The curious matter of risk: for all the talk of fire cover provision, risk management and the progress of fire safety legislation, our correspondent argues that there will continue to be conflict between statistical evidence and public perception of risk--reassurance of protection being paramount.(Risk Management)

WITH THE "QUICK WIN" PHASE of many integrated risk management plans now over, the thorny issue of rationalisation of fire cover provision appears on the near horizon. Closing a fire station dealing with a handful of "real" calls each year should be easy in today's sophisticated risk aware society. The reality is proving more difficult. Will clinical analysis of the facts win out or will changes to fire cover be placed in the "too hard to do box" for the time being?

During the siege of Moscow in 1941-1942, a famous statistician refused to take shelter from even the heaviest bombing raids explaining that the chance of being killed in the raids was actuarially speaking insignificant. One day he turned up at his local shelter. Asked about his change of mind he explained: "There are seven million Muscovites and one elephant. Last night they got the elephant."

The story may be apocryphal but it does serve to illustrate the problem with understanding the concept of risk and the perception of risk. With most fire and rescue activity being focussed upon the reduction of risk through integrated risk management plans (IRMP) and using such rational decision making tools as the FSEC modelling software, there will inevitably be a conflict between statistics and the perception of those who are subject to the risk. You may not statistically need a fire station in your village but it may never the less provide you with a degree of reassurance. …

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