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Fire and Rescue Statistics User Group

Office of the
Deputy Prime Minister

Report to the Fire Safety Advisory Board
Fires of Special Interest

There are currently two quite separate arrangements for gathering information from Fires of Special Interest (FoSI).

Dear Chief Officer Letter 5/1994, Item G

Under the arrangements set out in this letter, brigades in England and Wales are asked to report brief details of significant fires which come within at least one of 13 broad criteria covering both operational and fire safety matters; similar arrangements exist in Scotland under Dear Firemaster Letter 7/1999. The main purpose of these arrangements is to provide early information for ministers in the case of high profile cases, and to provide HM Fire Service Inspectorates with details of incidents which hold important lessons for public and firefighter safety.

ODPM Call-Off Contract with BRE

Under the current contract, which runs from April 2001 to March 2004, the BRE gathers information on FoSI primarily to inform Approved Document B for England and Wales with occasional input to the regulatory documents for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Positive feedback is also provided where existing or revised guidance has helped to minimise fire spread and threat to life.

Discussion between HMFSI and Building Regulation colleagues in ODPM has concluded that these two arrangements, originally devised when fire and building regulation came under separate government departments, are now due for review and could be streamlined to provide the necessary information more efficiently and effectively. In particular, the information gathered needs to better support the monitoring of progress towards the challenging government targets for the reduction of fires and fire casualties, and needs also to support the development of risk assessment.

There is currently no requirement on brigades to carry out any investigation beyond that normally necessary to complete the FDR1 (and none is proposed). However, there is a requirement for brigades to report incidents that come within the criteria defined in the DCOL, and to provide brief details. If the power to investigate fires and take samples is conferred on brigades, as currently planned under the proposed Regulatory Reform Order, there is likely to be a need for further guidance.

When proposals for improving the information from FoSI have been firmed up it is intended to promulgate new reporting criteria to Brigades via a DCOL. There is likely to be a resource implication for the Department (ODPM) if the reporting thresholds for FoSI are lowered and thereby receive more notifications, e.g. we intend to seek notification in the case of single fire deaths, the current criterion being 5 or more deaths. It is considered that there will be no manpower implications for brigades, and the resource implications would be confined to any additional reporting of incidents. It is envisaged that the provision of brief incident details by email will suffice in the majority of cases.

There is an unrelated piece of work going on under the Arson Control Forum (ACF), which is looking at fire investigation protocols, i.e. roles, responsibilities, and training implications for agencies involved in fire investigation (brigades, police, forensic scientists, insurers etc). The main purpose is to improve the quality of fire investigation and thereby improve the identification of arson incidents and the prosecution of arsonists. The ACF will consult on these proposals which potentially have resource and manpower implications for the public agencies.

Work to produce National Occupational Standards for fire and explosion investigation has been under way for some time, and is currently sponsored by the Science Technology and Mathematics Council on behalf of the forensic science community. The working group comprises forensic science, fire, police, and insurers’ interests. Work has recently stalled, whilst the forensic science community considers whether joint standards are desirable or achievable. The view of HMFSI is that a joint approach is essential if the necessary co-operation and collaboration between agencies at fire scenes is to be achieved.

Martin Jones
Assistant Inspector of Fire Services
11 May 2003