16 November 2020 by David Smith, FIA, FIRESA Secretary

While we often hear the phrase ‘the new normal’ in these unprecedented days, we are less likely to come across ‘omnia mutantur, nihil interit’ which translates as everything changes, nothing perishes and is to be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. One of the most revered and influential works in literature, it covers the history of the world from its creation up to the deification of Julius Caesar. At nearly 12,000 lines and encompassing over 250 myths, it closes with an epilogue that acts as a declaration that all must give way to change but also that nothing can be destroyed.

This is certainly true of the FIA during the Covid-19 pandemic which, like so many organisations, has acted quickly and decisively to respond to a world in which we are no longer able to conduct our business in the ways we have long taken for granted. Remote working and successions of on-line virtual meetings are among the necessary transformations that are unlikely to recede in the short to medium term and who knows if we will ever return to the paradigm of less than a year ago.

People now often speak of Zoom fatigue [other platforms are of course available] and of that vital component of face-to-face interaction that is missing from on-line meetings, not to mention a coffee together and maybe the promise of a few sandwiches before departure. Equally, however, video conferencing is notably efficient when the meeting itself is not bookended by often several hours of travel to and from a physical venue. This is especially true of Association meetings where participants are often drawn from a dozen or more member companies spread across the country. From a personal perspective, I welcome the day when I can once again call physical meetings of the Councils I look after but with an eye towards retaining some on-line activities for various ad hoc meetings that will undoubtedly save time for the delegates and will result in these sessions being called more expediently than in the past when diaries were to be consulted and the meetings set weeks or even months ahead.

The adaptation of the FIA to these circumstances has been enormous and has included some restructuring of the Association and most notably the provision of on-line training and examinations which has enabled us to maintain our key role of educating those in the industry and, in doing so, safeguarding a vital income stream.

All this and more was covered at the 2020 AGM which was held on its long-appointed date of 11th November and for which the ground floor of the FIA offices took on the guise of a TV studio in order to accomplish the live transmission. Chris Tilley and Adam Richardson did a tremendous job in working long and hard on the complex technical logistics of this event which resulted in a broadcast that I’m aware has been tremendously well-received by the members.

Following a welcome by the FIA Chairman, Derek Gotts, the Finance Review was presented by Martin Watson, Chair of the Finance Committee. He noted that we are now realising the savings resulting from the Commercial Review and staff restructuring and which will continue to contribute to our financial performance in the years ahead. While training revenue was impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, costs were reduced owing to on-line training and Marketing also returned reduced costs and increased revenue.

The Chairman returned to the podium to present on the work of the seven Councils which showed clearly that their achievements have continued to grow rather than be diminished by current circumstances. Our Membership Manager, Chris Tilley, then spoke of substantive success in attracting new members to the FIA over the last year with 86 such companies joining and leading to a total figure of 917, growth that is enhanced by our CPD programme and Compliance provision under Kevin Stearns. He also highlighted the What’s In It For Me [WIFM] approach underpinning our offer to members and an increase in our Third Party Benefit Schemes.

Training Manager Michael Gregg took the stage to indicate a year of significant change not just with the rapid provision of on-line courses and exams but the introduction of new courses on BS 5831-1 Fundamentals, Conversion to Fundamentals and BS 5831-6 Fundamentals. This year saw 112 on-line courses, 1030 delegates trained and 710 qualifications exams taken. And there is so much more to come with the Fundamentals to Advanced Conversion, BS 8629 [evacuation alert systems] and BS 6266 fire protection for electronic equipment installations] courses in the pipeline.  

THE FIA CEO, Ian Moore, presented on the FIA Marketing function, noting the introduction of live updates on the web site concerning Covid-19, Brexit and Grenfell/Hackitt developments as well as expansions to the Resources section and on-going Member Surveys. E-Communication continues to expand with the Focus Newsletter, a monthly Membership Update, the Fireside chat [interviews with key figures in the fire industry] and the return of advertising opportunities.

A period of silence and refection was observed at 11 am to honour those who serve to defend our democratic freedoms and way of life, uniting us across faiths, cultures and backgrounds to remember the service and sacrifice of the Armed Forces community from Britain and the Commonwealth. 

Ian remained at the podium to present an overview of 2020 and a look ahead to the coming year. In the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, we continue to work with government to address a host of initiatives contributing to ‘Building a Safer Future’ as the final report of the Hackitt review is entitled. These include development of a Premises Information Box [PIB] system, emergency evacuation alert systems in buildings and provision of an EWS-1 Portal. This latter project is fully funded by the FIA and through working with RICS and others will result in a central web-based location for the placement and retrieval of EWS-1 forms pertaining to the fire safety of external cladding on high rise buildings. This will unblock transactions involving properties in high-rise flats, identify any remedial actions required on external cladding and eliminate fraudulent activity associated with these forms. 

He also referred to revisions about to be completed to the FIA Articles of Association, the restructuring of the FIA, the sale of the FIA Awarding Organisation to BAFE, our work on Brexit and our vast network of public relations activities. As for what lies ahead, this certainly includes continuing efforts to raise the bar on professionalism in the sector, supporting companies in the post-Brexit environment, increasing the membership of the Association and delivering the very best industry training. He also committed to re-establishing the funding of research projects as soon as financially viable and forging ahead on aspects of business development including increased training packages, membership benefits, a return to exhibition presence and enhancement of strategic media partnerships.

Ian concluded by highlighting our key goals before turning to the FIA Lifetime Achievement Award, this year going to Derek Harrington whose illustrious career in the fire sector began in 1960 when he trained as an electrician before joining Honeywell Controls as an Applications Engineer. Moving through a variety of management positions in building services, sales and marketing, he was responsible for a number of huge projects including Heathrow Terminal 5 systems worth in excess of £350 m. Having worked in the industry for 47 years, his semi-retirement was augmented by contributions to local government, charities and gaining a BA in photography from Cambridge. At age 75, he now looks forward to a new set of goals and will be relinquishing his role as FIA Company Secretary in April 2021. Derek thanked everyone for his award, the gift of a new lens for his camera and looked forward to more time for photography and his passion for sailing.

 

The results of the elections to the Board and Councils was followed by a Q&A session in which the CEO addressed an influx of members’ questions sent in electronically during the proceedings and this led us to the closing address from the FIA Chairman. This was an AGM like no other before it but which was filled with messages of positive progress for the Association in 2020 and much to aspire to next year and, with it, the hope that we may gather once more at The Brewery in London come next November. We may not have enjoyed the company of friends and colleagues this time round nor the traditional wonderful lunch and entertainment of the afternoon but the 2020 AGM remained an informative and vital component of the industry calendar. And there were some sandwiches laid on afterwards.              

           

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