The successful delivery of a national for strategy will require multiple partners to collaborate and coordinate their activity across the breadth of the fire safety landscape. There is no doubt that this will attract added complexity and greater urgency when the Grenfell Inquiry recommendations are published early next year.
It is clearer than ever that the success of the Federation’s work in leading this initiative is dependent on understanding the boundaries and stakeholders involved, otherwise we risk being too narrow in our view or becoming an echo chamber.
To address this, we have developed a ‘Fire Chain’, model, which reflects the links of an interwoven chain and the contingency between strengths and weaknesses and the interplay of the chain’s links. And, for the first time ever, we believe, we have sought to capture and map out where all (or most) of the stakeholders – government, regulators, trade associations, institutions etc – play a part.
Essentially and simply, there are eight links in the chain, the first of which is Policy. This is the requirement for government to set a policy direction to address the societal need – and expectations – for people to live and work in safe settings.
The second is Design. We must move the needle to a point where fire safety is embedded in the design process, rather than bolted on further down the line or seen as an impediment to good design.
The third is Approvals. This reflects a need to incorporate and implant the relevant codes so that products are safe, and equally, ensure people have the relevant qualifications and competence to undertake their roles.
Construction comes fourth in what is historically one of the most complex links in the chain. The sector needs to live up to the aspirations of the Hackitt report and work collegially across the fire landscape, moving from the lowest bid wins and value engineering to providing a fire- safe built environment that is the envy of the world.
The fifth link encompasses the occupation of buildings; where theory meets reality and when people start to live, work or play. But buildings constantly change, and people behave in them in ways that were unanticipated at the design stage …’people can do the strangest things’.
The sixth link, therefore, recognises the inevitability that fires will still occur – not least because of the unpredictability of people – and we need a well trained and equipped fire and rescue service to respond effectively, and in any building. Fire Services must be involved in all the links in the chain, though, so that we don’t end up with fires in buildings that cannot be tackled effectively by firefighters; and we don’t end up with a burdensome level of enforcement.
The seventh link is Investigation, defining the learning required to continuously adapt to risks as they change and evolve. This process needs to take place for all serious fires, not just those that are subject to prosecution, litigation or public inquiry.
The eighth and last link, Recovery and Rebuild, incorporates the need to rebuild the fabric of communities beyond just the buildings after a major fire event.
This has been a fascinating piece of work. As indicated, it is believed to be the first time it has been done, but it reveals the complexity of the overlapping, regulatory tapestry that is coming in to place; and it also indexes and a much larger number of interconnecting organisations and bodies than was previously understood.
We are now using this analysis as the roadmap to underpin the Federation’s role as a facilitator and to establish the means to assemble all these links in a cohesive way that can help achieve a national, strategic approach. Crucially, we need to try to simplify the complexities and deliver meaningful collaboration, as it is the only way to ensure a coherent approach and an integrated sector going forward.