IFSJ Exclusive: Aiming for higher levels of competency

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IFSJ sits down with Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) International President, Dr Peter Wilkinson

In October 2022, the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) introduced Dr Peter Wilkinson CSci MIScT CEng FIFireE. the 2022 – 2023 International President. The handover was carried out by former 2020 – 2022 International President, Andrew Sharrad GradCert EngTech CFIFireE.

Wilkinson has been involved with the IFE for many years, representing the organisation on national and international professional forums, contributing to post-Grenfell initiatives in the UK and worldwide, driving the development and remit of the Technical Strategy Advisory Group and more recently leading the IFE in technical matters in the role of Technical Director.

IFSJ sat down with Dr Wilkinson to find out about his background in fire engineering and his plans for the IFE for the year ahead.

Congratulations on the appointment as International President – how did it come about?

I was pleased to be re-elected to the board in 2020, and I was chosen by my peers to take on the role of International President for 2022-23. This is a key role within the Institution and sees an individual take on the tenure for one year.

What is your background in the fire engineering industry?

My first degree was in Civil Engineering and I focussed on the design of buildings for fire safety in my final year. My career began as a graduate trainee at a leading fire detection and alarm company and I completed a part-time Masters degree in Fire and Explosion Engineering as my career developed. After a move into the engineering consultancy field and several years developing fire engineering and fire risk assessment services at a multi-disciplinary engineering consultant, I moved to the Fire Protection Association where I was able to undertake an Engineering Doctorate. This focussed my mind on resilient fire engineering building design and I took the step of founding my own practice after graduating.

Can you tell me about how you became involved with the IFE?

Even as an undergraduate in a department focussed on construction and engineering, I understood the importance of becoming registered with the Engineering Council as a mark of competence, and as an important career goal.

I joined the IFE in 1995 as a student and then a graduate, and kept an active interest in the Institution as a young engineer. I was one of the winners of the IFE’s Technical Paper Competition for young engineers and found myself presenting the paper at the IFE’s annual conference in 1999. I developed a portfolio of professional career episodes over a number of years and successfully became a Chartered Engineer with IFE in 2005.

I then began my volunteering journey with IFE in 2009 by becoming a member of the IFE’s Registrants Group Membership Committee (IFERG) for which I was chair from 2013 to 2018. IFERG assesses applications for Engineering Council registration in all three sections of the Register and accredits degree programmes for suitability in meeting the academic requirements of registration. I was elected to serve on the board as a Trustee Director for a three-year term in 2015 and was Chair of the Board immediately following the Grenfell Tower tragedy until the end of that term in November 2018 – the Institution’s centenary year. Being a Trustee Director in the time following the Grenfell Tower fire meant that I was ideally placed to contribute to the wide range of competence initiatives in the UK and worldwide.

Do you have any specific areas of focus as International President?

We must acknowledge that successful fire safety is a collaborative endeavour that relies on input from many different professions and trades. Examples include architects and building designers, surveyors, a range of contractors, engineers from allied disciplines, building managers, facility managers, and even end-users.

What is important is that each actor in the fire safety space understands the contribution they make and where they fit, the limits of their remit and competence, and how to ensure effective interfaces with others. Uniquely, as incoming International President for 2022-2023, I begin my term of office directly following a period of two years establishing and embedding the role of Technical Director within the Institution. The Technical Director role has enabled me to begin to grow meaningful links with some of the major bodies who all have a claim on some aspect of fire safety.

It is my aim, as International President for the next year, to strengthen the ties between IFE’s international presence and as many of the other players as possible. Naturally, this will include many UK-based organisations, but I will seek to exploit their global networks and links to fit with ours, as well as seek out other opportunities to liaise with key international bodies that play a role in fire safety.

Do you have any wisdom you would like to share with the readers of International Fire and Safety Journal?

Rightly so, there has been a major focus on competence since the Grenfell Tower fire. I have come to realise that being competent is a combination of acquiring knowledge, practicing experience and living by appropriate behaviours. I think, as an institution and as a profession, we’ve known this for some time now, but the important element in all this is the behavioural aspect.

It is about taking personal responsibility. Competence is not something that you can expect your professional body to do to you – you have to live it, show it, and – importantly – if you are acting as a professional, you have to be prepared to demonstrate it.

My words of wisdom are to my fire safety professional colleagues – I urge you to review your own professional body membership and registration status – is it still at the level at which you currently operate or should you be aiming higher?

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

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