Global safety, local impact: Interview with Dr. Paul Stollard, Chair of The Institution of Fire Engineers

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Fire safety pioneer Dr. Paul Stollard discusses his career and appointment as the new Chair of the Institution of Fire Engineers

On 27th March 2024, global professional body, the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), announced the appointment of their new Chair and Trustee Director, Dr. Paul Stollard CEng, MIFireE, RegArch, PhD, BArch, BA, who has led and gained extensive experience over the course of four decades in the fields of both architecture and fire engineering.

Paul’s career in fire safety began over 40 years ago when he first completed the IFE’s membership exam whilst conducting research at Edinburgh University.

Originally training as an architect, Paul later specialised in Fire Safety Engineering, acquiring several qualifications including a PhD focused on ‘the integration of fire safety into the process of architectural design’.

In this exclusive interview, IFSJ spoke to Paul to find out more about his career to date and his plans as the Institution of Fire Engineer’s new Chair.

What inspired your shift from architecture to fire engineering?

I trained as an architect, but qualifying when there was a downturn in the construction industry, I looked round for interesting, linked jobs.

Then having become involved in fire safety design, I was fascinated.

As the new Chair and Trustee Director of the IFE, how do you aim to impact global fire safety norms?

I view the role of any chair as ensuring that their board works effectively and efficiently, so that will be my priority.

I do not come with any specific plans of my own, only a desire to see that the IFE strengthens its place as the professional body for all those involved in ensuring safety from fire.

This must be at each stage of the lifecycle of a building: design, construction, operation and, if the worst does happen, firefighting.

 The IFE should be an authoritative body for fire safety qualifications, recognised and respected world-wide in all these areas.

What do you consider your most significant contribution to fire safety and why?

Probably leading the complete overhaul of the Scottish Building standards system, with the new act in 2003 and new standards two years later.

To get to this point there had needed to be the building of a consensus in the construction industry and a rigorous revaluation of what building regulations were for, how they should be policed and paid for, and how you ensured that they did not stifle architectural creativity.

Twenty years on the system inevitably has a few problems, but the underpinning of rigorous decision making and evidence-based regulations remains.

How do you see fire safety integrating with architectural design, especially with technological advancements?

Fire safety was barely touched on in my own architectural training, only discussed as a necessary hoop in the approvals process.

Now the importance of fire safety is accepted and it is a recognised part of the creative development of designs, however there is still a long way to go.

I do not want buildings which are safe, but boring.

I want to see exciting designs where fire safety is seamlessly integrated, so that the architectural creativity is not compromised.

This requires increasing understanding of risk and fire dynamics by architects and engineers and I think some of the modelling tools now available, and others being developed, have an increasing role to play in this.

How have incidents like the Grenfell Tower fire influenced fire safety policies?

The Grenfell Tower tragedy has been seared into the soul of every fire safety professional worth the title.

In Scotland, Ministers were very fast in initiating a review of the building standards and most importantly seeking advice from other jurisdictions, so that I not chaired not only an expert review group in Scotland but also a panel of fire experts from other countries.

In addition to this Scotland had the benefit of belonging to a network of building standards regulators across the word for advice and support, and I must have spoken to another twenty or so countries.

How will you foster international cooperation in fire safety?

The IFE is in a pivotal position as both a professional and qualifications body with a worldwide membership.

I would like the IFE to be increasingly recognised as a major player in ensuring the exchange of learning and information and believe that our global network of branches provides the local knowledge that can make this a reality.

How do you aim to evolve the IFE’s educational offerings to meet the challenges of modern fire safety engineering?

The IFE has a dual role here, it not only run an own examinations system, but also acts as an accrediting body for courses run by universities and other education providers.

This gives us enormous strength and I am determined that we should develop both sides of our work.

With more people choosing a career in fire safety we need to ensure that each course has clear objectives, is appropriately taught, is independently validated, and that hard work is given recognition in a way which can develop an individual’s career.

Are there any upcoming IFE projects or initiatives you’re particularly excited about?

I am joining the board in the final year of our current corporate strategy and am aware of all the consultation that is currently going among our members on what should comprise the new strategy.

I hope to play a role in fine tuning this and then assisting at its launch in the autumn.

Thie new corporate strategy should then serve as the agenda of the Trustee Board, while I am chair.

What future trends or technologies do you think will significantly impact fire safety?

I think the pressure to develop more sustainable forms of construction, particularly materials, but also property management technologies, will require a clear understanding of the risk profiles involved.

This will inevitably call on the involvement of other specialists and it is important the fire safety professionals are an automatic part of that process.

Finally, what are your visions for the IFE and its global fire safety contributions during your tenure?

I hope the IFE can continue its tradition of encouraging inquiry and research into firefighting and the fire safety factors in the design and management of buildings.

I would like the Institution to enhance its education and membership roles, building more partnerships around the world.

In this way we can play a part in raising standards, increasing knowledge and hopefully ensuring greater safety from fire.

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