01 June 2012 by Graham Ellicott,

What a week it’s been for fire!

BAFE launched its Fire Risk Assessor scheme SP205 and this joins the FRACS schemes that are available from Warrington Certification, so now Fire Risk Assessment organisations have a choice of Third Party Certification schemes to join and this can only be good for fire safety in the UK. The hard work from all involved in these schemes is to be applauded.

On the same day that BAFE had the SP205 launch the Worshipful Company of Fire Fighters in partnership with BRE held the 2012 Fire Lecture which consisted of a number of presentations and was well attended by all sectors of the fire world. In her presentation, Debbie Smith of BRE, lamented the lack of available data in some cases to inform all manner of decisions that the fire professional could be faced with on a day-to-day basis.

This, in my opinion, has always been the case and unfortunately as much of the data that has been generated has been as the result of Government funded research then the situation is not likely to improve because of the cuts in budgets.

At the same event Nick Starling of the ABI repeated much of what was in their 2009 document ‘Tackling Fire – A Call for Action’ and I think he missed an opportunity here. The document in question was issued while the last Government was in power and, if I remember correctly, the ABI suggested that there be quite a bit of Government work, admittedly with other stakeholders to drive down the cost of fire. The current Government, based upon its actions to date, shows little or no inclination to intervene in the fire sector and if they do it will be predominantly for life safety.

Lee Howell of CFOA was understandably late for the lecture as he had been involved with the Atherstone court case which was another large fire story during the week. Thus his presentation was given by his staff officer who delivered it in an entertaining fashion and I have to say, probably engaged the audience more than Lee would have because of the ‘sympathy factor’.

I don’t know who wrote Lee’s presentation but they couldn’t resist a ‘pop’ at the private fire trade as they inferred that Lee ran a successful commercial fire trading business for Devon and Somerset FRS. This diatribe went on to infer that the private sector was metaphorically quaking in its boots about this operation. Well if they were referring to Red One Ltd (the DSFRS arms-length company) then the latest accounts filed at Companies House show it as dormant, that is that it hasn’t traded. Is this the fire service’s new definition of success? Perhaps Lee could clarify this situation.

At the end of the presentations it was time for questions and this brought forward some interesting debate. I was particularly impressed by the comments of Rita Dexter and Ron Dobson of London Fire Brigade who reached to the heart of the problem of the complexities of why people lose their lives in fire. They did this without the dogma of the various fire stakeholders (some of whom spoke at the Lecture) and were a breath of fresh air – more of it please!

As I write this it has been reported that Southwark Council will not face manslaughter charges with regard to the six deaths in the Lakanal House fire that occurred in July 2009. In December 2009 the BBC reported that the Lakanal House inquests would not complete for two years and now 30 months on it has still not completed.  It is hoped that the decision not to press charges over manslaughter will now hasten the progress of the inquests. Indeed Southwark Council would like to see the situation progressed as their Cabinet Member for Housing commented: "We now ask that the coroner agrees a date as soon as possible for the six inquests to begin so that all the facts from that tragic evening of nearly three years ago can be brought before the public.”

Whatever the ‘rights or wrongs’ of the situation, this long delay in completing the inquests (it’s now nearly three years since the fire) has meant that the bereaved relatives are still waiting for answers as to why the deaths occurred. The fire world also awaits the conclusion of the inquests as it could have ramifications for the design of buildings.

In another big fire news story earlier this week, the Welsh Government announced that from 2013 all new homes would be fitted with sprinklers. In contrast, England has no intention to have sprinklers fitted. This is yet another example of the ‘postcode lottery’ approach to fire across the UK and one has to ask why, as a UK taxpayer, there are major differences occurring in the way that fire and rescue operates between England and Scotland; and now why the levels of fire protection in new buildings across the UK, for example, sprinklers in care homes in Scotland and in new homes in Wales, are becoming so disparate.

It will be interesting to see what, if any comments, the Coroner for the Lakanal House inquests makes with regard to fire protection and management of buildings such as Lakanal House; The FIA wonders whether any comments will be implemented differently across the UK. Time will tell!