Dave Dowling looks at the mutual gains partnership working and knowledge sharing bring to industrial businesses and fire and rescue services.
IN TIMES of austerity, organisations often focus on innovative ideas to achieve efficiencies, and the search for opportunities can show examples of good practice. In some cases, efficient arrangements may exist already because local demo-graphics and geography drive the need for alternative planning and progressive thinking in providing a service to the community.
Across the UK, there are many such examples. Cleveland Fire and Rescue Service provides fire cover for a plastics factory and uses the profit it makes to fund community safety campaigns. The manager of an industrial fire team on a remote hazardous site in Scotland also acts as a flexible duty fire officer on call with a public fire and rescue service. A nuclear facility in Cumbria provides an ambulance service on behalf of North West Ambulance Service for a remote local community. Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has partnered up with a large employer to deliver community safety messages to a target audience through the workforce.
The aim is to deliver the same with less, but without reducing the level of service. While the catalyst for creative thinking may have come initially from public service, industry is also under pressure to remain competitive and may be able to offer opportunities that benefit both the community and firefighter safety. One of the outcomes of the explosions and fire at Bunce-field fuel depot in 2005 was to identify the benefits of mutual aid between industry and the fire and rescue services.
Industry is required to prepare on- and off-site emergency plans to satisfy a range of legislation, including major accident hazard regulations; major accident hazard pipeline regulations; radiation emergency planning and public information regulations; and envir-onmental permitting regulations.
Plans are approved by the competent authority and regu-lators, although the format and presentation can vary from one area to another. Usually, when an industrial site is required to prepare a series of emergency plans to satisfy different legislation, the relevant regulators agree that one overall on-site emergency plan is produced to meet the various requirements.
Information is provided by the industrial site in the required format to inform the off-site plan, which is normally produced by the competent authority – for example, the local authority emergency planning team. This is then approved by the regulator – such as the Hazardous Industries Directorate of the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency, or the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
The emergency response plans that underpin the on- and off-site plans for industrial sites can vary considerably in format and content across industries. When a fire and rescue service attends an industrial site (possibly one of many in the area) in an emergency, it can take some time to become familiar with aspects of the on-site emergency plan, such as the terminology, sequence and layout of technical information, and the site map with associated key.
This can cause a delay in the early stages of ensuring an incident is brought under control.
Section 7(2)d of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 requires the fire and rescue service to collate relevant information from a local premises that meets specific criteria in order to prepare a risk plan. This task can be time consuming, especially if inform-ation has to be converted or adapted. An industrial site may not have the opportunity to confirm the accuracy of the final plan or familiarise itself with how the fire service will use the information.
Input and access
Industry is keen to develop arrangements that give emergency services confidence to engage quickly when attending incidents on industrial sites. An opportunity may be available for a fire service to liaise with the competent authority and regulators to shape the on-site plans to meet the requirements of the fire authority.
The industrial site may also be able to supply current and accurate information in an agreed format to populate a secure database. The final risk plan could provide a consistent approach both for the industry emergency response team and the fire and rescue service, in which part-completed HazMat ten-point risk assessments, common termino-logy, site plan drawings with nationally agreed symbols, layout of technical information and initial actions become the norm.
Technological advances may permit regular secure access by industry to limited sections of a database hosted by the fire service, which would reduce the time required for the latter to collate and update information. This proposal is not intended as a substitute for site awareness and familiarisation. Elements of the UK fire service’s operational assessment toolkit may be used to confirm if an industrial fire team’s arrangements adequately support the on-site emergency plans.
In the event of any incident on an industrial site, the emergency services attend to provide support. Although they are consulted in the development of the on- and off-site plan as part of regulation, there may be more opportunities for collaborative working to enhance efficiency and community and firefighter protection. For instance, industry representatives may be invited to join the Local Resilience Forum, similar to the arrangements for the emergency planning consultative committees.
Ideally, industry response teams are trained by local emergency services to ensure that on-site terminology and protocols are consistent with those of external emergency services attending the site. However, this training is not always available. Joint training supports integrated emergency management (IEM) – interoper-ability to bring an incident under control – promoted through the UK Civil Contingencies Act (CCA).
