One lesson of Grenfell is how many fire system technicians operate without the appropriate qualifications. Since the Grenfell tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt has called for all relevant trades to hold formal qualifications, and for industry to implement a system in which clients and end users can be assured that operatives are fully competent.

Another lesson is that fire service audits of buildings are no longer fit for purpose. For instance, the current system does not require proof that a fire system was installed by a “competent person.”

Fire safety in commercial buildings

The general public would be horrified to learn that someone can fit a fire safety system in a commercial building without any proper qualifications or licence,” says Tom Brookes, Managing Director of Lindum Fire Services Ltd., former Chairman of the British Fire Consortium (BFC), and current Chairman of the Fire and Security Association.

When it comes to competency, the whole industry needs to up its game"

 “When it comes to competency, the whole industry needs to up its game,” says Brookes. “Some larger companies are upskilling their staff and moving towards formal qualifications. If small- and medium-sized enterprises do not follow suit, they will fall behind and may be excluded from the marketplace altogether.

Working Group 2 on installer competence

Working Group 2 on installer competence was established after the publication of Dame Judith Hackitt’s final report last year, under the joint leadership of Build UK and the Fire Sector Federation. The group has discussed extensively the need for systems engineers to be suitably qualified and able to demonstrate their competence.

In my opinion, there is too much focus on rival competency schemes rather than overall industry outcomes, which somewhat muddies the waters,” says Brookes. “However, one thing that has become crystal clear is that all fire and emergency systems engineers will likely need to hold a Level 3 qualification in the future.

Training provided BFC, FIA and IFEDA

Although quality training is provided through the British Fire Consortium (BFC), Fire Industry Association (FIA), Independent Fire Engineering & Distributors Association (IFEDA) and others, historically there have been no Ofqual-approved qualifications for the fire sector. (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation [Ofqual] is a non-ministerial government department that regulates qualifications, exams and tests.)

Changes are afoot, however. In England, the Fire, Emergency Systems and Security trailblazer apprenticeship attracted around 300 new starts last year. The FIA have replaced their 20-year-old training programmes with a new system that will enable technicians who complete the series to achieve their Level 3 qualifications.

The FIA have replaced their 20-year-old training programmes with a new system that will enable technicians who complete the series to achieve their Level 3 qualifications.
Since the Grenfell tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt has called for all relevant trades to hold formal qualifications

BS5839-1:2017 Ofqual-approved qualification

The awarding organization EAL are launching a BS5839-1:2017 Ofqual-approved qualification in August 2019. This will allow previously trained engineers to sit an exam and gain a Level 3 award demonstrating up-to-date knowledge. Practical skills testing for more experienced technicians, outside of an apprenticeship, is something FSA are currently working hard on with partners including ECA, NET and ECS.

Our aim is for a few options to become available for operatives to gain some sort of practical competence certification,” says Brookes. “More technological solutions are now being considered for competency evaluation, such as uploading video assessments of candidates to a portal for assessors. This is already used for some NVQ type assessments and widely used in the USA. It may be just what our sector needs at this moment in time.

'Accountable Person' role

Latest Government report following Grenfell states they are looking to create a role in commercial buildings

The latest Government report following Grenfell states they are looking to create a role in commercial buildings called the “Accountable Person.” This person will have a legal responsibility to ensure people working on systems are competent. While only for high rise and high-risk buildings, like all developments, it will likely spread throughout the sector.

“For as long as I have been in the fire industry trade bodies have called upon the fire authorities and Government to legislate to stop unskilled workers installing and maintaining fire safety equipment,” says Brookes. He notes that both independent third-party certification of businesses and CSCS partner card schemes like ECS for individuals are voluntary arrangements. To date, neither Government nor fire services insist either scheme is used by a fire protection company.

If, heaven forbid, we witnessed another tragedy like Grenfell tomorrow, sadly I suspect the outcome would be very much the same,” says Brookes. “However, looking further ahead, I am confident buildings will be safer once new legislation comes into force and effectively eliminates the threat of incompetent and unqualified fire and emergency system engineers.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

Author profile

Larry Anderson Editor, TheBigRedGuide.com, Notting Hill Media

In case you missed it

Technology Is Changing How We Plan For The Future Of Wildfires
Technology Is Changing How We Plan For The Future Of Wildfires

