Cultural understanding ensures customised solutions

Cultural understanding ensures customised solutions

The Fire Station Manager for the Jabal Omar Development Company in the Holy City of Makkah in Saudi Arabia, Iqbal Ali, looks out of the window of his office at the thousands of Haj pilgrims making their way towards the Holy Mosque and the Holy Kaaba.  In the background, the Royal Clock Tower Hotel dominates the skyline.  

As he listens to the call of prayer, Iqbal Ali reflects on his firefighting career which has taken him from an apprenticeship to a qualified Chemical Process Technician in his native Middlesbrough in the North East of England to industrial firefighting with SembCorp UK and Falck Fire Service UK to his current position. Specially recruited to work in this key role for Britam Arabia, a British and Saudi Joint Venture Company registered in Saudi Arabia. Established in the MENA region in 1997 as a leading independent risk management and consultancy business, it has evolved over the intervening years into its current position as one of the leading outsourced Firefighting and Emergency Rescue Services in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Following a Royal Decree in Saudi Arabia in 2012, all building projects, industrial plants and most development projects throughout the country are required to maintain their own fire and rescue services in order to alleviate some of the pressure on the country’s Civil Defence forces. 

Britam Arabia was one of the first companies to move into this space and it currently delivers fire and rescue services for
a broad range of both public and private sector clients. Projects are delivered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in every Province within the country, several in extremely remote sites such as the Bauxite Mine at Baitha, a 2-and-a-half-hour drive from the nearest large town.

With over 150 years of Firefighting and Emergency Rescue Services experience within its senior management team of highly qualified ex British Fire Chiefs, it also boasts considerable experience of working both in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Gulf and this deep cultural understanding ensures that solutions can be correctly tailored to the demands of the client; ably demonstrated by the employment of a British Muslim to the manager’s post in Makkah.

Uniquely, Britam Arabia has recently introduced a programme of community fire awareness training aimed at schools and colleges and local ladies’ groups particularly in the areas surrounding the fire stations. The training not only provides excellent preventative training for young people and families but also acts as a recruitment opportunity for the Company. Groups of young people learn some basic fire prevention procedures and get the chance to see the equipment and vehicles of their local Britam Arabia detachment.

The workforce of fire captains and firefighters are a mixture of expatriates with previous firefighting experience mainly from the Philippines and Nepal and Saudi Nationals with previous experience in either Civil Defence or other companies mostly oil and gas. Supervising the teams are a network of British former fire chiefs who carry out liaison with the clients, ensure the smooth running of the stations and complete all the mandatory training required daily to keep the fire crews sharp and up to date. 

As part of an ambitious Saudiisation plan, Britam Arabia is working with the recruitment company Ingeus who deliver the Taqat employment programme for the Saudi Government introducing an apprenticeship scheme in the Northern Provinces of the Kingdom. The scheme takes young unemployed Saudis and puts them through a rigorous selection process which includes fitness, medical screening including drug testing and interviews and then places the successful candidates on a 3-week initial training programme which is run in line with NFPA 1001 and the Fire Fighter 1 programme. The individuals are sent to a fire station and over a 2-year period, they receive development training allowing them to achieve NFPA 1001 Fire Fighter 2 level by the end of the period. On successful completion, the trained firefighter is committed to at least 2 years of return service. 

On a recent recruitment drive in the area of Turaif in the North of the country, potential applicants were prepared to travel from many hours distance away to take part in the selection process and there was a great deal of competition to gain one of the limited places. One of the 2 stations in Turaif run by Britam Arabia boasts a complete team of Saudi nationals as firefighters including several from as far away as Jeddah and Medina and one individual who was so keen to be employed by Britam Arabia that he paid for himself to qualify as a firefighter at the training school in Oman.

In addition to firefighter roles, Britam Arabia is also actively targeting Saudi females to work as medics and also fire station dispatchers. The Company already employs Saudi females in Head Office and is very keen to open their employment more broadly. Who knows, in time, will Britam Arabia be the first company to employ fully trained and qualified female fire fighters?

As the economic situation in Saudi Arabia improves and many development projects, mothballed for, in some cases, several years, come back to life, the prospects for 2019 are looking very optimistic not only for Britam Arabia but for many small businesses. For experienced fire officers, who may be tired of the constant discussion of Brexit in UK and the cold and wet of another British winter (or summer) and are looking for a new challenge of working in a fascinating country at a fascinating time, Britam Arabia may offer exactly that opportunity.