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March 5, 2021

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Fireside Chat

FIA Fireside chat: “Fire safety is increasingly becoming a multi-disciplined profession”

In the latest Fireside Chats series, the Fire Industry Association (FIA), sat down with Ben Bradford, Chief Executive of BB7, a fire and security consulting firm advising designers and architects throughout the construction process. Ben is a Chartered Engineer and Chartered Surveyor with an MBA, was a lead author and sponsor of PAS 7, and has been a panel member on several British Standards.

BenBradford-FiresideChat-21

Ben Bradford, Chief Executive of BB7

Here, we catch a few highlights of the conversation – read the full interview between Ben and the FIA’s Adam Richardson, here.

How have you been affected by COVID-19?

Thankfully, I’m a survivor of COVID-19. I’ve had it, my family has had it and yet from a BB7 perspective, we’ve been doing relatively well. I guess, fire safety as a profession is an in-demand profession and so we’ve fared quite well.

I’ve found it tough as a CEO in that, when the pandemic first started there’s quite a bit of pressure to make serious decisions about how to direct the organisation through a global financial crisis and a pandemic and not quite knowing what that is going to mean. I guess everyone says, no CEO regrets making decisions early, all CEO’s regret making decisions too late, I felt quite a bit of pressure to make sure I was taking it all really seriously.

So, when we didn’t see anything in the numbers I just thought, we will carry on business as usual. I also wasn’t 100% sure how working from home en-masse was going to go, but actually it’s fine. As far as working virtually goes, we’re embracing flexibility like never before, but we aren’t going to drop offices as we need them to be able to train graduates.

Fire safety is increasingly becoming a multi-disciplined profession where we need fire safety engineers, fire risk assessors, fire modelers, fire surveyors and people with passive knowledge.  So, we need offices to ensure we have community in the workplace, but the 9-5 is dead. I think the 9-5 died when the Iphone and Blackberry phones were invented. Emails impinge on our personal lives because people are checking emails at all sorts of times, so I think we’re moving to an environment where work and personal lives are intertwined a bit more and full flexibility is the way forward. It’s all very positive.

What makes you excited about the future of this industry?

I think fire engineering is becoming more multi-disciplined and there is now a recognition more than ever before, that we are required at the design stage of a new building, for the engineering of a new building, for the construction of a new building, for the operational hand over and management of new buildings into the future.

That’s certainly a change that has started happening in 2016 and then received greater attention post-June 2017 in our post Grenfell world and I think that was an important point to recognise that fire safety needs to embedded into the entire building life cycle. I think people are starting to understand it now and get it.

Our environment is becoming more litigious than ever before and I think Brexit is kind of contributing to that. We’re becoming more and more like the US in terms of having a litigious culture and that is bringing more of a focus to competency and people making sure that the scope of services is right and terms and conditions are right and hopefully that people are doing a better job.

I do think that the downside of where we’re at now in fire safety is that society’s tolerance to risk has reduced and we’re not doing as well in engineering as we once did and that’s a bit of a shame because people are taking less risk.

Everyone’s kind of scared of trial by media. It’s a shame in many respects, as our knowledge of fire science and engineering remains the same. People aren’t willing to try new things because everyone’s scared of getting something wrong and then being lambasted and being hung out to dry.  It will come back but we’ve got to go on this journey first. The upside is that there is a greater recognition that there are lots of different skills and niches within fire safety.

The other thing that’s disappointing is that we haven’t been very good as a profession in coming together and showing real leadership for the profession, it’s quite fragmented and that hasn’t helped us in the post Grenfell response. The broad consensus from the one voice is not there yet and that’s a real problem for the fire sector. Hopefully this will change in the future. Everybody kind of protects their own empires and not everybody realises that if you have a body or a group and you’ve only got two members and no money you haven’t got a very loud voice.

What is the latest innovation you would like brought into the fire industry?

I haven’t really got a latest technology that I think we need to bring in, other than, I think more consolidation of providers that offer fire risk management systems software – the software that enables fire risk assessors to do catch-up data and then a back end platform that allows the end user to make sensible decisions using that data. That sector needs to improve, come together and mature. There’s lots of one, or two, man bands that offer this and we need to offer better digital platforms

If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?

I think I’d go for the 1950s because of that post-war era where living standards are gently on the rise and BlackBerrys and Iphones haven’t been invented. We used to write letters to people and we had more time.

Read the full interview on the FIA’s website, here.

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