incidents such as Grenfell and we’re also using as a reference point the national operational guidance.”
Ms McCarthy finished her addressed by stressing that communication and engagement were crucial to ensure that IFE members can take ideas of the changing standards back to their home countries, to talk to local firefighters and update and review new standards.
“I have to say that every person I’ve spoken to in the Fire and Rescue Service has said to me what a great idea it is to ensure there are consistent standards. They’ve told me: ‘Yes we need it and we would welcome it.’
“So it’s been a very positive response from people.”
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