The Critical Attendance STandard (CAST).

Within an Integrated Risk Management Plan, local fire & rescue authorities are required to set out how they intend to make adequate provision for prevention and emergency intervention to meet efficiently all normal requirements. In order to understand the relevance of the Critical Attendance STandard (CAST) to integrated risk management planning it is first necessary to have some understanding of what is actually required of the fire & rescue service at emergency incidents.

The first widely accepted description of what a Firefighter's job entails was written over a century ago by Sir Eyre Massey Shaw. In his book 'Fires and Fire Brigades' Shaw stated;

"A fireman, to be successful, must enter buildings; he must get in below, above, on every side, from opposite houses, over back walls, over side walls, through panels of doors, through windows, through loopholes, through skylights, through holes cut by himself in the gates, the walls, the roof; he must know how to reach the attic from the basement by ladders placed on half burned stairs, and the basement from the attic by rope made fast on a chimney. His whole success depends on getting in and remaining there and he must always carry his appliances with him, as without them he is of no use."

In 1960 the Fire Brigades Union launched the FBU's campaign for a new and highly trained technical fire service. The task, as the union conceived it, was to 'change the service into a modern fire protection--firefighting force'.

The challenges facing the fire service in organising to support this vision were detailed in the FBU document 'A Service for the Sixties'. Launching this document at the 1960 FBU Annual Conference in Rothesay, John Horner, the FBU General Secretary, stated:

"We say in this document that when all is said and done, at the end of it firefighting comes down to this; that a small number of men will go into a darkened, smoke-logged building not knowing what they are going to meet, having faith in each other, in the long run prepared to risk their lives to save the lives of other people. In the long run, no matter what transformations we effect in the fire service, firefighting in its final stages remains just that. And we do not forget it."

Today's Firefighters and Firefighters (Control) will perhaps better recognise and be able to identify with this less glamorous description of the realities of the job.

Although both these statements were written many years ago, their relevance to the current integrated risk management planning process is clear. In essence they deal with what is required to actually get the job done, in terms of Firefighters, equipment, personal skills and courage.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)--the way the fire & rescue service does things at fires and other emergency incidents--have developed over numerous years. The old Fire Service Drill Book was full of very basic SOPs which were written and religiously trained against to ensure quick and effective discharge of the more routine tasks undertaken at fires.

Most Firefighters will remember their first introduction to these on their recruit's course, where in a 4-man (sic) Pump Drill No. 3 ran out the first length of hose from the pump, No. 1 the second length (taking a branch), etc. etc.

The 'Manuals of Firemanship' produced by the Home Office from the 1950s onward included many SOPs, covering procedures for emergency incidents other than fires, such as road traffic accidents, trench collapses and sewer rescues. This was in spite of the fact that the service had no statutory responsibility to attend such emergency incidents.

Standard Operating Procedures are constructed with the aim of ensuring that the requirements placed on Firefighters, and their actions at emergency incidents, do not exceed accepted minimum standards of health & safety. In simple terms they are designed to minimise the risks which Firefighters routinely face in situations which are in themselves inherently risky.

SOPs have developed over the years not only to match the complexity of incidents attended by the service, but also in an attempt to maintain compliance with a raft of legislative health & safety requirements placed on local authority employers. European legislation has arguably had the biggest single influence on the way the UK fire & rescue service plans to do things at emergency incidents.

Unfortunately, and in a similar manner to the development of fire, safety legislation (Section 1), changes to Standard Operating Procedures have often followed the deaths or serious injury of Firefighters at emergency incidents, or during training for such incidents.

It has long been recognised by Firefighters that to employ Standard Operating Procedures effectively, and to safeguard health & safety, it is necessary to have adequate numbers of personnel and equipment available at incidents.

Risk Assessment--The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations (MHSAW)

In the 1990's the manner in which consideration of employee health & safety was approached in the UK underwent a fundamental change, European legislation was enacted which shifted the emphasis from prescriptive requirements to requirements and procedures based on an assessment of risk.

The Management of Health & Safety at Work (MHSAW) Regulations placed a requirement on employers to consider all work activities from the perspective of the risk they posed to their employees, and the risk posed to other persons who could be affected by the way their employees were doing things.

In spite of arguments to the contrary it was ruled that fire & rescue authorities (as employers) were not exempt from the requirement to comply with this legislation. This had major implications for the service, particularly in relation to procedures at emergency incidents, where the risks posed to Firefighters were potentially the greatest.

Fire & Rescue Service Employers now had to develop Standard Operating Procedures for Firefighters which could be proved to have actively reduced the risk to a level that was considered as acceptable. For this purpose risk could basically be considered as being:

* Intolerable--the risk must be reduced

* Tolerable--the risk should be reduced as far as reasonably practicable using 'risk-control' measures

* Broadly Acceptable--consider whether the cost of further risk reduction outweighs the benefits

* Negligible--the risk is insignificant (but must be monitored)

Section 2 page 23 gives a fuller explanation of the risk assessment process and requirements.

The Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association (CACFOA) summed up the new health & safety requirement in their 1996 publication 'Guidance on the Application of Risk Assessment in the Fire Service', stating that it was now necessary to:

"... define the safety critical support issues for fire service personnel and others ..." (Guidance on the Application of Risk Assessment in the Fire Service--page 6)

The initial fire & rescue service response to this new health & safety requirement was to develop a range of Generic Risk Assessments (GRAs) covering the broad range of risks that Firefighters could routinely expect to encounter at emergency incidents. …

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