Category Archives: Blog

Another Near Miss in a Block of Flats

The fire at Barking Reach, London once again shows that there is a systemic problem with the way that fire safety in the residential sector is still not being addressed despite the tragedy of Grenfell Tower and other recent near misses. With ambitions to build up to 300,000 new homes in the UK every year, there is a risk that errors of the past are likely to be repeated.

In the 1960s and 1970s, mass house building projects led to faulty installation of system built homes. Pre-­‐fabrication of components, not only in low rise dwellings but also in high rise buildings was the answer they found. As a result, blocks like Ronan Point, a 21 storey Tower block in Canning Town could be “knocked up” in less than two years, many using prefabricated Large Panel System (LPS) building methods. Ronan Point became an example of how the pressure to build homes could lead to the loss of life. When a tenant lit a match near a faulty gas cooker, the resultant explosion blew out concrete panels and caused the corner of the building to collapse like a pack of cards killing 5 people. In Birmingham, concrete panels weighing several tonnes fell off high rise buildings from ten stories up. Cheaply constructed terraced houses had limited fire resistance which failed to resist spread from home to home.

The blame for these problems was attributed to too great a rush to get homes built leading to poor design, faulty installation, very little quality assurance by properly qualified supervisors and a “dash for cash” by the construction companies. Does any of this sound familiar? The number of occasions when blocks of flats seem to catch fire – timber framed construction, wooden balconies, shoddy fire precautions etc – appears to be increasing. The Barking reach fire fortunately occurred in the day time: At night instead of a spectacular media package, we could be asking how another fire tragedy could have occurred less that two years after Grenfell Tower

Tony Prosser

The Unforeseen Price of Success

Fire and rescue services had phenomenal success in recent years in reducing the number of fires, injuries and deaths. The success has been achieved against a background of reducing resources including a 17% reduction in the number of firefighters at the sharp end. There is a perception that workforce itself has become safer as a result of fewer fires and the last operational death of a firefighter occurred over six years ago. While no one can argue that this is a good
thing, there is a concern that the focus on prevention of fires in the home has increased the risk faced by firefighters in their operational response.By placing an emphasis on prevention, some organisations (and consequentially
their staff) have let operational training become perceived as less important. The integrated personal development system, IPDS, while well-intentioned has generally been badly implemented and served to create a culture whereby
competence (or mediocrity), rather than excellence, in an operational environment was the benchmark. For those expecting deficiencies in training to be made up by work-based experience on the fire ground been confounded by
the reduction in the number of actual incidents, just over half of what they work in the 1990s.

Knowledge of the risk is always been a part of the firefighter’s role and this was achieved through inspections of premises using the 7[2] [d)] (or 1[1][d]) and fire safety inspection regime. Risk information has been picked up by the HMIFRS as being an area of weakness in many services and it is only now that services are starting to reintroduce comprehensive fire safety inspections by operational personnel which not only improve the regulatory regime for fire safety but improve local knowledge of risks. There have been a number of serious recent incidents which have highlighted the importance of knowledge of risk, competence of firefighters in application of operational tactics and techniques. They also show how an understanding of incident command systems is critical and that it is essential that all services train and practice their response for low incidence, high risk activities at all levels of command recognising that there is no such thing as a “bread and butter job” and that the harder you train, the easier the fight.

Tony Prosser
Director, Artemis Training and Development and Joint Author (with Mark Taylor) of: “Fire and Rescue Incident Command: A practical guide to incident ground management”
Available through Pavilion Publishing.

To find out more about our Incident Command courses, please visit here.

Nothing New Under the Sun: Grenfell Tower 2017 and Summerland 1973

 

Despite the claims that the fire at Grenfell Tower was “unprecedented”, the facts tend to disproved this assertion. Instead, we find that while the consequences were  unusually bad  almost all of the issues being raised in the media and the inquiry have occurred at other incidents previously.

If we look at the fire at the Summerland complex in Douglas, Isle of Man in 1973, many of the problems have been repeated during the  lead up to the 14th June 2017.

Combustible material used in the structure.

Combustible cladding and insulating materials (Polyethylene and Celotex) were used as a result of changes to specifications at Grenfell. At Summerland, concrete structural members were replaced by plastics and fibreboard sheeting (Galbestos, Decalin and Oroglas). Combustibility of these materials were well known but still accepted and used.

Testing of materials

This was only carried out on a small scale and large-scale structures were not subject to testing.

Fire stopping

Stopping was absent or defective in both buildings which allowed uncontrolled and uncontrollable spread of fire across the structure.

