Senior professionals attend IFSJ Leaders in Fire & Safety Conference

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On 11 May 2023, 308 senior professionals from the Middle East and Africa fire and safety industry gathered for International Fire & Safety Journal’s inaugural IFSJ Leaders in Fire & Safety Conference for a day filled with high level networking and lively discussion.

Attendees at the event, which was held in association with MSA Safety at the Grosvenor Hotel, Dubai Marina, UAE, praised the conference for its high quality presentations and panel sessions which covered the most pressing issues facing leaders in the fire and safety sector today. Amid the rapid fire sessions, decision makers were able to convene and engage with one another and some key industry brands who supported the show.

Throughout the day there were a number of key themes including the impacts of sustainability on fire safety, crisis management, strategic leadership and mental health and wellbeing. The twelve presentations saw presenters in panellists, including Captain Essa Ahmed Al-Mutawa, Director of the Control and Monitoring Department at Dubai Civil Defense, Engineer Salma Humaid, Head of Engineering Section at Dubai Civil Defense and Peter Stephenson, Director, Fire Safety Division at Hydrock, address and debate these key issues.

After a period of networking during the opening of the event, delegates took their seats in the conference room and were welcomed by Ian Stokes, CEO, Centurian Media Ltd. (event organiser) and Terry Johnson, Technical Service Manager at ENOC and Regional President of The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) GCC Branch.

Dubai Civil Defense

Dubai Civil Defence (DCD), the emergency management organisation in Dubai, United Arab Emirates founded in 1976 and is responsible for protecting lives, properties, and the environment in Dubai, was a strategic partner of the conference and over 50 delegates from the organisation were in attendance.

Following introductions from the Chair, H.E. Lt. General Expert Rashid Thani Al Matrooshi, Director-General of Dubai Civil Defense gave a welcome address, wishing attendees: “A fruitful and amazing time.”

H.E. Excellency Brigadier Expert Ali Hassan Al Mutawa, Assistant Director General of DCD for Fire and Rescue Affairs then gave a keynote address stating: “It is a great pleasure to be among so many stars at the leaders in fire and safety conference.”

Memorandum of Understanding

Following introductions, the conference saw the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Dubai Civil Defense and the Institution of Fire Engineers, a  truly historic event creating a platform for sharing knowledge, learning and looking at best practices between the two organisations. The MoU was signed by Terry Johnson, IFE GCC Branch Regional President, H.E. Brigadier Expert Ali Hassan Al Mutawa, and Steve Hamm, Chief Executive of the IFE who called the MoU a ‘key milestone’.

The MoU established a branch within Dubai for the IFE that will be a space for CPD opportunities. His excellency said that DCD are an open platform and they the organisation is keen to interact with all parts of the world: “We have one goal: to make human life as safe as we can.”

DCD Readiness Programme

Attendees had the opportunity to learn about the Dubai Civil Defence’s Readiness Programme on the day’s first presentation as Captain Essa Ahmed Al-Mutawa, Director of the Control and Monitoring Department at DCD, presented the world’s first AI-enabled fire readiness programme. The programme is a pre-emptive fire management system that uses artificial intelligence to analyse past incidents and recommend changes to avoid future events.

The presentation showcased the innovative approach taken by the Dubai Civil Defence to improve fire safety standards and highlighted the importance of incorporating AI into fire management systems.


Next up there was a panel discussion on the impact of sustainability on fire and life safety management in buildings and construction. The discussion was chaired by Alexander Castellanos, Head of Fire & Life Safety – Middle East at WSP, and the panellists included Engineer Salma Humaid, Head of Engineering Section at DCD, Peter Stephenson, Director, Fire Safety Division at Hydrock, Steven Reilly, Principal Engineer, Fire & Life Safety Lead MENA at Cundall, and Susan Lamont, Director, Fire Group Leader Middle East at Arup.

The panel looked at how a big part of sustainability will be repurposing and reusing existing building stock and the problem that is going to create for fire safety.

Data driven insights on the fireground

Jason Traynor, the General Manager at MSA Safety, then delivered a Ted-Talk style presentation on “Data driven insights on the fireground”, as part of the Platinum Sponsor Presentation. Traynor looked at the evolution of technology and its increasingly powerful ability to capture valuable data during fire incidents.

Technology and innovation

A panel discussion on “Technology and innovation: Dealing with the pace of change” was held at the conference. Duncan J. White, Managing Editor at International Fire and Safety Journal, chaired the discussion, which featured Captain Essa Ahmed Al-Mutawa, Director of the Control and Monitoring Department at DCD, Jason Traynor, General Manager at MSA, Paul Pope, Group Business Development Director at Global Fire Equipment, and Muzaffer Ahmed Syed, Regional Manager (Firestop) at fischer FZE as panellists.

The discussion focused on how technology and innovation are rapidly transforming every aspect of our lives, including the fire safety industry.

