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by the NFCC

Where we are now

IO5: Evolved role of protection
Protection activity

One of the most significant issues arising from the Grenfell Tower fire is undoubtedly the status of the building regulations and fire protection system in England. The system is wide ranging and goes way beyond the remit of the fire and rescue service, involving statutory frameworks, standards, testing regimes, regulators, local authorities and inspectors. The fire and rescue service are a key part of that system, with fire and rescue authorities having statutory responsibility to promote fire safety (including the enforcement of the Fire Safety Order) in their areas.

Dame Judith Hackitt has strongly criticised the existing building safety system and has called for a widespread cultural change within it. The National Employers (England), the LGA, the NFCC and fire and rescue services are closely involved in the work arising from Dame Judith Hackitt’s review and recognise that they have an important part to play in driving significant cultural and systemic change across all parts of the built environment system, including within fire and rescue services. This will involve a step change in the type, volume and quality of fire protection interventions by fire and rescue services. This is in the context of an ongoing increase of significant fires that involve the total loss of a number of different types of property particularly those of modern construction. Within these are a number of protection and building safety matters that are consistent to all of these incidents.

Fire protection is a statutory duty for each fire and rescue authority and is a core element of the firefighter’s role. This is not always fully developed at present, with specialists taking a lead in many fire and rescue services. This is due to the professional complexity associated with fire protection matters and the need for technically competent people with a full and detailed understanding when dealing with regulation and enforcement issues and an understanding of the cultural issues within the current system.

The volume of inspection work that is likely to be needed to support the ongoing review of building safety is going to be significant. Fire services are going to need to gather intelligence about the risks in their area and identify the priorities for inspection and, potentially, enforcement action in a new regulatory environment. Then a programme of inspections will need to be put into place aligned with the priorities to gather further data and aid decision making.

To enable specialist officers to focus on higher risk premises, to increase the breadth and scope of protection work, and to support firefighters to have a better understanding of the built environment, the role of firefighters needs to be further developed in terms of fire protection. This will mean the establishment of professional standards and competence requirements. This will need to be supported by a substantial training programme. The new expectations of firefighters will have to be delivered alongside substantial improvements in productivity to ensure appropriate delivery. 

Maximum use of new technology and data management needs to be exploited to address the issue of building safety. To simplify the inspection process, ease the burden on newly qualified inspectors, and to align to other parts of the building regulations system, data about building risks needs to be standardised and inspection processes digitised.