Safety culture

The owners of both properties were found to be wanting – at Summerland, existing procedures were not made known to staff and in Grenfell Tower, tenant concerns were ignored.

Firefighting

Both fires were beyond the experiences and expectations of the attending firefighters – At Summerland, every firefighting vehicle on the Isle of Man was used – the fire was extinguished by consuming all combustible materials. At Grenfell, the scale of the fire and the challenges were unprecedented in the UK but not across the globe but only services the size of LFB would have even a fighting chance: in some areas the consequences would be far worse.

 

Prosecutions

Following the enquiry at Summerland, its was said there were no villains and there were no prosecutions for the deaths of 50 men, women and children. The deliberate obfuscation, counter blaming and buck passing between the clients, designers, specifiers, manufacturers, installers, certifiers and inspectors is likely to mean a similar lack of accountability for the tragedy.

 

Watch this space!

 

Tony Prosser

Grenfell Tower: Some Considerations

As the enquiry starts to make its way through the labyrinth of material to try to understand what has gone wrong and how to prevent such disaster happening again, I tried to clarify what some of the problems are and how we arrived at this state of confusion with the regulations and if there are any bigger lessons that can be learnt especially the underlying reasons for the fire including

  • A lack of management control or understanding of what was happening when the cladding was being installed;
  • A lack of understanding of the building regulations and their requirements; what the product tests were and their implications;
  • A lack of understanding as to the role and limitations of the Fire Risk Assessment process and what it tells the occupier;
  • A lack of understanding of “stay put policy” and when not to apply it; and
  • A failure to understand how altering one aspect of a building’s fabric can lead to unforeseen consequences.

Click on the link below to read the full article published in Fire magazine in August 2017

Grenfell Tower final

Grenfell Tower Inquiry Begins

High Rise Building – a safe home or death threat?

As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry begins, there is likely to be suggestions from some, that the events of 14th June 2017, were “unavoidable” or “unforeseeable”. This article published in “Fire Magazine” in January 2014, shows that the reality is somewhat different and that this tragedy could have been foreseen years ago.  As an overview of what could go wrong, it points out both the fire safety  failings and operational problems such an incident could produce.

Future Blogs on High Rise Fires

These will cover the process that failed and led to the Grenfell ire, operational solutions and the percieved failure of emergency planning in North Kensignton. Underlying and root causes of the fire will also be examined.

To read the full article, click on the link below:

High Rise Fires 2014

Delivering Management Training for the Aviation Industry

The Artemis Leadership and Management Development Team have been busy delivering leadership training to a dozen senior managers from a wide range of airports across the UK and Falkland Islands.

Skills for Justice Level 5 Course

The level 5 course in Fire Service Operational Management is accredited by Skills for Justice Awards. The course covers a wide range of theory and practice and has been running at the International Fire Training Centre at Teeside Airport.

Course Content

The course covers Airport Fire Safety Managers National Occupation Standards AFSM 3,4, 5, 6 and 7.

Contact

For details about the course, please ring Jane Dunn at the IFTC on 01325 333317 or Tony Prosser on 07563615651

 

Changing educational requirements mean a very different FRS…

Degree

The educational requirements for UK public services have changed continually over the last decade or so. However, there has been nothing to compare with the shift in requirements being introduced to the police and FRS.

Complex role

Recognising the complex role that the police now play in society, by 2020 constables will need to have obtained a self-funded or sponsored degree in policing. They will also need to undertake a conversion course or join a degree apprenticeship. Working with vulnerable people and community interaction and safety are just some of the subjects studied.

This is interesting from a Fire and Rescue Service perspective in that it points the way in which the Service will heading in the next few years. The process of ‘professionalising’ the Service has been progressing over the last decade with courses at several Universities (including Wolverhampton). Students who go on to fill middle and senior management roles are increasing in number all the time.

Where does all this lead to? The policing model suggests that superintendent (equivalent to an FRS area manager) should attract a Master’s degree level candidate. It was also mooted at one point that a chief constable should have a doctorate, although this is not being pursued at the moment.

Fire and arson

Those closely involved with the Fire and Rescue Service already know that the role of the firefighter isn’t just about attending operational incidents. Preventing fires, identifying protection strategies and developing engineered solutions to protect buildings is also integral to the role. It is not an easy task and requirements are constantly increasing, and will continue to increase as we go forward.

Firefighters will eventually need degrees to get their foot ‘on the ladder’, a time which is approaching fast. Those thinking about this rewarding career will need to start considering the best way to gain that degree.

