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Change is coming: Exclusive interview with Steve Hamm, CEO of the Institution of Fire Engineers

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Steve Hamm discusses the details behind the recent announcement that the Institution of Fire Engineers will undergo a comprehensive review of its communications and activities that will aim to strengthen its global influence.  

Across the global fire and safety spectrum, new regulations, technologies and standards are changing at an accelerated pace. These changes have been brought on by climate change and major incidents taking place across the world, and for that reason, many organisations are in the midst of a structural change. For governing bodies, this change has had an impact on how they, and their members operate. With new challenges to overcome, they must manoeuvre appropriately to prepare for the future and continue education of the ever-expanding industry. 

For the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), this has resulted in a new global strategy. The IFE is a global professional membership body for those in the fire sector that seek to increase their knowledge, professional recognition and understanding of fire through a global discourse. With over 100 years of history, the IFE has helped shape the future of a world that is safer from fire.  

Leading the way 

Having spent more than 25 years in the Fire and Rescue Service, serving in operations, fire safety and training in both county and metropolitan areas, Steve Hamm is well versed within the challenges that lie ahead for companies within fire engineering. His role within IFE already requires him to lead the way in meeting the future demands and challenges that are emerging.

On his role, and that of the IFE within the sector, Hamm said: “It is my job to make sure that the organisation continues to evolve to meet the future needs of its members. I have been responsible for leading the change in strategy, reviewing what we do, how we do it and listening to how members would like to see the organisation develop in the future. I also foster collaboration across the global fire industry to drive our mission to advance and improve the knowledge, practice and recognition of all fire professionals as we look to enable an increasingly fire safe world.  

“The IFE is the global professional membership body for those in the fire sector. Managed for fire professionals by fire professionals, the IFE looks to promote, encourage and improve the science, practice and professionalism of engineering, acting as a beacon of established expertise and guiding the way to a fire safe future.” 

As part of their position within the fire sector, the IFE recently announced a comprehensive review of its communications and activities to improve its services and qualifications for members. The review will look to strengthen the global influence in competence and sustainability for the Institution. The review has been brought on by an evolving landscape which has provided new ways of working and highlighted the importance of knowledge and information sharing.

On the changes the industry is adapting to, Hamm comments: “Across the board our roles and responsibilities are evolving, influenced by advances in technologies and materials. The reality is the fire safety landscape in which our members operate is changing at a faster pace than at any time since the foundation of the Institution in 1918. This is both exciting and challenging and it is vital we remain highly relevant to the needs of our members and continue to build on our role to create a fire safe future. We have had valuable input from members, volunteers, staff and stakeholders in shaping our new direction.” 

Changing to reflect the future  

When setting out the challenges the industry has faced, the IFE first had to clarify the key areas that needed to be made for the immediate future. The process of this can be complicated, especially with so many members to consider when making the necessary changes.

However, Hamm states that when coming up with a strategy, their members were heavily involved in the process, and together they have developed something that will help build towards a better future: “By listening to our members, we have come up with a strategy that ensures the IFE remains relevant to future needs, builds on the potential of digital learning and knowledge sharing initiated during lockdown and influences best practice around the world.  

“We have undertaken a comprehensive review of our communications and activities with the aim of reshaping our services to members and developing clear strategies for activities under two core themes of competency and sustainability. Our research particularly highlighted the importance members place on the global reach of our organisation, enabling them to learn from each other and ensure they are at the forefront of best practice. This builds their own levels of expertise and in turn the confidence that others have in their services, advice and assessments.” 

Improving support to improve services 

As part of the new strategy the IFE has also made changes within its team. Peter Wilkinson has been appointed as new technical director to lead on the IFE’s technical collaborations, special interest groups and input into consultations. The new position of relationships manager has also been created, with the aim of developing support for the organisation’s international network of branches and extensive cohort of volunteers. There has also been changes implemented to improve services and qualifications for members of the IFE.

When discussing the changes, Hamm comments: “We have enhanced our communications across the board and moved more of our activities online attracting a much more diverse international audience than previously. We are focussed on ensuring that what we do remains highly relevant to the future needs of the sector so are increasingly looking to our branches to bring challenges to us from around the world so that we can work together to resolve them, as well as expanding our branch network into new territories.  

He continued: “By connecting different professions in the industry, we can help to inform future advances and innovation. Training, CPD, qualifications and technical updates are at the heart of our role in illuminating a fire safe world. We are bringing together the schedules, events and work of our special interest groups to create a more transparent and accessible hub of information that will support competency.

“Our branches around the world are engaged in influencing new legislation, regulations and guidance, as well as enabling the training to support these changes. Our focus on competency will be underpinned by a new learning resources facility as a member benefit with accessible study support.” 

Mapping out immediate priorities 

With many changes to come for the IFE, the organisation has already set out its priorities for the coming year. Part of this is to develop a strategy for the existing volunteers. Hamm believes that this will help them maintain the high standards that they have built. “From reviewing applications and examinations to sitting on committees, they volunteer their knowledge and expertise to help maintain the high standards that build confidence in our professionalism and practice. In turn, they benefit from the experience, knowledge sharing, influencing and leadership skills that come with many of our volunteering roles, but we want to build on this. 

He continued: “As part of this exciting initiative, we are going to host a new Volunteer Hub on our website. The hub will recognise and support our existing volunteers, enabling them to share their experiences and showcase work they have been involved in on our behalf. It will also highlight the diverse range of voluntary roles available throughout the IFE and make clear what each role involves. The hub will also set out the many benefits that volunteering for the IFE can bring to both individuals and employers.” 

The next steps 

With the strategy still in its infancy, there is much more to come from the IFE. The organisation are looking to build closer relationships with other organisations and are putting together a new suite of qualifications that have been well received by members. For the future, Hamm says they want to focus on competency and sustainability. “Our strategy is at the beginning of its journey so our focus will be centred on its key components, competency and sustainability.

“We will build on our resources to ensure we are equipping our members to build knowledge and skills together. Around the world, our branches are engaged in activities designed to attract new people into the sector. Professional fire engineers will be crucial to making a rapidly changing world safe from fire in the future.  

He continued: “There is still a lot we don’t know about fire, and we cannot be complacent particularly when it comes to emerging technologies. To respond effectively, we must work in partnership and collaborate across specialisms. Each person working in the fire industry today brings their own experience and valuable perspective to solving the problems of the future. Competency has always been front and centre of our commitment to professionalism and is more important than ever as we update our skills and practices in line with new legislation and regulations.” 

As the landscape of the fire industry around us changes, it is more important than ever that organisations continue to reflect the change with up-to-date strategies. The IFE look well placed to help its members continue to navigate the future challenges on the horizon. 

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