As we continue to settle into our new norm brought on by COVID-19, it’s become hard to imagine what the world will look like on the other side. If ever there were a clearer definition of a paradigm shift in the making, it’s this time. Yet, it’s not the only paradigm that has shifted in the last few years.  As the climate has continued to change, helping to create more fuel for wildfires, we’re experiencing compounding changes at a global scale. And, the light at the end of the tunnel for COVID-19 might just be another big fire season. Yet, this fire season will be different.  New ways to respond Although we’ll almost certainly continue to act as communities, helping each other through the next calamities, what’s clear is that we’re going to require new ways to respond. Knowing what we know now about natural disasters, like fires, floods, and hurricanes, as well as our current experience with a global pandemic, if we’ve learned nothing else it’s that we must begin to design for disaster.  Designing for disaster is about planning for the paradigm to shift once again This is not about designing for panic and fear. Rather, designing for disaster is about planning for the paradigm to shift once again. For instance, with the 2020 fire season right around the corner, now is a good time to start taking stock and creating plans for how to deal with it. Unlike the last few fire seasons, this one will be different.  According to the “Chief's Letter of Intent for Wildland Fire – 2020”, the US Fire Service will be changing its “fire management options during the COVID-19 pandemic across the board to adjust to this unprecedented challenge.” The objectives laid out in this letter are a reflection of the compounding change we’re seeing, which include “Minimize to the extent feasible COVID-19 exposure and transmission and smoke exposure to firefighters and communities”; “Commit resources only when there is a reasonable expectation of success in protecting life and critical property and infrastructure”; “Encourage innovation and the use of doctrine for local adaptations”; and “Develop methods for broad information sharing given changed conditions”, among others. Planning for uncertainty We must seek to protect lives by developing new ways to work together So, what can we do to plan for this uncertain future? In many ways, the answer is spelled out in this above-mentioned letter. We must seek to protect lives by developing new ways to work together, share information, and plan using innovative tools and methods. Just as we all collectively found Zoom as a great way to connect with our friends, family, and colleagues, during the COVID-19 shelter in place, we’ll begin to use other digital tools to get updates and communicate with emergency responders and the community at large. In fact, there are myriad tools in place, like Nextdoor, Neighbor, and even Facebook, that enable most of us to do this on a regular basis. Likewise, when it comes to planning and communication between first responders, whether they be firefighters, police, paramedics, or emergency management officials, new technologies abound, like Tablet Command, that enable first responders to connect and understand the common operational picture like never before. What’s more, as these technologies continue to scale, they will no doubt connect communities and emergency management personnel (as well as new data sources, like up-to-the-minute satellite imagery) in new ways that enable engagement and planning to occur way before an incident even occurs. In fact, as the world continues to rally around communicating in new ways, new entrants like Zonehaven, a startup based on San Francisco, are doing just this. Using a familiar Google Maps-style interface and data-driven approach to engage communities and first responders around evacuation planning, defensible space, right-of-way issues and neighborhood exercises, Zonehaven is focused on helping entire communities communicate and respond to disasters, like wildfires, even before the initial spark. Drive for change And it’s not just technology companies that are driving this change. In wildfire-prone communities, like San Mateo County, officials are bringing in new technologies, like Zonehaven and others, to “provide access to cutting-edge technology that allows emergency planners and local officials to better understand a community’s risk and help residents plan safe evacuation routes.” In essence, by supporting hyperlocal pre-planning, early detection, community collaboration and real-time detection/alerting, San Mateo County is actively redesigning how the county and all of its constituent services, from firefighters to police to emergency management and even parking control, are planning for a future where wildfires and other emergencies are more abundant and communities more engaged and informed.  As change continues to compound on itself, creating entirely new norms, it’s imperative that we don’t lose sight of what makes us human. We have the capacity to plan, communicate, innovate, and build tools meant to help us stay one step ahead of change. After all, the more things change, the more they’ll stay the same.

