09 September 2019 by David Smith, FIA, FIRESA Secretary

If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that democracy is a fine thing and it's just a shame that we don't see more of it. One of the eternal flaming beacons of democracy does, however, burn bright at the FIA which acts as the collective voice of the fire industry and which in order to do that effectively, must engage with its members and take their views into the outside world. The processes that we undertake are enabled by our esteemed members and supported by a structure of committees that brings industry experts together to define our programme of activities and to do the hard work necessary to drive the sector forward to further improve fire safety in the UK and indeed globally.

The overall direction of the FIA is determined by the Board which comprises not only elected members but also the Chairs of each of our seven Councils. The Councils themselves act as the engine of the Association, achieving objectives within their specific fields and providing input into the FIA's Marketing and Liaison Groups as well as overseeing a good number of Working Groups and supplying delegates to a wide range of external bodies including Standards Committees. All this is possible through the commitment and dedication of those that serve on our Board, Councils and Working Groups.

As the Nomination Letters wing their way into people's inboxes to be followed in about a month by the Ballot Papers, it's worth highlighting this process and its importance not just to us as the Association but to you as members. It's very easy to apply to become a candidate for the forthcoming elections, the results of which will be announced at the AGM in November [on the subject of which do make sure you come along as the formal business is followed by a fantastic lunch and entertainment at the Brewery in London and is the 'must go to' event of the year in the sector]. The Nomination Letter tells you all about how the elections work, is augmented this year with a bit about all the elected Committees and has a very simple self-nomination form that needs to be returned to us within 21 days. It takes just a few minutes work and you've made yourself a candidate for your chosen Committee!

Do have a think about it and if you're not already involved, why not put yourself forward and be an integral part of what we're achieving as the concerted voice of the industry? The Councils meet quarterly and although work is assigned for completion between these, the commitment any individual gives depends on what you feel you can volunteer yourself for. The old adage applies, the more you put in, the more you get out!     

The Ballot Paper is then compiled and voting begins. If you're a lower turnover member, you may be thinking at this stage that this is where it all falls down. Far from it because some years ago, we discontinued a rather archaic system where votes were weighted in favour of the higher turnover companies and replaced it with a more equitable 'one member one vote'. Also, we introduced a guaranteed number of seats on each Committee for A/B, C/D and E/F membership grades such that candidates from smaller organisations can still be elected if the lower bands are not adequately represented based on the number of votes alone. Add to this a refresh process where elected members are subject to a one or two year time limit after which they must apply for re-election alongside new candidates and we have what we believe to be a means of getting industry figures on board on a fair and equitable basis.

The voting aspect also features a call to duty as frankly, the number of members that vote is lower than we would wish and some companies don't even vote for their own candidates! Obviously, if you don't know that particular sub-sector nor the candidates concerned, you cannot make an informed choice so it's fine to abstain and you certainly don't have to vote for all the categories. if you are in a position to cast a vote, however, we urge you to do so in order that we have the most democratic outcome possible.  

An important point here is that the Nomination Letter will not reach everyone in your organisation and the Ballot Paper goes to the Nominated Representative of each member company who is just one named person who may or may not be you. It's vital that you know who your NR is as, dare I say, the letter and paper that we send out may not reach all the people that need to see them so if you don't know, put a call into the office on 020 3166 5002 and we can tell you in a matter of seconds. Note please that while you may need to see your NR to get the necessary information, the self-nomination forms can be completed and returned by the candidate themselves. The votes, however, must be cast by the Nominated Rep or a designated proxy.

And so thank you in advance to the new candidates for the positions up for grabs in November, thank you to those that are remaining with us for another year and thanks also to those that have automatically retired and need to re-apply to remain in position. The latter must fill in a self-nomination form to go through as a candidate, your seat will not automatically roll over!

Athens is usually seen as the birthplace of democracy in the sixth century BC although scholars believe there were so-called proto-democratic societies in places such as Mesopotamia and the India sub-continent. While Athens may have the Acropolis among its glorious ancient sites, the FIA has Tudor House in Hampton [glorious rather than ancient] and our democratic values are very much based on that of the early Athenian pioneers like Solon, Cleisthenes and others. Please help us to maintain this tradition by involving yourself in the FIA Committees and ensuring that your company casts its votes wherever feasible.     

In the words of British poet Alice Oswald, ‘It's a relief to hear the rain. It's the sound of billions of drops, all equal, all equally committed to falling, like a sudden outbreak of democracy. Water, when it hits the ground, instantly becomes a puddle or rivulet or flood.’