Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1120
WEDNESDAY 24 APRIL 2002
1120. One final question. Can you tell us what
are the principal points the fire services made in their response
to the consultation?
(Mr Bull) Two major points for me. The need for a
regional approach to integrated emergency planning, not from a
command perspective but from a co-ordination and collaboration
and co-operation perspective. Secondly, the other major point
has to be back to the old adage of pounds, shillings and pence
and funding. I do not think it was helpful recently for the Civil
Defence Grant for next year to be reduced once again at a time
1121. You have just lost that job I was promising
(Mr Bull) We should be expanding the emergency planning
function or making sure they are resilient to be able to plan
for these events that we are talking about now.
1122. You started off by talking about the Fire
Services Act 1947, I know exactly what Martin Chapman in Dorset
would say if asked this question but do you think we need to update
(Mr Bull) Yes, I do. I think it does need updating
now in a number of respects. In doing that I think we have to
be very careful in defining in the future what we want our Fire
Service to do. It is easy to sit here and say we want the Fire
Service to have a statutory duty for community safety work, fire
safety work or for road traffic accidents or for floods or for
storms or for tempests or for winds, but if we do that we have
to be very careful about what we are actually taking on and demanding
of our firefighters on the ground. At the moment we have a very
comprehensive service that responds in times of need and does
its best without a statutory base. I think in some ways the regulatory
reform route in amending various sections and items of the Fire
Services Act rather than tearing it up and starting again would
be a better way forward.
1123. Is there a danger that if we define more
clearly what your statutory duties are that what is not mentioned
then will not be done because of funds and, therefore, you will
get a less rounded service?
(Mr Bull) Absolutely.
1124. You said amendment rather than starting
again. Is there a certain amount of updating of your powers that
should happen through the Emergency Planning Bill, which we are
(Mr Bull) To be frank, I am not entirely sure about
that. My view would be the Fire Services Act, the provision of
fire service and the emergency response is here and the actual
integrated emergency planning is here. As long as there is understanding
and cross-over and mutual networking I do not think that would
be a problem.
1125. Time is short so I am not coming back
too much. After 11 September the New Dimension Group was started
by the Chief Inspector of Fire Services, Graham Meldrum, and as
we understand it five project teams were set up: Urban Search
and Research, Mutual Aid, Decontamination and Hazardous Substances,
Appliances, Personal Protective Equipment and Vehicle Specifications,
and Training and Personnel. What progress has been made by each
of those five teams and what do you expect them to produce in
terms of recommendations, further work, etc, and when?
(Mr Bull) As I explained before, those five groups
have been set up and are being serviced principally by the Fire
Inspectorate, fire policy and some additional resources which
are very minor which have been put into the centre but largely
supported by fire authorities nationally from around the country,
from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who are voluntarily
putting their people in. If we very briefly go through each group
and give you the present position and I will summarise at the
(Mr Young) The position with regard to mutual aid
is that there has always been a statutory obligation on fire authorities
to have mutual aid arrangements but what that group is now looking
at is whether that is sufficiently resilient to cope with post
11 September. The conclusion is that it is not and there is more
work that needs to be done to actually ensure that fire brigades
have the capability and the wherewithal to reinforce each other
over very long periods of time, which is clearly one of the principal
lessons coming out of New York. That work is going forward now
and there is a group established to look at these issues about
how we can reinforce a fire brigade that is dealing with a catastrophic
event over an extended period of time 24 hours a day, seven days
a week and those reinforcement arrangements, and all of the implications
that arise from that, are being looked at. As far as appliances,
equipment and protective clothing, are concerned, there is a group
that is established that is looking at these issues. The Fire
Service Inspectorate has already gone out through the European
Journal and invited tenders from prospective bidding companies.
