IFSJ Exclusive: Private-public firefighting power

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By Kees Kappetijn, consultant at Kappeijn Safety Specialists and Jimi Korst, tactical commander and team leader at Unified Fire Service Amersterdam

The success of public-private fire safety and response largely depends on shared safety interests and mutual confidence between the partners involved, as is demonstrated in the Amsterdam Sea Port area. In April 2020 a public-private firefighting organisation was established in the Dutch capital for the extensive harbour- and industrial zone west of the city.

Public authorities and industry joined hands in order to raise the level of fire safety and incident response in this dynamic economic hub in The Netherlands. Three years after take-off the initiative proves to be very successful and the next steps for further development are taken.

Unified Fire Service Amsterdam started as collective company fire service for 15 industrial sites in the Amsterdam Sea Port. Three years later 16 new members joined the cooperation.

The intensive logistic and industrial activity and the mutual ‘chain dependency’ in a densely populated urban area lead to an accumulation of risks, requiring smart concepts for ensuring safety, security and incident response. The risk profile of the area runs from smaller fires and spills in logistic units and test-installations of start-ups, to fires in large solar fields and tank storage facilities.

Effective incident response by a dedicated industrial response team are a ‘must’ in this economic vital area.

Major incidents could cause extensive disruption to industrial continuity and logistical flows and also considerable financial loss for the port and industrial companies. Effective incident response by a dedicated industrial response team, trained and equipped for the typical risks in the area, are therefore a ‘must’ in this economic vital area.

Stakeholders and interests

GBA took shape in Amsterdam there was a mutual aid organisation in the area already, focussing on preparation for tank and bund fires. In 2009 five large oil storage terminals in the Amsterdam agglomeration joined forces in establishing the Amsterdam Mutual Aid System (AMAS). They collectively purchased large scale firefighting equipment, such as high-capacity pumps, water transportation hoses, foam supply and high-capacity monitors.

The public component was added by two adjacent public firefighting organisations (Amsterdam-Amstelland and Kennemerland) to form the AYMA-collaboration: Amsterdam-Ymond Mutual Aid, thus ensuring the availability of trained personnel for firefighting operations.

Until three years ago the Amsterdam western harbour area had very little facilities for basic industrial incident response. There was no fire station in the extended area and only a few companies were required to maintain a company fire brigade by law. They largely covered their risks by implementing stationary fire safety systems. In case of fires and accidents in the harbour area the public fire service had to respond from fire stations in the Amsterdam urban areas, often at far distances, especially in the western parts of the industrial zone.

In 2015 a study for improving the fire safety and incident response in the western harbour area resulted in an advisory report, concluding that a public-private mutual aid fire brigade was the best option to raise the preparedness level in the area. All stakeholders involved: the Safety Region Amsterdam, the City of Amsterdam and the Port of Amsterdam as ‘housekeeper’ in the port area, saw the need of investing in a dedicated 24/7 fire brigade, properly equipped and trained for industrial incident scenarios.

After three years of preparation GBA was established in 2020 with a formation of 30 firefighters and a flex pool of 10 industrial firefighting specialists, ensuring the first incident response 24/7 with a six-member operational team from a fire station within the harbour area. One standard fire engine and an industrial foam tender are at their disposal.

Port authority as partner

GBA is an independent incident response organisation, serving three ‘customers’: the industry collective, counting 31 member companies meanwhile, the Safety Region Amsterdam-Amstelland and the Port of Amsterdam. These three partners also form the board of the organisation, in a 6-seat model. Two seat for industry, two seats for the public fifi-service and two seats for the harbour authorities, being a PPP in itself. So there is no majority for public or private partners, all decisions must be discussed and need a PPP majority.

There is no majority for public or private partners, all decisions must be discussed and need a PPP majority.”

By providing swift and professional incident response in case of fires and accidents GBA contributes to that safe business environment. Apart from incident response GBA also provides proactive and preventive safety advice and maritime and shipping incident response. In the first three years of its existence GBA proved its value in terms of rapid incident suppression and limited damage. The safety in the industrial zone has improved considerably, making the area attractive for new industries to settle. Altogether the Amsterdam PPP-model is a win-win construction for all three stakeholders involved.

Added value for public and private partners

The Western Sea Port area of Amsterdam is the ideal environment for establishing a public-private mutual aid incident response organisation. The harbour area is situated on the border area of three public safety regions, contains an extended cluster of industrial and storage facilities and has an intricate infrastructure for transportation.

While the public and private stake holders rely on each other in process chains and logistics, they share strong interests of safety and security. For that reason they decided to also share the costs for investments in better preparedness, response capacity, training and maintenance. The three stake holders each contribute for one third in the costs. The industrial contribution is split over a total of 31 companies, minimising the costs for individual member companies. Moto for the industry: for 2% of the cost you get 100% of the services.

The growth of the GBA organisation to 31 companies within three years proves that the industry in the Amsterdam harbour area believes in the ppp-model. The key to success are the services GBA provides to its members. That service extends beyond quick response in case of fire and accidents. GBA offers added services like safety advice, preparation by joined exercises, educating CMT-teams and support for fire safety audits.

A fire brigade that is familiar with the company site, its risks and the values that have to be protected, is better prepared to set priorities in case of incidents and to apply the right strategy to control the incident and limit the effects. This approach makes GBA not only the ideal safety partner for high risk-companies but also for capital intensive companies such as a shipyard, consumer alcohol storage, large logistic storage facilities for luxury products and cocoa production companies.

Further evolution

GBA is the result of the joined ambition of the three stakeholders: Safety region Amsterdam-Amstelland, Port of Amsterdam and the collective of member companies, partners that dared to experiment with a smart and innovative organisation model without any management layers and with alternate duty schedules. In the design- and building phase, personnel were carefully selected, not only on operational skills but also on additional gifts like management capabilities.

GBA plays an important role in improving the safety in the harbour area of Amsterdam.

After being operational for three years it is clear that GBA plays an important role in improving the safety in the harbour area of Amsterdam. The number of responses is considerably higher than estimated in the design phase. In 2022 298 incidents were reported, most of which were relatively small and in the public area.

Meanwhile the Amsterdam PPP mutual aid initiative has its focus on the future, planning further evolution and added services. GBA hopes to extend the cooperation with other public services in the harbour regions in time, such as police and customs, in order to improve the integral safety in the area. Also, GBA has the intention to invest in the cooperation with other PPP-platforms in the Netherlands, by sharing knowledge and experiences and in time perhaps also their heavy-duty equipment and capacity in case of extensive industrial fires or temporary unavailability of equipment components. ‘Stronger together’ in specialised industrial incident response.

This article was originally published in the April edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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