Passport to fire safety

Passport to fire safety

The concept of holistic fire engineering has always resonated with Dr Bob Docherty, MD of Flamerisk Safety Solutions Ltd. and President of the Institute of Fire Safety Managers.

Three years ago I was reading an article and then listening to an old fire engineering friend and colleague of mine. Paul Bryant.  Paul and I have been involved in many debates, both practical and conceptual, over many years on all kinds of issues regarding fire safety.  These have ranged from fire risk assessments (FRA) in complex buildings, fire engineering design and fire strategies and strategic thinking.  

Paul has written many papers and delivered a number of presentations to organisations including the Institute of Fire Safety Managers, and he shared with me a paper he had written about his concept of Holistic Fire Engineer (HFE).  I was fascinated by the concept and it resonated with an idea I had been toying with for a few years.  On the back of this came the Grenfell Tower fire and Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of Building Regulations and fire safety.  This got me thinking again!

There have been many attempts to try and improve both the competence and knowledge in fire safety for those who are in the industry and also the processes that are involved in both new build and refurbished/altered buildings.  If I cast my mind back far enough, I remember the Bickerdike Allen and Partners Report (1990) in the UK which looked specifically at both the interaction of the agencies that are involved in the design and development of new building projects and the delays in the process, a look at the technical and practical skills of those involved in the industry and training requirements needed to ensure advice and information given was successfully interpreted and acted upon.   Today, I would suspect we would call this review a ‘Gap Analysis’ – and it did find some very big gaps!

One of the outcomes of this report was the production of the National Core Curriculum in Fire Studies.  This was supposed to be the ‘Holy Grail’ of fire safety, a curriculum that could be inserted into many higher education courses including degrees across the whole of the building sector, from architects to surveyors, building control to fire engineers, and yet for most of those sectors, it didn’t happen.  Nearly everyone ignored it apart from a few like- minded people, mainly from the Institute of Fire Engineers and the Institute of Fire Safety who used it dutifully and diligently to carve the academic pathway to the recognised fire engineering and fire safety degrees that are available now throughout the world.

Since then, there has been the introduction of totally new pieces of fire safety legislation, codes, and standards globally. 
I think one of the most common themes that come out of these is the move from a prescriptive to a more risk based (assessment) approach and, added together with the philosophy of functional requirements of many Building Regulations and codes, make up the modern-day approach.

So, from this background and introduction, I ask the question, ‘how hard is it for fire engineers, fire consultants,
fire risk assessors et al to follow the fire safety history of a building from its concept to reality?’.  

The question might be rhetorical I know, but in practical terms I would say it is hard because there is no formal ‘basket of fire safety information and goodies’ always available, and if there is, then more often than not, it’s incomplete and/or not kept up to date.  And yet, it surely must be a fundamental principle of all things fire safety that the design and build and any subsequent changes and alterations to a building must be recorded and referenced!

I will avoid becoming anecdotal – we all have our tales and ‘nightmare scenarios’ – because I want to use this opportunity to propose what I think is a pathway that the industry needs to take to move on in a more rational and formalised way.  

The process I suggest will work for both new and existing buildings and last for the whole lifetime of that building.

Let’s take a building that is just built and is now occupied.  We have an accumulated pile of documents such as:

  • As built plans
  • Fire strategy
  • Preliminary fire risk assessments or similar
  • Evacuation strategy
  • Fire protection passive and active information
  • Fire risk assessment or similar
  • Operations manuals

This is the point where I set my proposal. I have thought about the history of ourselves as individuals.  We do have a lot of information points in our lives but one which carries, I would suggest, the most data on ourselves is our passport.  We need to update it and renew it on occasions, and it records our travel activities… So what about a passport to fire safety for a building?  Ok, it doesn’t move but we need to have an identity for it, record information and activities of importance about it and update it from time to time, especially information to do with fire safety.  

I would propose that every building that is built, including dwelling-houses, should have a Passport to Fire Safety.  The passport would be a regulatory provision, every building would need one and it would contain all the information that is listed above.  The information in the Passport to Fire Safety would be updated, added to, record changes of use, changes in fire strategy, re-design etc.  

The Passport to Fire Safety would stay with the building throughout its life.  If this could be done, then the whole fire safety history of the building would be a matter of record.  There would be no more searching for clues or trying to second guess or ‘back engineer’ why the fire strategy of a building looks like it does or why it was built in such a way! It would become a set of records and information that could be referred to by future architects, fire and rescue personnel, fire risk assessors, fire engineers and anyone else who might get involved in the evolution of the building over its life history.