I understand a number of companies have expressed an interest
in bidding for that work. The group is currently developing specifications
and determining types of equipment and quantities of equipment
and disposition of equipment to ensure that we actually can move
forward and the Fire Service Inspectorate, supported by our association
and others, will be in a position to move forward to distributing
equipment to enable brigades to be able to carry out the additional
roles that are envisaged. I have just been reminded, there is
a discussion going on at the moment about the feasibility of joint
purchasing, particularly for personal protective equipment, between
fire, police and ambulance to see whether there is some commonality
of interest there and obvious benefits in terms of going out jointly
(Mr Dobson) In December last year a Memorandum of
Understanding was signed between the Department of Health and
the Fire Service which basically detailed the arrangements for
co-operation between the Fire Service and the Ambulance Service
if mass decontamination of the public was required. Following
the production of that Memorandum of Understanding guidance around
the structure of providing mass decontamination was issued by
Her Majesty's Fire Service Inspectorate to all brigades. We are
currently in the process of designing a system for mass decontamination,
currently in the process of identifying user requirements for
the equipment that is necessary to provide that service.
1126. So it is more sophisticated than two tents
alongside each other?
(Mr Dobson) Yes, it is. We are talking about properly
constructed equipment and tents with warm water rather than cold.
(Mr Dobson) We have issued a notice in the European
Journal asking for expressions of interest in terms of the
procurement of equipment. Also we have received a number of expressions
of interest from a number of companies and we are looking to hold
some demonstration days in the next couple of months. We are also
working with the training and personnel group to identify the
training needs that will accompany the equipment that will eventually
be procured to provide this system.
(Mr Bull) Lastly, in terms of urban search and rescue,
again that group is very active and is looking at processes, procedures,
standing operation procedures for search and rescue resulting
from a major incident such as this. We already have an International
UK Search and Rescue Team which is co-ordinated through DTLR which
responds to international incidents and has been abroad to earthquakes
and disasters of this type, of which they have got great experience,
but we never use that in the UK, so now we are bringing that into
play to give us much more resilience. The situation we are in
now is in Fire Service terms we identified, accepted and recognised
that there is a risk. This work is now going on and is in place
and is moving forward but, once again, we come back to the pound
sign. The funding that is required for all of this is additional,
is new money. DTLR made a bid to the Capital Modernisation Fund
and to the Treasury for some £217 million to underpin this
future work. At the moment we are still awaiting final results
of all of that but the messages we are getting back from the Treasury
are not positive at this moment in time I have to say. We do watch
this space with bated breath, if I can put it in that way.
1128. Can you send us the correspondence, if
you do not mind, of the arguments, that would be quite helpful.
(Mr Bull) Yes. The DTLR three weeks ago
announced from their own funding £53 million to underpin
mass decontamination and a degree of regional support in planning
and training for these type of events. That comprised some 40
million capital and 30 million revenue which also included three
million for Wales. We have got to move quickly now to put that
in place. As Rob explained, we have a Memorandum of Understanding
now but I have to be honest that the development of that in different
areas of the United Kingdom is at different stages of progress.
So one area of the country will have signed the Memorandum of
Understanding and have the procedures in place and have moved
ahead whereas other areas of the country have done very little.
The reason for that is obviously fire authorities are very uneasy
about expending additional expenditure without the assurance that
the new money is going to be in place.
1129. Did the Memorandum come with any money
(Mr Bull) No. In terms of the bigger and wider issues
which are really around human rights issues, the legality of the
fire authority to be able to do this, the litigation issues that
may result from this from mass decontamination of large numbers
of people, local members and fire authorities are uneasy about
those issues and we are in active discussions with Government
about how we can resolve those issues. Some of them are unresolvable,
I have to say, in terms of moving forward.
I think we have made some progress at a national
strategic level but if you went to individual fire fighters on
the ground, and think of the time since 11 September and where
we are now, very little has changed on the ground. That is really
because we need this national guidance, National Standard Operating
Procedures, processes, things in place to be able to transfer
that into the fire fighters. One of the pleasing things, I think,
is that the Fire Brigades Union, which is a very strong union,
I am sure you will appreciate, has been very supportive of these
issues and has underpinned the work which is going on which I
think is very pleasing to note in these circumstances.
(Mr Bull) Everybody, the Local Government Association,
the professionals, DTLR are all working very supportively together
which I think augers well for the future. At the end of the day
we have got to produce the goods, and that is one of my major
concerns, as I said, that if the work slows down or the funding
does not become available then we accept there is a risk but we
do not have the infrastructure to deal with the risk.
1131. We will do all we can, I am sure, to help
present your arguments for more money.
(Mr Bull) Thank you.
