16 April 2013 by Graham Ellicott, Previous FIA CEO

Every day I take a look at the BBC News website to see what’s happened in the fire world. I’m usually looking for which fire and rescue service has, yet again, changed their attendance policy or what the government’s latest views on the way that the fire sector will change in the future are. This type of information seems to come in waves; lots of news about possible privatisation and then nothing, followed by a plethora of videos of fire people doing the Harlem Shake!

Indeed, a quick search reveals that LondonStaffordshire and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Services have all recorded their own Harlem Shake! I was particularly intrigued by the red elephant (Welephant) in the Staffordshire version and wondered whether it was that great sport, Chief Fire Officer, Peter Dartford, getting down with the kids! My guess is, if it was, he won’t be doing this when he assumes the mantle of President of the Chief Fire Officers Association in a year or two’s time.

But it’s not only the fire and rescue services that shake their booty as can be seen from the TYCO Electronics version which does seem a bit tame and certainly doesn’t contain a red elephant – that’s a ‘blue chip’ company approach!

But leave aside the Harlem Shake videos which are most likely, a passing internet craze; for the participants- they will have had their Warholesque five minutes of fame. The thing that caught my eye on the BBC News website was an article on the radio show The Reunion. The latest edition brings together people involved in the Kings Cross Fire and listening to this it took me back just over twenty five years.

This was a particularly formative time in my life as I’d just returned to live in the UK after a major adventure in North America and I was finding it hard going. Nobody here was interested in what a great time I’d had over the last six years abroad and the UK had massively changed since I had left in 1981. Britain then, as now in many cases, regarded the glass as being half empty (and at risk of being knocked over) whereas, generally North America is a glass half full place!

As a result of the Kings Cross Fire, ‘The Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989’ were introduced. In addition, smoking was banned in all London Underground stations; smoking on the trains themselves had been banned in 1984 following a fire at Oxford Circus tube station. Thirty one people died in the Kings Cross fire including the fireman Station Officer Colin Townsley who was posthumously awarded the George Medal.

Well, I’m still in the UK, although in 1987 I nearly did get back on the jet to return to the land of optimism. As I grow older I think I become mellower and on a slow day in the fire world I think I’ve seen it all before. I hope I never have to see another Kings Cross type fire again; it would be depressing in the extreme to think that 31 people died in vein.

It’s good to see that fire and rescue services can find time for a piece of fun such as the Harlem Shake, indeed the Greater Manchester version was encouraging people to cook more safely and in particular to ‘Ban the (Chip) Pan’. I’m sure that despite these austere times the fire and rescue will continue to fight the glass half empty syndrome; to do their job you surely have to be a measured optimist!

Would you believe it I’ve just knocked over my glass of squash (fruit juice is banned at the FIA but that’s the subject of another blog) which had been half full...