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April 13, 2021

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Fireside Chat

FIA Fireside Chat: BAFE’s Douglas Barnett on opportunity and progression in fire safety

The Fire Industry Association sits down with Douglas Barnett, Director at AXA and Chairman of BAFE – we pick out some of the highlights.

Read the full interview with Douglas, who has been involved in the delivery of risk management in the insurance industry for more than 30 years, here.


If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?

Barnett-Douglas-BAFEI think I’d still be in insurance. As a kid, I wanted to be an air traffic controller but then I fell into insurance and didn’t come back out.

I’ve been in insurance for my whole career and with BAFE since February 2014 – time flies! I had been involved in the fire sector through insurance engaging with people like John O’Neill, Dennis Davis and Ian Moore. Then I was asked if I would consider applying for the chair position of BAFE. Part of the Board at that time felt that BAFE needed a bit of a shake-up and somebody from the commercial world. The BAFE chair was always ex-chief fire officers, so this was the first-ever non-chief fire officer to take the role and it was a case of ‘shaking it up’, with a bit more ‘commercialisation’ and looking at things slightly differently.

What makes you excited about the future of the fire industry?

I think at present we have a once in a lifetime opportunity, following Grenfell and Hackitt. It depends on focus, on regulators and the industry as well. I think there are too many people in this industry that have got their heads stuck in the ground and looking backwards rather than considering the opportunity. I’m excited to work towards a safer built environment and a country to live in that’s safe for everyone.

What do you like about the sector?

Diversity. I think there’s so much in the fire sector, be it from a people or technology angle. The difference between some fire extinguishers that have been around since 1819 – they haven’t changed much but they are still an essential part of the fire protection jigsaw today, as they have been for the last 200 years. Then at the same time you’ve then got those with real specialist knowledge and technology that’s pushing the boundaries. I just love that whole diverse nature, but on the other hand a lot of people don’t listen to other people’s angles and it makes you think how great it could be if we worked together a bit more.

Where do you want to be in five years?

I’d like to think that we’ve actually made a difference during this period. Knowing me, I’ll probably still be working and I’ll still look to have some influence in the fire sector. As the Chair of BAFE you’ve got a lifespan, and thus I don’t think another five years of me chairing would be appropriate, as the change will provide fresh thinking and an opportunity for organisations. There are different ways of influencing. I’ve probably done more than some people would say is healthy for a Chair but I think we’re still in a change period and I think we’ll come to a natural changed period where we’ll be into much more of our embedded type of change in the next few years.

Regarding the acquisition of the FIA Awarding Organisation by FireQual that’s an exciting change and all we’ve got to do is get the paperwork from the four different regulators. There’s a huge amount going on behind the scenes and it’s all really positive and more information will be available over the next couple of weeks.

What is your biggest pet peeve/hate?

Arrogance, particularly from some consultants. If I put my AXA hat on, we’d be here all day with the examples of when consultants request a meeting with the thought that we will just agree and that we may not have the knowledge or an opinion gathered from many years of experience.

Another thing that can be frustrating, is when progression or technical advances can be hampered by going straight to ‘it isn’t possible because…’. This really annoys me as it then stops change and stops the debate because people are looking for reasons not to change, just because they’re comfortable with the status quo.

There is a dilemma of standards being a force for good for delivering quality, consistency and protecting lives, but creating additional friction that’s halting innovation and in some ways they can be, in the longer term, worse for life safety. It’s just so hard trying to get to the bottom of it and taking a stand on it.

What’s your favourite movie of all time?

Towering Inferno. It’s about a futuristic tower block catching fire and people not being able to get out of it, fire climbing up the façade and people getting airlifted by helicopter. Now, look at the job that I do. I saw that film when I was 10 or 12 and I’ve now moved into the fire sector. It’s a film I always remember. Sad but true!

Read the full interview between Douglas Barnett and the FIA’s Adam Richardson, here.

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