Training for industry personnel responding at tactical and strategic levels is frequently delivered by external training providers or consultants at a premium. Termi-nology and protocols can lack consistency with those of the emergency services attending an industrial site or interacting at off-site coordination centres.
Training for industry provided by the emergency services could support the IEM philosophy and further embed the CCA for greater resilience. The costs of training may be recovered to fund dedi-cated posts or development work.
Industry has adopted a common and well-structured emergency information manage-ment system for command and control of incidents at tactical level, endorsed by regulators.
Medium to large organisations often deliver safety campaigns to their workforce on topics linked to home safety. Keeping staff and their families safe at home is an essential part of any industry campaign, so that attendance at work is ensured. One way that a employer can gain buy-in is to identify work safety messages that can be transferred to the home.
Companies may invest consi-derable effort in developing an annual programme of safety campaigns with topical themes and messages, sometimes linked to the national calendar of health, fire and road safety events. Promotional items and publicity materials are often designed and paid for by the company.
A partnership approach could allow a company to pick up on the annual safety campaign programme developed by external agencies. An employer might provide a captive audience for fire service campaigns and inform-ation. There may also be an opportunity to share costs and data collection.
Significant results have been achieved by the vast number of smoke alarms installed in UK domestic properties by the fire and rescue service. Employees of such organisations do not typically match the domestic fire fatality profile and are more than capable of undertaking their own domestic fire risk assessment, creating a home escape plan and installing a smoke alarm themselves. There may be an opport-unity for the local fire service to complement or even review companies’ campaigns and to support them in fulfilling their corporate social responsibilities.
Facilities for storing and deploying resources can be provided by industry. The fire and rescue service analyses the frequency of domestic incidents to inform their integrated risk management plans (IRMPs). This data is likely to include house fires, road traffic collisions and areas of social deprivation.
Sophisticated computer soft-ware helps identify the ideal location from which to deploy an emergency response to meet predetermined attendance times.
Industry may be able to offer opportunities to locate resources, specialist equipment and staff on a secure site, which may deliver cost and time savings. Knowledge and skills would be available also in technical areas such as chemicals, radiation, biohazards, deep penetration of extensive industrial buildings, and fire-fighting tactics on hazardous sites. Local knowledge could help improve firefighter safety and ensure that emergency plans are current.
Volunteers are increasingly helping to deliver community safety campaigns and events. For many years, the voluntary sector has recruited professionals to help develop safety policies and procedures in procurement, emergency planning, business continuity, training and logistics.
Mutually beneficial opportunities could arise from industry and fire service professionals sharing expertise in forums looking, for instance, at environmental prot-ection or fire investigation. Members of professional bodies, such as the Chemical Industries Association, could provide updates on research, technological and regulatory matters linked to oper-ational tactics.
On-call officers may be recruited from industry to supplement current flexible duty officer arrangements and in some cases help generate efficiencies. Industry employs experts trained in the principles of command and control to carry out emergency roles. Greater diversity and flexibility could be introduced into a fire service by recruiting candidates with a range of expertise in, say, mechanical, electrical, chemical, structural, fire and explosion engineering. Relevant personnel in industry understand emergency management principles and the links in relation to on-site, local and national emergency management arrangements.
Emergency role holders in industry can display personal qualities and attributes which could be transferred into public emergency services. Key personnel receive security briefings and updates on UK terrorist threat levels that have the potential to impact on the critical national infrastructure. Industry personnel commuting to work from outside an area of major industry and who work shift patterns may be
available to provide cover during weekdays.
The introduction of the on-call officer could create greater diversity and resilience during major, widespread or protracted incidents, benefiting rural areas and enhancing interoperability.
There are many more oppor-tunities besides, but a final example is supporting the IRMP process with a regular programme of forums and consultations to identify effective partnerships with industry and deliver efficiencies for the benefit of the community. The challenge of austerity is not the only reason to develop such opportunities – the benefits can be far more wide-reaching.
Dave Dowling MIFireE is emergency planning and fire and rescue manager at URENCO UK Limited