1132. Finally, very, very briefly, a small question.
You have mentioned Search and Rescue, we have not asked anybody
about the Coastguard Agency, are they involved in all these discussions
and civil contingency work?
(Mr Bull) I think in a very distanced way, similarly
with the MoD and other agencies that may be involved in this.
At the moment it is focusing on the resilience of the blue light
services but we are having ad hoc discussions with other
agencies about how they fit into the planning process. I think
that particularly comes through at local and regional levels depending
obviously where the coastguard stations are, where they are located.
1133. I think you have dealt with a large part
of my first question which was about decontamination both in your
remarks, Mr Dobson, and yourself Mr Bull, talking about some of
the progress you have been making in terms of the equipment and
the equipment that will be necessary. Really I would just ask
you whether you want to make any further comments about acquiring
both the funding and equipment that you think is necessary and
ask you whether the equipment you have identified is not only
equipment needed to deal with contamination which has occurred
and where it is clear what the contamination is but whether you
have looked, also, at the equipment you need where it is clear
that something is seriously wrong but maybe it is not yet clear
just what the substance or form of contamination is that the firefighters
are having to go in to deal with?
(Mr Bull) If we come to the last point in a moment,
Ron will deal with that. First of all, we have to understand that
the Memorandum of Understanding is an agreement between the Department
of Health, DTLR and LGA about how the services of decontamination
are going to be provided. It does not devolve the whole responsibility,
the responsibility still remains with the Department of Health.
The Fire Service is providing that service at a local level agreed
locally with all the agencies which are available in that region.
We are expecting everybody in the ten regions that we have defined
will sign a Memorandum of Understanding locally as well with all
the agents so there is mutual understanding there. At the moment
we are providing that mass decontamination very much in line with
what Jim described, using existing equipment, existing people,
existing resources which is a very ad hoc arrangement but
nevertheless will work to some degree because the normal Fire
Service anyway is doing decontamination on a daily basis on our
motorways as road traffic accidents and chemical spillages and
things of that nature happen now. That expertise and skill is
there but it is more about the scope and scale of the mass decontamination
that we are going to deal with in the future. If we are going
to deal with that scope and scale then we are going to have to
have the right equipment, the right skills and the right people
in place to be able to deliver that and the most effective way
to do it is on a regional basis. So that is, if you like, the
strategic viewpoint. I will just ask Ron to deal with the points
on the actual type of decontamination.
(Mr Dobson) On the actual type of decontamination,
in the Fire Service we always work on the worst case scenario
unless there is a clear indication of what the substances are
that we are actually dealing with. Our procedures already allow
for us working on that basis. What we are doing at the moment
is working closely with the other agencies, particularly the ambulance
service and the police that would be involved in the decontamination
incident, to identify responsibilities for identification of the
substance we are dealing with. We are working also very closely
with the Science Working Group the National Chemical Focus and
a range of other scientific groups to make sure we have got the
best scientific advice into all the procedures we put into place
and eventually the equipment that we will procure. The answer
is yes, we do work on the worst case scenario, first of all.
1134. My second question is about building safety
and evacuation procedures. None of us will ever forget the horror
of seeing the Twin Towers collapse and Syd has mentioned already
the high regard all of us already had for firefighters and rescue
workers but enhanced by the tragic outcome of that where all the
escape routes just seemed to disappear in a matter of a few seconds.
Inevitably that leads us then to look at tall buildings in our
own country like Canary Wharf and others and think what about
them if something hit them. Can I ask whether you have been reviewing
the evacuation procedures which seem appropriate for such buildings
since 11 September?
(Mr Bull) That block of work is now in progress. It
is too early in the research to actually report the outcome of
the progress or where we are at at this moment in time. Two research
projects have been led now by DTLR to look at fire dynamics, the
performance of buildings, the actual structural fire protection
we have in place now, building regulations, how all of these things
interact on an internal risk scale and then how in the future
that will influence whatever standards we have in place for the
future which is not only about the protection of the general public
but also about the protection of our firefighters who we are sending
in to these buildings to rescue people which is an interesting
concept as well which has been debated in many other arenas to
do with sprinklers in large single storey buildings and things
of this nature.
1135. Can I declare an interest as patron of
the National Fire Sprinklers Association.
