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Fire Chief's report for sector lacked vigour and boldness

The Fire Futures Forum is aiming to solve the issue of waste management and recycling fires, but did it make an encouraging start in its new mission?

The Chief Fire Officers Association recently published its long-awaited report on tackling waste management and recycling fires. The Fire Futures Forum has established a roadmap based on the views and discussions of senior industry and associated figures. But while the initiative represented a beginning, did it go far enough in its ambition and recommendations?

Everyone in the waste management and recycling industry cannot fail to acknowledge it has a real problem with the issue of fires.  The Environment Agency’s (EA) 2013 statistics, which have just been released, showed that despite fluctuations, industry fires occur every day on average. We can expect those classed as ‘major fires’ at least once every month.

The Fire Futures Forum recognises that the situation cannot be tolerated, although partly attributing the general perception of the problem to the media being “sensationalist in nature” is misjudged.  The considerable damage and cost, often foisted upon government agencies and emergency services and local communities, needs to be addressed.  In this sense any new discussion, swapping of ideas and agreement to create new initiatives is very welcome.

The forum involved a diverse number of interested parties, each with their very own concerns and priorities. Concrete agreements need time, conciliation and flexibility. This is a big ask when the interests of insurance providers, emergency services, government agencies and industry professionals all each need to play their part in developing a coherent and robust strategy.

Nevertheless, the forum found some common ground and agreement going forward: the setting up an Industry Code of Practice, a national database of waste management operators and a more integrated planning process to tackling waste management site blazes. This is not the complete list of potential proactive initiatives cited.

The aim to “reduce the likelihood and impact of fires at waste sites” though, I fear, will not be impacted far enough by such measures.

The call for more stringent legislation was avoided, there being no “political groundswell of political opinion” for such measures – a path of better guidance and self-regulation being advocated.

MP Mark Garnier, who made the keynote address, noted that the EA had written to 8,000 UK waste recycling centres “on ideas on how to prevent fires and reduce their impact.”  The MP noted that the guidance was “a tad simplistic” and “limited purely to advice.”

It struck me that this observation by a layman, an outsider to the industry, encompassed the essential truth of the problem that was before the attendees: without strong precise mandatory measures the issues will continue to be discussed and not solved.

Yes it is in my interest for legislation to be passed and fire prevention and detection to be standard to avoid such catastrophic fires.  But while the first course of action was dismissed, the second was not even mentioned, except by Garnier.  It is an incredible omission.

The Fire Futures Forum is and can be a real opportunity to address the issues around fires with vigour and boldness.  I fear, even though it is understandable, that the pressure to find common ground to reach some agreement took away an approach that needed to be much stronger. 

If we want to reach a solution we will have to make some hard decisions.  If the self-regulation approach does not work we will have to face harder decisions sooner or later. It would be better if those decisions are made sooner.

Simon Jenkins is product manager at waste management and recycling fire detection solution FireVu. 

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