Health and wellbeing

Duncan J. White, IFSJ Managing Editor, led a passionate discussion about it being ‘okay not to be okay’ in the session on “Health and Wellbeing: Dealing with the human issues”. Panellists Sam Malins, Group CEO at Reacton Fire Suppression, Paul Pope, Group Business Development Director at Global Fire Equipment, Sawsan Dahham, Global Head of Fire and Life Safety at Dar, Cristina Perez Domper, Regional Manager at Intertek Building and Construction, and Joanne Taylor, Business Owner at De-Wipe, all shared their experiences of mental and physical health and how it impacts leadership.

“You can’t make good decisions if you’re not in good health,” said White.

Human performance

Sinclair Duffie, Chief Fire Officer at Nawah Energy Company, gave a presentation titled “Human Performance: Consciously competent?” at the conference. The presentation focused on the concept of human performance, which encompasses the effectiveness and efficiency with which individuals perform tasks, activities, or duties. It takes into account various factors, including cognitive, physical, emotional, and social capabilities, as well as external factors like training, motivation, stress, fatigue, and environmental conditions. “We have to understand that people are fallible – even the most competent can make a mistake,” said Duffie.

Lithium-ion in focus

The conference held a panel discussion titled “Lithium-ion Batteries: Challenges, risks, and resolutions,” chaired by Sajid Raza, the CEO of Butler Engineering ME. The panel featured Mark Fenton, Sales Director – EMEA & APAC at Amerex Corporation, Peter Van Gorp, Technical Director Fire, Life Safety and Loss Prevention at HKA, Eiad Shami, Senior Consultant, Fire & Life Safety at WSP, and Mrinaal Sapru, Head of Regional Sales for Dubai Civil Defence’s Emirates Safety Laboratory.

The discussion centred around the challenges, risks, and resolutions involved in the use of lithium-ion batteries, which have many benefits but require careful consideration of safety, environmental, and social factors to ensure responsible and sustainable use.

Forever chemicals in firefighting foam

The first afternoon panel discussion at the conference was titled “PFAS in firefighting foam” and was chaired by Peter Stephenson, Director of the Fire Safety Division at Hydrock. The panellists were Tomasz Kielbasa, Certification Manager at Emirates Safety Laboratory, Even Ottesen, International Sales Manager at DAFO Fomtec AB, Andy Hall, Owner and General Manager of Hall Fire and Safety Consultants, and Terry Johnson.

The discussion focused on Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of manufactured chemicals used in firefighting foam, and the effectiveness of fluorine-free foam, testing standards, picking the best foam and its sustainable implications.

Protecting the transportation infrastructure

This was followed by panel discussion titled “The importance of protecting the transportation infrastructure,” which was chaired by Tom Wood, Regional Director, Middle East at Vortex Fire. The panel included Steve Walker, Director of Fire Safety at Hydrock, James Varley, Associate Director at WS Atkins, Engineer Pramod Challa, Senior Engineer at Dubai Civil Defense, and Terry Johnson.

The panel look at advancements in technology in building design and introducing new lightweight materials, testing, risk management, the risks posed by Lithium-ion and 3D Modelling.

Managing carcinogens

James Clarke, a Fire Officer with Bedfordshire and Luton Fire and Rescue Service, delivered a presentation on “Managing carcinogens” at the conference. The presentation covered the risks associated with carcinogens, which are known to cause or increase the risk of developing cancer by damaging DNA or interfering with cellular processes that control cell growth and division. The cumulative effects of exposure to carcinogens over time can significantly increase the risk of cancer development.

On carcinogens in the fire sector, Clarke said: “The problem is real and is probably the single biggest threat outside of mental health to the fire industry worldwide.”

Crisis management and leadership

The conference held a panel discussion on “Crisis management,” which was chaired by Bob Rea, Director and Lead facilitator at BR Training Solutions Ltd. The panel featured Duncan J. White, Managing Editor at International Fire and Safety Journal, James Grew, Deputy Divisional Director at Hydrock, and Carlo Lovetti, Business Continuity Manager at Emirates Steel.

The discussion focused on the importance of crisis management in an organisation’s risk management strategy and the panel noted that: “If you’re not trained you can’t respond effectively.” Effective crisis management involves identifying potential crises, developing plans to mitigate and respond to them, and implementing those plans when a crisis occurs.

Finally, Howard Leedham MBE, MSc. Managing Director, ESID DMCC gave the day’s closing presentation looking at what leadership is, why it matters and if the style of leadership is important. During his presentation, Leedham asserted: “The one thing that you need to be a leader is consistency.”

A note from the IFSJ team

IFSJ would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all the speakers, exhibitors, and attendees who participated in the inaugural IFSJ Leaders in Fire & Safety Conference. Your contributions and participation have played a significant role in making this event a resounding success.

The presentations and panel discussions were informative, engaging, and thought-provoking, providing valuable insights into the latest trends, challenges, and solutions in the fire and safety industry. The exhibitors showcased their products and services, which provided attendees with a glimpse of the latest innovations and technologies.

Everyone who attended brought enthusiasm, energy, and a wealth of knowledge, contributing to the lively discussions and creating a vibrant atmosphere. Once again, thank you to everyone who participated and made this conference an event to remember – we’ll be back with more Leaders events soon!

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