New fire service small incident units could put lives at risk

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From: Allan Grice, Assistant Chief Fire Officer (ret), Visiting Lecturer in Applied Fire Law Leeds University 1996 -2011.

I feel compelled to write after reading the report in the Yorkshire Post on May 19 concerning the debate within South Yorkshire Fire Service over the use of Small Incident Units (SIU).

London Fire Brigade, where I spent the bulk of my 30-plus fire service years on the front line of fire and rescue and fire safety law enforcement, experimented with miniature fire appliances in the late 1960s before discarding them, but time has moved on, financial restrictions are as tight today as ever and cost saving strategies of public monies need to be devised.

However, the debate about the use of these SIUs is also inextricably linked to something which I have seen little, if any mention of in most reports.

This “something” is the seismic shift which occurred in late 2006 in terms of fire safety measures for life protection in non domestic premises. The EC-driven Fire Safety Order 2005 saw a massive shift in responsibilities from expert fire service inputs, to a self complying regime in which non fire expert employer/owner and managers of non domestic premises were and are entrusted with deciding what is required.

It is against this sea change that this debate needs to be measured. My many years of grassroots experience taught me much about the feckless attitude of many charged with the fire safety of persons resorting to their premises.

As an independent fire safety adviser for almost a decade, I see little change and can state that at any one time it is highly likely that at least 40 per cent of employers still have to comply with the 2005 Order. It is largely due to good fortune that life and property threatening fires have not already occurred in these non complying premises.

It is likely, therefore, that the potential for fire crews to discover on arrival that a fire is beyond the suppression capabilities of an SIU, will increase, because, as was stated, it is only when crews arrive that the true nature of any emergency is discovered.

The consequent delay created while reinforcements arrive can be the difference between life and death and the life risk will increase if fire safety provisions are inadequate within the premises involved.

Such a situation can also increase the hazard to front line fire crews, and I wonder what the Health and Safety Executive, whose regulations have helped insidiously throttle the instincts of the emergency services will have to say about that?

From Anthony Hopkins, Carlton Drive, Guiseley.

Your report (Yorkshire Post, May 21) relating to local authorities giving consideration to turning off street lights to save money quotes Coun Gareth Dadd of North Yorkshire County Council as saying “only unnecessary street lighting would be turned off“. If street lighting is unnecessary why is it installed in the first place and at what “unnecessary“ cost?

How many other unnecessary costs are being incurred by the public sector, so adept at wasting other people’s money?

One has to question the competence of these persons running local authorities.