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Opinions on the future of the I.F.E.
Fire Collector!

This is a transcript of a presentation I gave to the Institution of Fire Engineers at thei Annual Conference in 2003 in Manchester. What do you think about the future of the institution?

 

Young Fire Engineer Development

in the Modern Fire Service.

Any organisation that is membership based and intends to run for a long time relies on the influx of new members to maintain healthy numbers and to expand the membership to ensure the security and future of that organisation. The future of the Institution has been a much talked about subject for many months even before the release of the Our Future consultation document. Although the document included methods of revised governing of the institution, it could be said that the fundamental issues of:

  • Retaining the current membership.
  • Gaining more members.
  • Gaining more influence in the fields of fire engineering.

were almost forgotten.

Never given a mention was the part that younger members of the institution could play in assisting the institution to achieve its overall objectives and maintain its long-term stability.

The subject was, however touched upon at the Midlands Branch awards presentation in 2000 but very little seemed to come of it.

I have come into contact with people in the past who have had difficulty in seeing a firefighter as a fire engineer as they were a mere reactionary resource when fire had already broken out.

My answer is that there are few other people who have dealt with fire engineering in its rawest form such as it is when a firefighter arrives at an incident.

Fire engineers always say that buildings are designed to be as fire safe as possible but the problems start when people are added into the equation. Although this issue is being addressed in fire modelling such as the Exodus computer models, the firefighter can arrive after the fire has started, people are still trapped inside the building, the ventilation system has failed to operate, the fire resisting construction has or is starting to fail and the structure of the building itself is becoming unstable. It is now that the Firefighting and command team must engineer solutions not just to extinguish a fire, but also to prevent further damage, fire spread, environmental damage and risk to other persons and property in the area. This can be a very complex problem as all factors are related and interdependent.

            The value of this fire engineer does not stop here, after the incident has been dealt with it must be investigated as to how it started and steps can be taken to prevent it happening in the future. The information that is gleaned from the incident could prove invaluable in future fire engineering developments and subsequent life safety.

What is currently available to a young person starting out in their career in fire engineering using the fire service as a platform.

Should the person have the good fortune to find out as I did by chance that the IFE exists, they may send their membership remittance.

They will then be sent a monthly journal.

This is the least they will have to do to remain a member for 12 months.

They could continue to do this throughout their professional career and hey presto we have a perpetual student member. A problem that was identified years ago by the IFE but a problem that still exists today.

REMEMBER:

  • They had to be at least 16 years of age to take an examination.
  • They had to prove that they were involved in the field of fire engineering in a paid or voluntary capacity.

They may decide to take the Preliminary Certificate examination at 16 for which they may purchase the Preliminary Certificate Study Book.

They may also wish to take the Intermediate Examination for which there is no defined study material so the will probably use the Preliminary Study Book once again.

During a period of 4 years or less, they could pass the Graduateship Examination which has suggested reading in the form of a vague bibliography for some of the subject areas.

Over the next 4 years, they could take the Membership Examination and obtain corporate membership.

All of the costs of the examinations will be charged on a per paper basis and be on top of that years membership fee.

If they are a member of a public fire brigade, they may be able to obtain the Station Officers Qualification should they have passed all of their Sub Officers examinations before completing their final Graduateship paper.

From this, we must ask three questions:

  • What is available now to assist someone on this route?
  • What can be done now to improve on these arrangements?
  • What should be put in place to secure this new position in the future?

If you are to encourage new, long-term members, you will be aiming at the 16 year old. Bear in mind that these will be students who could be just about to enter higher education or the world of work and they will therefore have very few if any financial resources at their disposal. Consequently, in addition to the membership fee, they will also need to fund the examination fee. For a large number of these prospective members, it is not a viable option because not all parents are either willing or able to support them. This is particularly so in the more deprived or problem areas where Y.F.A. groups were initially set up to combat arson. We need to examine ways to assist young people with funding or sponsorship at either the local or national level and make it accessible to all.

Reciprocal Arrangements.

It is of no doubt that the reciprocal arrangement that exists between the Graduateship Examination and the Station Officers qualification is a great incentive to personnel in the public fire brigades to take it. It is also certain that with the introduction of the Integrated Personal Development System and Competency Based Training, the possibility of reciprocity may fall into doubt.

This would result in a dramatic fall in membership numbers and this is obviously not beneficial. It is here that the Institution has a framework waiting in the wings to counteract this in the form of Continuing Professional Development. This is the IFEs version of IPDS tried and tested and put on-line long before the implementation of IPDS. Here the IFE is in danger of missing the boat in relation to integrating CPD into the IPDS framework an opportunity to maintain the interest of the public brigade employees involved in the IFE arguably giving greater sway to the argument of membership being beneficial. As the fire service is going to be portrayed in an even more professional light what better organisation to do it with.

It is also important that the examinations should remain an integral part of the IFE and there is no reason why they may not be used as summative assessments in the GNVQ or CBT elements of training.

