13 October 2011 by Graham Ellicott,

I must be getting old but I think my first ever trade show at Olympia was 25 years ago. Remember those days? ...No internet, few mobile phones, the whir buzz screech noise of the fax machine was all pervasive. Well, the latter has gone but yesterday Olympia looked pretty much as it did in the ‘80s, that said, it’s in London and easy to get to by the millions of people who live there, including the thousands of them interested in fire.

I was revisiting old haunts, to speak, at UBM’s ‘Total Workplace Management' (TWM) show at a fire seminar entitled, ‘Fire Safety Order – Building on five years of experience, where next?’ I always try to get to these events early to size up the ferocity of the audience, the other speakers and to see what’s new in the way that trade shows are run. TWM appeared to be well run and the number of staff to direct you to where you needed to go was impressive; me thinks there must be a lot of money in trade shows!

Bursting through the entrance door I nearly flattened the People’s Champion, Jimmy White, who was playing pool in the aisle in front of his sponsors stand – surreal I thought but certainly it drew my attention to the stand...although for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the company.

Further down the aisles I ran across several fire world colleagues who all commented that the show was bringing in a good quality of enquiry. I won’t name them as I’d hate their share price to go through the roof, that said, look out on your travels for lots of new firedoor retainers.

On to the seminar, which was refereed by that well-known member of fire’s fourth estate, Ron Alalouff of info4fire.com ; the three teams being the London Fire Brigade ably marshalled by Steve Turek of London; the trade lead (sic) by me but hampered with a hurty knee injury brought by pursuing the fire world’s may organisations; and the end users spearheaded by Sara Higham of the Federation of Small Businesses.

Steve spoke first, giving an outline of the Fire Safety Order (FSO) to date and looked forward to more of the same in future, which in London’s case is a well-run, thoughtful and consistent approach to educating, encouraging and enforcing when necessary. One of the members of the large audience (yes, large for fire; they all left the People’s Champion to come and see us!) asked Steve about the resources to handle the FSO; as in the opinion of the questioner, outside London little happens with regard to prosecutions. Steve conceded that some of the smaller brigades would not have the resource to tackle the situation in the same way as London.

This set me thinking; given the 25% cuts in fire brigade funding, how many of the smaller ones would survive? It’d certainly make my life easier if there weren’t 46 of them in England to chase. Saying that, there could be less trade associations as well so it always pays to be careful what one wishes for; but still, 46!

Hurty knee notwithstanding, I was on my feet next to give the good news; there are fewer fires and fewer fire deaths (which have halved since the 1980’s) and the bad news; the cost of fire now seeing insurers paying out more than £4M per day. I also warned the audience that their nice friendly fire brigade may be sending them bills in future if they have lots of false alarms. I also banged on about, in my opinion, the ludicrously inconsistent approach from the English fire brigades with regard to attending automatic fire alarm signals – the spectrum runs from no attendance in Warwickshire (companies are leaving Nuneaton like lemmings) to full attendance in London! Of course, if England was to go the same way as Scotland then there’d be full attendance and almost certainly only one brigade to deal with which would make my life a lot easier. Indeed, it could be so easy that I’d probably be without a job!

Finally, I made the plea to the audience that they should only use third party certificated companies for all things fire – so look for the BAFE, LPCB and FIRAS logos.

Sara talked about the way that red tape can affect business and in particular gave an interesting case history which was a horror story with regard to fire enforcement – it wasn’t set in London! The inconsistencies between the brigades with regard to enforcement also formed part of Sara’s presentation. She cited the Health and Safety Executive as also being an enforcer but with far more consistency than the fire brigades. There is an irony here as HSE are the Fire Safety Order enforcer on construction sites before the fire service takes over once the construction phase has completed.

All in all I thought the seminar a success. Will I be back at Olympia in another 25 years? Well, who knows, my guess is not unless I’ve had a knee replacement…