The Fire Chain

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Steve McGuirk, Executive Director of the Fire Sector Federation, looks at driving a national strategic approach to fire safety

The Fire Sector Federation has been making steady progress in leading efforts to develop a national strategic approach to fire safety in the UK.

The Federation’s Strategy Board, now chaired by Tom Roche after the tragic passing of Jonathan O’Neill earlier this year, has strong representation across the sector.

But it has also widened its membership to include the broadest possible range of interests and views from construction, product compliance, insurance, building control and fire and rescue services.

The Federation has been clear that it is not asking for government to come up with a single strategy document, rather it is more seeking collective collaboration around a shared direction of travel.

It is understood that, to a large degree, it is for the fire and construction industries themselves to drive the initiative forward, working with government and other agencies or organisations along the way.

This may sound easy in principle, but the sectors are incredibly complex, often mirrored by the singular responsibilities of government departments who all have different priorities for fire safety.

The first stages will continue to be about developing of conversations across boundaries, and building a consensus about how to better connect the sectors and this is where the Federation has been concentrating its efforts in the last few months.

Members of the strategy group have attended the Industry’s Safety Steering Group, the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, as well as briefing officials at the new Building Safety Regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, the Department for Levelling Up, Homes and Communities and the Home Office.

Pleasingly, there has so far been strong support for a strategic view of fire safety to be taken but work goes on to establish more working partnerships.

The Federation is uniquely placed to lead and facilitate collaboration, given its inherent knowledge and breadth of engagement across the organisations that, together, comprise the fire community.

Working groups are now established to address the four key priorities outlined in the Federation’s white paper: Competency, Volumetric buildings, Mass Timber buildings and Innovative construction.

But equally, the delivery of strategy – and of the hundreds of recommendations associated with the Grenfell Inquiry (and associated reviews) will require multiple partners to collaborate and coordinate their activity from across the breadth of the fire safety landscape.

Understanding and mapping out this landscape, therefore, is a further important step in strategic thinking which the Federation has been taking time to address this.

In doing so, it has considered the layers of fire safety in buildings; the multiple stakeholders and organisations, and the guidance, legislation and regulation that exists and drives the behaviours of stakeholders as well as defining their agenda of action.

Provisionally known as the ‘Fire Chain’, this work will help the Federation identify who has the imperative to act, who can influence, who might collaborate with whom.

This will ultimately drive forward and maintain a national fire safety strategic approach in which everyone understands the part they play, and its relationship to the role and significance of other partners and stakeholders in order to integrate and develop thinking – where possible ‘one voice’ – in a more systematic and strategic way.

The Federation has committed to leading and facilitating the continued development of national strategy by bringing those with the necessary knowledge and competence together to deliver the vision.

From the work that has been undertaken to date there is a real will to make this happen along with an understanding that it will take time to do it right.

About the Fire Sector Federation

The Fire Sector Federation gives voice to and influences the shaping of future policy and strategy related to the UK Fire Sector. The Federation is a not-for-profit non-government organisation established to act as a forum for the benefit of its membership and to evolve as an informed source relating to fire.

This exclusive article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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