Ronnie King OBE On The LGA's Annual Fire Conference
Ronnie King OBE, O.St. J, QFSM, F.I.Fire E Adviser & Hon. Admin. Secretary. All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue Group
I was asked to speak at the Local Government Association’s Annual
Fire Conference in Brighton on 13th March 2019, about 'what would the All-Party Parliamentary Group like specifically to see come out of the reforms flowing from Hackitt, with particular relevance to Fire & Rescue Services (resourcing issues and implications)'?
I opened by saying that: THE GROUP BELIEVES THAT AFTER SIX YEARS SINCE THE CORONER’S RULE 43 LETTER FOLLOWING THE INQUEST AT LAKANAL HOUSE FIRE TRAGEDY, ALMOST TWO YEARS SINCE GRENFELL AND TWO YEARS INTO THE PUBLIC INQUIRY – (WITH PHASE TWO DEFERRED UNTIL 2020), IT’S APPROACHING TWELVE MONTHS SINCE THE HACKITT FINAL REPORT, AND EVEN IF THE REVIEW OF BUILDING REGULATIONS COMMENCES LATER THIS YEAR (WHICH ISN’T CERTAIN) IT WILL STILL TAKE AT LEAST ANOTHER YEAR TO COMPLETE, IT IS TIME TO ASK: “WHAT HAS ACTUALLY CHANGED”?
Yes we have had all these bodies and Groups established, with calls for evidence and reviews planned but regulatory change or prescriptive action is still some time away!!
ON THE WEBSITE OF THE MINISTRY FOR HOUSING, COMMUNITIES & LOCAL GOVERNMENT WE HAVE A PLETHORA OF DOCUMENTATION COMING OUT DAILY UNDER BUILDING SAFETY PROGRAMME – WE HAVE:-
a) TWENTY (20) ADVICE NOTES – UNDER “INDUSTRY STEERING GROUP”
b) THIRTY EIGHT (38) LETTERS FROM THE “BUILDING SAFETY PROGRAMME”
c) EIGHT (8) PAGES - NINETEEN (19) ANNEXES AND TEN (10) UPDATES FROM THE “COMPETENT PERSON SCHEMES”.
UNDER GRENFELL TOWER: - WE HAVE:-
a) SIXTEEN (16) LETTERS FROM THE “INDEPENDENT RECOVERY TASK FORCE”
b) TWENTY SIX (26) LETTERS TO “RESIDENTS” FOLLOWING THE GRENFELL FIRE
c) THIRTY (30) “ANNOUNCEMENTS”
d) NINETEEN (19) ITEMS OF “GUIDANCE”
e) FORTY SEVEN (47) OTHER “PUBLICATIONS”
(IT IS LIKE A ‘SCATTERGUN’ FIRING OUT THESE NOTICES AND GUIDANCE – AND WE HAVE TO ASK: “WHO HAS CONTROL OF IT ALL? “WHO UNDERSTANDS IT OR HAS TIME TO READ IT ALL”?) - I certainly don’t!!!
Yes we have taken steps to remove dangerous materials and conditions, where found, in our high rise/high risk buildings, and to his credit the Secretary of State has ‘Banned’ combustible materials and ‘desk top’ studies and we have proposals in place to Review the Regulations – and to change the culture of the construction industry. But we need to see some more ‘instant’ but effective measures that will demonstrate to the people who live in high rise – high risk buildings, that Government
cares enough to take action NOW, and not to wait for the Review of Approved Document B (ADB).
The Secretary of State told the Group when we met him in January, that he will not hesitate to act immediately again should he find it necessary to implement an important safety measure, ahead of any Regulatory change.
In this regard the Group thinks that there are some immediate obvious steps that can be taken to ensure real change has taken place:
1. The All-Party Group wants to see more automatic fire sprinkler systems in more buildings because they save lives, businesses, jobs and community assets . We believe that these benefits should be widely welcomed. (THE GROUP FULLY SUPPORTS THE POSITION STATEMENT OF THE NATIONAL FIRE CHIEFS COUNCIL IN THIS REGARD, BOTH IN RELATION TO LIFE SAFETY AND PROPERTY PROTECTION) (And wishes to see standards on sprinklers which are consistent with those in Wales and Scotland).
2. The All-Party Group wants to see the Secretary of State’s ban of combustible materials on high risk buildings to apply below 18 mtrs. (no one in such
risk buildings should have to feel that they are surrounded by combustible materials, whatever the height.
3. The All-Party Group wishes to see independent third party certification schemes providing assurance on product quality and fitness for purpose. All those who have to interpret and/or implement the Guidance to have appropriate competence, to a standard of accreditation recognised by a UKAS authorised body. This includes the Fire and Rescue Service, which according to recent Audit has been de-skilled in Fire Safety, with a 40% reduction in its workforce. A significant investment in the Fire & Rescue Service is needed if it is to ‘up-skill’ its workforce, and to meet the additional training necessary in meeting the requirements of the Joint Regulatory Group and Joint Competent Authority.
4. The Group shares the views of the Royal Institute of British Architects in believing that hitherto, all high rise/high risk buildings built, ought to have more than one escape route, sending a clear signal that there is recognition that having two staircases will significantly enhance the
complementary nature of evacuation strategies and firefighting operations. The increased use of social media means that people are more likely to become aware of fires in their buildings than previously was the case. This is changing the behaviour of high-rise building occupants and has the potential to increase the number of people attempting to use the staircase.
5. The Group wants to see an outcome to the wide media and public concern about having an effective evacuation policy with adequate alarm and warning procedures to suit the circumstances prevailing.
6. Finally the Group supports the NFCC’s position on Access for Fire Appliances and on issues relating to the Water Act and water supplies, but it feels that can be part of the ADB Review, if it has to take precedent over some of the earlier issues There will inevitably be resource implications of this.