Photo by David Morris/CC 2.o

New year, new communities

Home safety check

As we enter a new year, it’s time to reflect not only on the tragedies of the recent past but also some of the successes. As part of wider safety and health agendas, the FRS has been remarkably adaptable to its role.

New year opportunities

Looking over the past two decades, firefighters have helped reduce accidental deaths to levels not seen in 50 years. But it’s not only fire deaths and road traffic accidents. They have also become involved in community-based preventative work. This included accident prevention in the home, juvenile crime reduction and even nightclub violence management.

It’s clear that the firefighters of tomorrow need to be adept at engaging with all groups, as public purse strings tighten even further. They will need both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills to influence the public to change their behaviours in numerous ways. With that in mind, knowledge of whole communities must be a key objective. By extension, understanding of techniques to build trust with the hard-to-reach will also be vital.

Required skills

The skills required for this need to be learned as early as possible to prepare for a role that will continuously evolve. Opportunities for development of these new and emerging skills can be accessed in a variety of ways. However, the best methods include a balance of theory and practical application in the field.

Lifelong learning programmes can help serving firefighters acquire this knowledge. New entrants who may even hold qualifications in these areas will bring new ideas and skills to the mix. Together, they can help the wider social health agenda and improve community well-being.

Photo by Mikey/CC 2.0

2017: a big year

2017 is just around the corner. The Artemis team wants to thank everyone who helped to make 2016 such a memorable year for us.

Student success in 2017

First and foremost, thank you to our students. Whether aspiring to join the FRS or already serving, you’re the reason we run our courses. The satisfaction we get from seeing you succeed is immense. Firefighter is one of the most challenging – and exciting – jobs in the world. However, every day we see reasons to believe that the profession is in good hands.

I also want to acknowledge the University of Wolverhampton who do such a great job with the BSc Hons (Fire and Rescue) degree. We believe it is a unique course, and Artemis’ relationship with them is integral to our students’ ongoing success.

Anyone involved in firefighting will know that things are changing at a rate of knots. Money is getting tighter, while at the same time expectation in terms of performance is growing. Likewise, the role of firefighter itself is morphing into something that we’ve never seen before via multi-agency collaboration, and the ongoing community fire prevention project.

Police and crime commissioners

With that in mind, things are likely to become even more interesting as we move into 2017, with the introduction of elected police and crime commissioners into organisational structure. Some fear PCCs will politicise the Service, while others see them as an opportunity to develop even more innovative ways of working.

Whatever the implications however, firefighters will still need the same attributes they’ve always had – resilience, dedication and an infinite capacity to learn.

Have a great new year.

Tony Prosser, course leader

Fires in heritage buildings: what can be done?

Once blazes in heritage buildings take hold, it seems that there’s little that can be done. The Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter on October the 28th this year was the most recent example of this.

In the last 30 years, there have been many incidents in heritage buildings. These include Hampton Court Palace (1986), Uppark House (1989), Windsor Castle (1992) and the city centre of Hereford (2010). In the past two years alone, fire has taken Clandon House, Wythenshawe Hall and Cosgrove Hall.

Heritage buildings

Fires in heritage buildings often become severe for several reasons. They include a delay in discovery, distance from the fire station, and poor access to the perimeter by pumps and aerials. A lack of suitable fire compartmentation is also a major factor, as is high fire-loading of structural/decorative timber and contents. Once started, these fires seem impossible to stop until all the fuel has been consumed.

Sprinklers are not a solution

Looking at solutions, sprinklers are unlikely to play a major role in all but the most important properties. Furthermore, a fire safety strategy that relies on the Service meanwhile is becoming problematic. Service activity levels are declining and the ‘just in case’ principal of fire cover provision is becoming a thing of the past. 

As seen at Clandon House, a small fire in a heritage building, if not dealt with in a few minutes, inevitably leads to massive destruction. Preparing for an incident in a building of the size of, say, Blenheim Palace, is – under current reductions in service provision – difficult to say the least. 

Photo by Alison Day, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

High-rise fires in the UAE

High-rise fires are one of the biggest challenges currently faced by the Fire and Rescue Service. They are uniquely dangerous situations for both firefighters and members of the public. We all dread the headlines talking about “towering infernos” – and experts telling us “we told you so.” (Particularly after things have gone terribly wrong and lives have been lost).

I wrote an article for Fire Magazine looking at the risk to high-rise buildings in the UK, following on from the Tamval High Rise fire in November 2013. Click on the link below to read.

High Rise Fires

Tony