Understanding the IRMP process.

Integrated Risk Management Plans are plans for determining future fire & rescue service activity aimed at keeping people safe from fire and other emergencies, and protecting property, heritage and the environment. Effective integrated risk management planning requires the correct balance to be struck between Prevention and Intervention. To achieve this it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the basic philosophies of risk management (i.e. risk assessment and risk control), and how these philosophies apply to the UK fire & rescue service's widening fire protection role.

A variety of fire & rescue service strategies can be employed to reduce risk to the community in general. However these strategies can be broadly grouped under two headings--Prevention and Emergency Intervention.


In terms of attempting to reduce risk from fire through a strategic fire safety approach, prevention aims to reduce the number of fires that actually occur, whilst at the same time providing a minimum standard of protection in those cases where a fire does occur.

Currently property protection from fire does not feature in the 'statutory' elements of prevention. Property protection from fire is a secondary and non-statutory issue which relies on the influence of the protection provided for people. Put simply, in protecting people you will as a consequence provide a degree of protection to property.

This position may however change in the not too distant future as the Government is currently considering the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill. Should this Bill become an Act, it will serve to amend the Building Act 1984 to provide for an element of property protection from crime and to improve the sustainability of buildings. However whether this principle of protecting property will be extended to encompass fire protection issues remains to be seen.

Preventative strategies relating to fire matters cover the key areas of:

* Community Fire Safety (CFS);

* Consumer Safety;

* Statutory Fire Safety & Fire Law Enforcement;

* Building Regulations & Standards; and

* Arson Control.

Successful preventative strategies are both resource dependent and resource intensive. Prevention strategies which are statutorily based also require a high degree of training, technical expertise and skill for and from the personnel who administer and deliver them on behalf of their enforcing authorities. Such strategies can be long-term in nature, and as such effective prevention has long term implications for fire & rescue authorities. Individual strategies cannot be viewed in isolation. The reality is that achieving lasting success in any one of these areas is dependent on all other areas.

Emergency Intervention

Effective emergency intervention strategies support effective prevention strategies. They must also recognise and support statutory health & safety duties. Intervention cannot be viewed as an alternative to prevention, in the same way that prevention cannot be viewed as an alternative to emergency intervention.

Effective intervention involves effective planning of emergency response strategies in support of preventative strategies and aimed at minimising the risk to the community and the risk faced by Firefighters who attend incidents as part of an emergency response.

As Safe As Houses?

In 1990, and in response to a series of multi-casualty fatal fires that had occurred in dwellings in the late 1980's, the Fire Brigades Union produced a discussion document entitled 'As Safe As Houses'.

The document predated by many years not only the integrated risk management planning system, but also the Audit Commission Report which recommended the shift to risk-based fire cover planning.

As Safe As Houses set out what was arguably the first systematic, risk-based methodology aimed at reducing/controlling risk from fire. The document was constructed around a series of philosophies relating to the key factors in preventing future fire deaths in the home environment, hence its title. These philosophies relate directly to the preventative and emergency intervention elements of an effective integrated risk management plan. The document was aimed primarily at domestic dwelling or home fire safety and so did not include reference to the key area of fire law enforcement.


Prevention is Better than Cure--Community Fire Safety & Arson Control

The philosophy that prevention is better than cure places almost total reliance on meeting the fire safety educational needs of society in this respect.

For this philosophy to succeed the population in general, and in particular those groups identified as being most at risk from fire, must be aware of those risks. They must be able to identify the problems that cause fires and fire fatalities, particularly in the home. They must understand how to remedy such problems, and importantly they must be committed and able to remedy the problems. This is best achieved through direct contact with the fire & rescue service, and direct involvement with local authorities and local communities, government bodies and voluntary/charitable groups.

UK Fire Statistics consistently show that the groups most at risk from dying in a fire are the very old and the very young. Additionally fire deaths disproportionately affect the 'socially disadvantaged' sectors of UK society bands. The two most at risk age groups--the young and the old--are very much in the hands of third parties in relation to their fire safely. The very young will presumably be in the care of adults, normally their parents/guardians. At the other end of the spectrum the very old may not be able to comprehend or indeed afford the fire safety measures suggested in any fire safety education programme.

It makes little sense to educate a person of whatever age to identify a problem if they are unable to remedy it because of a lack of independent control over their lives, a lack of understanding, or a lack of finance.

No matter how 'fire-aware' the young may be through the educational process at school, if their parents/guardians remain unconvinced of the teaching or possibly even unaware of it, then the time spent on educating the child could almost be considered to have been wasted. Children live what they learn, and particularly what they learn as a result of the example set by their parents/guardians in the home. To be effective across all socio-economic groups, particularly those identified as being most at risk from fire, Community Fire Safety (CFS) strategies must where possible target children at the same time as their parents/guardians. This can be achieved if fire safety education through schools actually encourages parents/guardians to become involved with their children in joint fire safety awareness programmes.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, it is of little practical use to tell a pensioner that their heating apparatus is potentially dangerous if they are then left with a choice--as a result of lack of finance--of either not heating their home or possibly being killed in a fire. Linked very closely to the educational process for the elderly is the need for a properly funded aid programme involving both central and local government departments, and voluntary/charitable groups.

Since the FBU published the above philosophy in 1990, the Government has recognised the need for Community Fire Safety to be driven from the centre. It has entered into a number of major community safety initiatives, including publishing its own community safety strategy document 'Safe As Houses' (the FBU Document was entitled 'As Sate As Houses') and creating the National Community Fire Safety Centre. It is about to place a duty upon all fire & rescue authorities in England and Wales, through the proposed Fire and Rescue Services Bill, to undertake community fire safety programmes.

Community Fire Safety education is not the panacea for all fire safety problems. …

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