(Mr Bull) The other aspect of it is to do with people's
behaviour in a catastrophic incident, about what actually happens
inside these buildings and how the people react because that is
particularly important. If anybody has ever been in a situation
where you have been in a fog situation or, heaven forbid, if you
have been in a situation where there has been a fire and you have
smoke and combustion, the major disorientation that gives to people
is amazing and the things they will do are amazing. Children,
for example, in house fires sometimes do not naturally go to the
front door, they will go and hide in the bathroom under the bath
and things of that nature. All of that human behaviour element
has been researched as well as a project. We are working closely
with colleagues in America and Europe on both projects to get
a much more integrated and combined approach to that.
Chairman: That is a fascinating area,
I wish we had time to explore that further.
1136. Can I ask a question really leading on
from Rachel's question, it is about the capacity of the Fire Service,
not just to respond but also to sustain an operation over a period
of time. Certainly with the Twin Towers it was not turn off a
tap and it will go away or put the fire out and walk away, often
it takes weeks or months of being involved. Are you satisfied
in terms of the overall numbers? I know we have you both from
urban areas and Paul Young, you are from a rural area. Are you
satisfied firstly you have got the numbers? Secondly, is the training
being done not just for existing fire officers but retained fire
officers in terms of particularly dealing with chemical and biological
threats? To what extent are you working at regional level or local
level with other agencies under, for example, the Military Assistance
to the Civil Authority arrangements?
(Mr Bull) There are several aspects in there.
1137. You should be used to them by now.
(Mr Bull) First of all, we are not satisfied that
we have the resilience to deal with a catastrophic incident over
an extended period of time, hence that is why we have been doing
the work, particularly in terms of search and rescue. We have
the capacity to deal with normal day to day emergency incidents
that arise of a fairly high magnitude. If I can quote an example
that you are probably well aware of, Kevan. We had an incident
in Tyne and Wear a week on Friday where a chemical factory went
up, 25 appliances were involved, 10,000 people evacuated, 150
police officers, 25 ambulances, the whole thing, and that went
absolutely superbly. The liaison between the agencies was first
class. But that lasted for six or seven hours. We are talking
about something here that is going to last a week, two weeks,
three weeks, a month, and then still expect the normal day to
day emergencies to be dealt with on a day to day basis. If the
whole of the London Fire Brigade is taken up dealing with a catastrophic
event we are still going to have other emergencies in and surrounding
London which will have to have back-up from the rest of the country.
We certainly have not got the resilience to do that. That is why
we have put together this structure in terms of search and rescue,
mass decontamination and everything that goes with that, and the
reason why we say if there is a risk of magnitude, if this is
the kind of service that you require, then it is going to cost
£270 million more than it does at the moment. We are also
in a situation where in a way because the Fire Service is part
of local government, because of the way the Fire Service control
total is put in place, because of the way the SSA works, and Members
in this room are probably well aware of the reductions in fire
services that have taken place throughout the country simply because
of financial reasons, not because of operational or cost-effective
reasons, but because fire authorities cannot afford to keep that
level of fire cover above the minimum recommended standard throughout
1138. On that point, it is quite a bleak picture
that you are painting. To what extent could that be supplemented
or helped by military personnel or military resources at local
(Mr Bull) All of our planning assumptions are based
on the immediate response. Fire authorities, police authorities,
ambulance authorities, can put a lot of people on the ground within
the first 20 or 30 minutes of an incident. Within 20 minutes in
London we can have 200 firefighters on the ground. We are probably
the only emergency service that can put that many people on the
ground at the present time. In terms of the military, we do not
know what their capacity is, their response times are certainly
not guaranteed in minutes or hours.
1139. I am not talking particularly about first
response, for example, I am talking about if you had to sustain
an operation at a site like the Twin Towers over weeks or months,
is there a role there or are there resources so that the military
at local level could be brought in?
(Mr Bull) I think there is a role in the recovery
phase, as you very ably outlined there, to return society back
to the norm but, again, I am not aware of what resources are available
at local or regional level from the military, how available those
resources are, how sustainable they are, what equipment and things
are available there to supplement what we want to do because we
have never, ever included that in our planning assumptions.
6 Ev 217. Back