The new government White Paper on the Fire and Rescue Service indicates a renewed effort to educate to prevent fire. Surely this is an ideal opportunity for the I.F.E. to become actively involved such as participating in the new Advisory Group. This will allow early liaison with the Fire and Rescue Service to establish an accredited framework to satisfy the need for increased professionalism within the service. Arrangements can also be made to ensure that the current examination structure will still have a role to play if not becoming even more relevant. Having spoken to many firefighters from various brigades it is the relevance of the I.F.E. that they fail to see a hurdle that will be overcome.

The bibliography should be improved to become clearer with specific titles identified for all subject areas. If this is not easily done, then the possibility of more publications should be explored allowing more meaningful and focussed study to taker place. In order for the publications to take into account the changes in syllabus, they could be produced in loose-leaf format to enable easy updating. The appointment of mentors for people taking examinations should also be explored, as this would provide a valuable third party to facilitate the exchange of ideas. They should be willing to assist the student with their studies and doing this will also help their own development. There is also a great selling point in that the examinations are transferable outside the public sector something that is currently lacking in the British Fire Service.

The reports on past examinations, although useful, could also be improved by providing more model answers to problems set the year before. This will provide a benchmark for the candidate with which to compare their work and encourage understanding of aspects of the syllabus that might prove otherwise difficult. It is important throughout to understand that it is the level of the support available that should be increased and not the level of examination decreased.

Another point regarding CPD is that of the accredited activities available. It is of no doubt that it is an important aspect of the career path of an individual. Over the past few years, the cost of CPD accredited courses has increased dramatically reducing the numbers of people being able to attend such events. It is also very difficult for members employed in the public sector to obtain time off from work to attend events and take advantage of educational opportunities such as those highlighted by Tracey. Although some branches do assist members with subsidisation, the process needs to be made easier. This problem needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency to prevent a large skills gap forming in the field of fire engineering in the public sector.

The local branch network also has a part to play in relation to events and seminars. More events held by local groups need to be CPD accredited and thought should be given to providing the seminar or course in different locations appropriate to the level of response. Perhaps in neighbouring local branch areas or more further afield if appropriate. This will both attract young members and improve publicity.

            One of the major contributors to the development of the young professional is the journal. It is often cited that the articles in the magazines can sometimes be used to take questions for the examinations. If this is the case then why not have specific pages devoted to the varying levels of reading for the varying grades of membership within the IFE? The magazine has certainly become easier to read and understand but this should not mean that we disregard anything that looks too complex. Instead, grade the articles to enable the candidate to read a level of text with relevant information appertaining to their examination. They may then be able to read a lower grade to consolidate information and they may also read further should they wish to broaden their knowledge yet further. This would be ideal when run in tandem with the focus sections in the Journal.

            The events listings in the journal should also be expanded to allow more events to be publicised and the event should be advertised well in advance to enable people to make the necessary arrangements to attend. Better liaison between the local groups and head office can only prove beneficial in this respect.

            Another possibility that must be explored is the forging of links with other organisations involved with fire engineering that will give the IFE access to people at an earlier stage in their development. One such opportunity lay in the Young Firefighters Associations that are run in some brigades. Here again, the possibility of using the Preliminary certificate as an entry into this arena has almost been lost as the governing organisation the FSYTA were exploring avenues of providing formal qualifications for the members. After much deliberation they chose the BTEC system a position that would have ideally suited the Preliminary certificate and made an opening for another entry level examination. It is instead left to people like myself to impart the enthusiasm to prospective members and use what limited time and resources we have to train them to take the examination when they have attained 16 years of age. Having also to overcome a complete lack of parental support in some cases.

After all the points that have been raised, the solution can be condensed into one word:

Support.

Support is a varied subject and can come from a wide range of sources. The IFE has already started by forming a Young Persons Network and forming links with I.P.D.S. but there is much more to be done.

It is clear though, that the IFE as a whole might ask what is in it for me? There are a number of benefits that the IFE would experience:

A wider range of membership and Journal readership will be attracted, as the IFE will appeal to all levels.

Revision that takes place will be more succinct and targets will be clearer as a result of a clearer bibliography.

More useful CPD hours will relate more to someones role within fire engineering.

Knowledge acquisition will be progressive and more consolidated.

People will be aware of the IFE from an early stage in their development.

Membership subscription possibilities will increase.

Fire engineers or prosp0ective engineers can be given an early start in their training.

Renewed interest in examinations with more candidates.

More credibility for CPD as it is linked with an IPDS system.

More publicity due to IPDS links.

More attendees at events.

Increased revenue.

Greater distribution of knowledge and ideas.

Maintained role in achieving higher standards in fire engineering.

Conclusion:

When implementing what has been said, it must be remembered to set realistic targets but with more people being made aware of the IFE and being encouraged by the support framework. We could build on the members enthusiasm. Membership numbers will increase and there will be an increase in the number of engineers which will decrease the deficit that we currently face. An increase in qualified people will also bring new ideas, ground breaking research and a brighter future for the IFE which will have one very important overall benefit that echoes the IFEs main objective:

A global community that is safer from fire!

Please note that the views expressed in this exerpt do not necesarrily represent those views held by the Institution of Fire Engineers or its members and are solely those of the author - Andrew Brown.