Fire Service Likely To Suffer As Government Finances Stumble Due To The COVID-19 Pandemic
Fire Service Likely To Suffer As Government Finances Stumble Due To The COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic presents new economic challenges to county and municipal governments. Fire departments are likely to be impacted as local governments respond to the economic downturn with spending freezes, hiring freezes and spending cuts. Some local governments are hoping for help from the state and/or federal level. Although some governments have “rainy day funds” to address economic downturns, not all of them do. Furthermore, the extent of the current economic crisis may exceed our worst fears. Proposed budget cuts for some fire and EMS departments are in the 10% to 25% range. As the new fiscal year begins in July, many local governments will need to approve a spending plan for next year by June 30. public safety agencies Although public safety agencies have historically been protected by local governments during economic downturns, the severity of the current downturn may change the approach. Lower sales tax collection is expected to be a major impact, although actual information on revenue levels can lag for three months because state governments collect the taxes and then return a share to cities and counties. The Southern California city is like many others around the United States that rely on sales tax and hotel taxes For many, the numbers for April will be available in July. For example, Hemet, California, estimates it has lost 34% of its sales tax revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic because consumer spending is down, and many businesses are closed to the public. Loss of hotel taxes is another hardship. The Southern California city is like many others around the United States that rely on sales tax and hotel taxes. replacing ageing fire engines The League of California Cities says COVID-19 will rob the state’s 482 cities and towns of about $6.7 billion in revenue over the next two fiscal years. Michael Pagano, Director of the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says that municipalities that depend on sales tax revenue are being hit hard and quickly. In contrast, those that rely on property taxes will not feel an immediate impact, he says. The fire service in Hemet is being affected. Last year, the city paid $1 million in overtime. Belt-tightening will eliminate such expenditures this year. The city will also likely delay filling some open positions and will replace only one aging fire engine rather than two. They will be buying less safety and radio gear. Victoria, Texas, is another city among the many feeling the impact of lost sales tax revenue. fire fighter unions “It’s not an option for people to not get their trash picked up,” Victoria City Manager Jesus Garza told the Victoria Advocate. “It’s not an option for our police and firefighters to not work." With no definite end in sight, there are no easy solutions. Some scenarios, such as a salary freeze, would impact members of fire fighter unions. The president of the Baltimore’s International Association of Fire Fighters Local 734 says such discussions are premature. We know that the city has to balance their budget by July and that everyone is being hit hard by this global pandemic" “We know that the city has to balance their budget by July and that everyone is being hit hard by this global pandemic,” Richard Altieri II, president of the local fire fighters union, told the Baltimore Sun. “But to suggest this sacrifice of our members, who are on the front lines every day, is unacceptable and disheartening.” Baltimore has considered about $11 million in total reductions that may affect first responders. Coronavirus Relief Package California Gov. Gavin Newsom has warned that layoffs for police and firefighters could happen unless Washington provides financial help to state governments. The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that included $875 billion in state and federal aid. However, the Democratic-authored bill is going nowhere in the U.S. Senate. “[There will be] fewer firefighters and police officers to answer emergency calls, reduced garbage pickup frequency, and limited staff for required inspections, processing business license, and permitting,” Nicolas Romo, a League of California Cities representative, told the Sacramento Bee.

IAFC Promotes Awareness Of The Danger Of Heart Attacks
IAFC Promotes Awareness Of The Danger Of Heart Attacks

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is promoting awareness of the danger of heart attacks in the fire service. A toolkit provided by the IAFC includes information and resources to assist members and fire departments when responding to on-duty or duty-related cardiac events. The international campaign, titled ‘If You Don’t Feel Well, Don’t Make It Your Farewell,’ offers standard operating procedures (SOPs) including an example policy that departments can use to outline their actions and processes, and the department’s response to on-duty injuries and illness. Acute coronary syndrome An administrative checklist enumerates areas of concern and highlights a standardized approach to cardiac events. It is important to be proactive and put thoughtful guiding documents in place so that members of an organization know the ‘rules of the game.’ Existence of proper processes, policies and procedures can reduce stress, improve morale, and encourage members to speak up when they experience an event of if they know someone who does. The most common warning sign for men and women is chest pain or discomfort Among the training tools is a PDF that lists ‘the heart attack warning signs.’ The most common warning sign for men and women is chest pain or discomfort, but a heart attack may not be sudden or very painful. Information is also provided on ‘acute coronary syndrome,’ a term used to describe conditions associated with sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart. There is also information on treatments for a heart attack, which may vary according to the type of heart attack (i.e., whether a complete or partial blockage of a coronary artery). Identifying risk factors Other information includes ‘assessing cardiovascular risk’ and screening to identify risk factors and lifestyle habits that can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. A survey by the IAFC of firefighters who have experienced a cardiac incident provides interesting insights: 47% of firefighters said they experienced a symptom that is not among the typical signs of a heart attack. 20.67% of firefighters took themselves to the hospital; 41% were taken by emergency medical services. 63.3% of firefighters returned to work (full duty). 40% were between the ages of 46 and 55. 68% were career firefighters; 22.67% were volunteer firefighters. “Almost half of all firefighter deaths each year are cardiac-related,” says Fire Chief Gary Ludwig, IAFC President and Chairman of the Board. “Many who have experienced but survived a cardiac incident have reported not feeling right, not feeling well, or that something is wrong,” added Ludwig, fire chief of the Champaign (Illinois) Fire Department.  Changing a culture “The best way to change the culture of ignoring warning signs, which are not always chest tightness and shortness of breath, is through education and awareness. If you’re a first responder and your body is signaling to you a feeling that you have never experienced before with extreme fatigue and other symptoms, you need to act and those around you need to act,” said Ludwig, who has worked in the fire and emergency service for more than 42 years. “If a firefighter tells you ‘something is wrong’ or ‘I don’t feel right’ or any similar statement, do not tell them to go home or lay down in the bunk hall. Their body is sending them a signal that something could be seriously wrong.”

vfd