Martin Duggan, General Manager at the FIA outlines the launch of the new Fire Engineering Council and the key concerns they intend to address.
Fire engineering needs a voice. As a profession it is still fairly new (30+ years) compared to other construction professions, and it is time that it stood up to be recognised alongside the others.
There are many challenges facing the industry today such as:
– Competency – There is currently no industry-wide competency criteria for fire engineering companies. This results in a wide range of companies offering fire engineering services despite not having any real expertise.
– Scope of services – Fire engineers are often only employed during the design stage of a project, without any check that the building that is actually constructed complies with the fire strategy.
– Competent, independent third party approvals – Concerns have been raised about the independence and extent of third party checks under The Building Regulations, as well as the fact that it only involves very limited site inspection.
These are just the top 3 concerns, and there are many other problems to address. The UK Government has been clear that it is up to the industry to take the lead in resolving any concerns within their particular areas, so the fire engineering industry has to take responsibility in addressing these issues. The Fire Industry Association (FIA) is a well-established trade association representing fire detection & alarm and extinguishing systems and portables, manufacturers and installers/maintainers. We also represent fire risk assessors and suppliers to the Fire & Rescue Services.
At our Annual General Meeting last November, we formally opened membership to fire engineering companies as we believe that we have the infrastructure to help them resolve the issues within and around this industry sector.
As with the other membership sections, we have established a council to represent these new members and it is the council that will identify and work on the issues, as well as identify the key messages and target audiences.
We estimate 30-50 companies operate in this sector and we are targeting 50% with recruitment drives underway.
We have a good relationship with the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), the already long established professional body, and believe that by working together we can help resolve the challenges facing the industry. To support this coordination, the IFE has a representative on the Fire Engineering Council. In simple terms the IFE is interested in individuals and their competencies. A trade association can look at the wider commercial market and we represent companies rather than individuals.
So far we have developed a competency criteria for membership of the FIA Fire Engineering Council, based on employment of Chartered Fire Engineers. The criteria is currently set at a level that most competent fire engineering companies should be able to meet, but with longer term plans to raise the bar. This is intended to encourage companies to invest in training staff to meet the higher criteria that will be introduced in future years.
We have also been working to develop a ‘scope of services’ which we believe will encourage employment of fire engineering companies through the design and construction phases of projects. The objective is to ensure that the end user of the building is provided with confirmation that the completed building provides a high standard of fire safety, along with an ‘as built’ fire strategy which will help them understand how the building is to be operated and maintained. Once finalised, we will approach RIBA to hopefully line these up with their other ‘plans of work’.
With regards building control, ensuring the independence of Approved Inspectors is currently an area of concern. Approved Inspector Regulation 9 says there must be clear separation between design and third part approval. However, some companies may be compromising that by openly offering ’one stop shop’ services, with design and approval by ‘sister’ companies which would appear to be a breach of Regulation 9. On this matter we have already submitted our concerns to the Construction Industry Council and hope to work with them to provide stronger and clearer guidance.
Can we make a difference? A trade association’s principle is that the sum of the parts can achieve more by working together than they can by working alone. There are many concerns within the fire engineering industry at present, but there are also some great fire engineering companies and fantastic people working within them. I’m sure that together we can help move the industry forward in a way that benefits everyone.
FIA (Fire Industry Association)
Tel: +44 (0)20 3166 5002