Those who know me , also know that I am a bit of a geek when it comes to the subject of fire strategies. From the time I wrote the first fire strategy standard for London Underground back in the 1990s to today, I remain passionate in the development of quality fire strategy standards.
One of my roles is to assist other organizations. This often involves the peer review of fire strategies prepared by others. In many cases these are well formulated and thought out documents. However, just the other day I read a strategy prepared by an organisation in the fire business (which will remain nameless). The document made my hair stand on end (what I have of it)!
My UK colleagues may recall that I wrote an article soon after the introduction of the UK Fire safety Legislation - "The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005". The title of the article was "The dangers of cheap and cheerful fire risk assessments". It was based upon a concern I had about an instant new market opening up for those working in fire safety - and those possibly on the side-lines of the profession. For those who may not be aware (i.e. not in the UK), a cornerstone of the legislation is the requirement for regular fire risk assessments. However, persons with little fire safety knowledge, through to highly qualified and experienced fire safety professionals, all entered the same market.
The net result was that the service had become a commodity - with Clients seeking the lowest price. Third part certification was introduced to set a minimum level of knowledge. The term "suitable and sufficient" has been used to ensure a benchmark. However, the market has not really improved. Clients are now accustomed to low priced fire risk assessments.
But, you may say that the fire safety engineering profession and the formulation of high level fire strategies is a completely different market.
Surely it cannot go the same way?
But the evidence to date is that it is...
Going back to the UK Legislation, there is also a requirement that the responsible person documents arrangements with regard to the preventive and protective measures utilised in the fire safety of the building. One way of doing this is to incorporate the measures within a fire strategy document. Fire strategies are not just part of the process for new build projects but also have a place for existing buildings. This is being recognised throughout the UK as well as many parts of the world. Many organizations responsible for larger and complex buildings are now seeking retrospective fire strategies for the buildings they are responsible for. Good so far!
But the market is now attracting those who have probably had little experience in the formulation of a detailed fire strategy. I am not sure that some truly understand the fire strategy process and requirements. But they are willing to write fire strategies for fees similar to what they are getting for fire risk assessments. The result? - well you guess!
Fire strategies no longer belong to the realm of teams of well qualified fire professionals and chartered fire engineers. No - anybody with a fire background can have a go. And they can often win the work because they are cheap. Let me give some examples of what I have come across:
Fire strategy preparation seemingly performed in a similar manner to a fire risk assessment - a day on site and half a day writing it up! (Also seen some include an action plan - just like a FRA!)
Use of terms such as "adequate" and "satisfactory" with absolutely no supporting information or calculations - such as to confirm that horizontal and vertical means of escape conform.
Strategies that were obviously written for a completely different risk profile, cut and pasted into another document for an unrelated building.
Reference to incorrect or out of date standards.
Some elements of fire protection completely missing. One example is for a major building with atrium, where the issue of smoke control is not covered.
I could go on. But this is very worrying. Perhaps we need to start with a term such as "suitable and sufficient" to separate the good strategies from the not so good - and the good fire strategists from the rest?