Charting a new course in fire safety with Avene Furness

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Innovation and Integrity in Fire Safety with Avene Furness, Founder and Managing Director of Chute Fire Certification UK

Avene Furness, Managing Director of Chute Fire Certification UK, has a rich background in sales spanning various sectors, including FMCG and advertising.

Her journey into the fire safety industry was not a straightforward one.

Furness recalls her shift from a demanding role as a UK Sales Manager to a more balanced position, coinciding with personal life changes.

“I was UK Sales Manager running a team of 12 and the hours were crazy – so the timing was just right for a change,” Furness recalls.

This led her to a sales consultant role in a company focused on residential laundry chutes, with the aim to expand into commercial sectors.

Despite her initial lack of fire safety knowledge, Furness made significant strides, securing the Gansevoort Hotel as her first commercial business.

“I didn’t know a thing about fire safety but I landed the first ever piece of commercial business,” she says, demonstrating her sales prowess.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy further shaped her perspective, revealing to her the opportunistic tendencies within the industry.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it was like they were capitalising on people’s fear and grief,” she tells.

This prompted her to advocate for a more ethical approach in the sector.

Furness’s commitment to changing industry norms led to the founding of Chute Fire Certification UK.

“Seeing the way the competitors operated, from the insane mark ups to the customer service aspect, I just felt there was a way to take a socially responsible approach,” she explains.

She pursued fire safety education rigorously, becoming a registered Fire Technician, and aimed to establish a company that excelled in customer service and transparency.

“I wanted a company that gave great customer service and the price was a set price,” Furness states, marking a departure from common industry practices.

Her vision for Chute Fire Certification UK was deeply influenced by the market’s demand for integrity and fairness.

Furness says: “My passion was to try and set up a company that was very transparent, trustworthy and offer value for money.”

Navigating early challenges

In the initial stages of Chute Fire Certification UK, Furness encountered a series of challenges that tested her transition from industry expert to business leader.

“The biggest obstacle I had was that I was probably quite naïve,” she reflects, acknowledging the learning curve involved in her new role.

A key issue she identified was the industry’s inadequate training and qualifications for chute servicing personnel.

“At the time nobody was sending people out to do chutes that were qualified, they weren’t engineers, they were labourers,” Furness notes, pinpointing a significant market gap.

The turning point for Furness came with direct engagement in subcontracting, leading to the expansion of services and the start of in-house product development.

“That’s when we started the journey of product development and fabricating our own products,” she states, highlighting her strategic pivot.

Since its inception, Chute Fire Certification UK has made significant strides, carving out a niche in the fire safety industry with innovative products and a strong customer retention rate.

Furness, the driving force behind these achievements, shares key milestones that have defined the company’s journey.

One of the company’s most notable successes is the development and launch of its own product lines.

“We have five ranges of refuse hopper doors,” Furness proudly states, highlighting the company’s move towards self-sufficiency in manufacturing.

Moreover, the chute safe protection system, a uniquely designed and registered product in the UK, stands out as a testament to the company’s commitment to quality and safety.

“We’ve also had that product third party assessed by the International Fire Consultants as a premium product,” she adds, underscoring the recognition it has received.

The importance of Certified Fire Technicians

Furness emphasises the critical importance of fire safety in managing commercial refuse and laundry chutes.

She outlines two key aspects: legislative compliance and practical safety measures.

“Whoever the responsible person is for a building or a housing association, from a legitimacy point of view they need to ensure that they are compliant as it’s their head if something goes wrong,” Furness explains, highlighting the legal responsibility.

From a safety perspective, the absence of properly protected and maintained chutes can lead to catastrophic consequences.

“If these chutes aren’t properly protected by a product that has been tested to the appropriate standard, BS476: Part 22: 1987 and they aren’t maintained properly then they won’t work as intended,” she warns, stressing the potential risks of an uncontrolled fire spreading through a building due to inadequate chute systems.

She strongly believes in the necessity of having knowledgeable and certified fire technicians and qualified engineers: “They need to have that background knowledge and understanding of the fire regulations.”

This belief is rooted in her own extensive experience and firsthand involvement in product development.

Regarding staff training, Furness details a comprehensive approach, combining construction site safety with continuous professional development (CPD).

The engineers’ training is aligned with the latest developments in regulations and fire safety practices.

“We actively promote CPD and as members of the FPA (Fire Protection Agency), we have access to the latest educational developments,” she notes, emphasising the ongoing learning process.

Additionally, the engineers undergo various safety-related trainings, such as SSSTS, asbestos awareness, and first aid, reflecting the company’s commitment to overall safety and compliance.

Furness’s IOSH certification and her role in coordinating training demonstrate her hands-on involvement in ensuring her team’s proficiency and adherence to safety standards.

Breaking barriers and looking ahead

Furness has carved a distinct path in the predominantly male fire safety industry.

Her approach transcends gender perceptions, focusing instead on expertise and hands-on involvement.

“I don’t think I’m looked at as a woman, or rather it’s never played a part in terms of how I’ve approached the work,” she states, underlining that her success is rooted in her depth of knowledge and willingness to be actively involved in all aspects of her business.

She emphasises the importance of being well-informed and capable of independently handling client queries and challenges on site.

“My clients see me on site, they see me getting dirty as part of the job,” she says, showcasing her commitment to leading by example.

Looking forward, Chute Fire Certification UK is poised for further growth and expansion.

Furness outlines the company’s plan to venture beyond their current specialisation in refurbishing chutes to tackling more new installation projects.

“We’re now at a place where we need to kick on to the next level,” Furness reveals, indicating a strategic shift towards more complex and challenging projects.

This evolution reflects the company’s continuous pursuit of excellence and growth in the fire safety sector.

Furness offers valuable advice for new entrepreneurs in fire safety or other specialised sectors.

Her guidance stresses the importance of thorough industry knowledge, a deep understanding of regulations, and active field experience.

“You have to know the regulations, barriers to entry, you need to be out in the field, living and breathing it,” she advises.

She also emphasises the significance of continuous learning, networking, and maintaining focus on one’s vision without getting sidetracked by competitors.

“Stick to your plan, why you wanted to set up the business in the first place and what you felt you could offer,” she counsels, underscoring the need for integrity and hard work in building a successful enterprise.

If you’d like to explore how Chute Fire Certification UK can help enhance yours or your clients’ projects and ensure legal compliance you can get in touch at [email protected].

This article was originally published in the February 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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