After Grenfell-Rebuilding the Fire Safety System
Monday, March 25, 2019
The devastating Grenfell Towers fire in England was especially shocking to colleagues like Neil Gibbins QFSM FIFireE, past president of the Institution of Fire Engineers. “I had been convinced by learned colleagues that the fires we saw spread across the exterior of buildings so quickly in other parts of the world could not happen in the UK,” he recalled. “Like many fire professionals, I was shocked by the terrible events of that night, as well as the revelation that we have more than 400 similar buildings clad in a similar way.” Realizing the extent of the potential problem led to his presentation at this year’s SFPE conference, which will reveal points that should be discussed by fire professionals across the world.
“I have followed the information flowing from the police investigation, the expert panel, the public inquiry, and Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety,” Gibbins said of responding to that event. “I have been involved in a number of working groups feeding into the government departments responsible for fire safety and building regulations, in particular with regard to competence and product safety. There may still be a lot more to hear from the various investigations, but we are not waiting to act on many issues, especially competence and the approach to achieving safe buildings.”
To Gibbins, the most-critical changes to help prevent such events in the future more effectively include prescribing competency and ethical practice as part of design/assess/manage. The core message is “that fire safety engineering must be recognized as a profession and valued appropriately by the building construction and management sectors,” he said. “While steps are well advanced in the UK to identify necessary competencies, how to require that only competent registered people can practice is not yet resolved.”
What will make a difference, Gibbins said, is that the construction sector in the UK has already changed with regard to cladding and external fire spread, but “building safety is at risk from other challenges — we had a serious near-miss when a wall collapsed at a school in Scotland. This is not only a fire problem; it’s about the approach to safety versus cost.”
Fire safety engineers may be “relatively small in number and suffer from a weak voice, so “we must work together to make our profession recognized and valued to advance,” Gibbins said. “To do this, we must put our house in order and work together to agree on how to identify appropriate fire professionals.”
Events such as the Grenfell fire and the continuing need for better construction and design guidelines mean that the SFPE conference is more important than ever, Gibbins said. “We should all be reading about developments, but there is no substitute for face-to-face discussion. We should not be bystanders as the world changes. We should be driving the change.” Attending the conference helps make that happen.
“I am delighted to speak at this prestigious event,” Gibbins said. “I have seen many changes in my 40-year fire career, and there is so much to talk about and learn from each other.”
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