As any firefighter will know, understanding the cause of fire is a crucial factor in identifying potential improvements in fire safety and prevention. The UK’s fire brigades are the primary responders to chemical, biological and radiation incidents across the country and a growing number of fire brigades are turning to independent, scientific expertise to provide them with fire investigation support and technical advice. This article looks at the science behind the relationship between the global leader in compliance and London Fire Brigade (LFB), and the role it is playing in fire prevention and mitigation.
The need to investigate and determine the exact causes of fire is greater than ever before. In 2013-2014, the UK’s fire brigades attended approximately 170,000 fires nationally. These incidents resulted in 275 fatalities and some 3,600 casualties. Yet, the impact of a fire goes beyond even human loss. The economic impact can be enormous too, with the cost to property damage, lost business, fatalities, injuries and legal issues estimated to be in the region of £8.3bn in England alone. Developing a greater understanding of fire and the causes behind it will help our emergency services and the UK’s businesses to develop preventative measures to safeguard against human and financial loss. And it is here that science is providing so many fire services across the UK with the answer, with brigades such as Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire – to name just a handful – turning to Bureau Veritas for expertise and support.
The UK’s emergency services first recognised the importance of utilising scientific expertise as far back as the late 1960s, when Bureau Veritas and its predecessors started attending both major and minor incidents across the capital alongside London Fire Brigade. What started off as infrequent, ad hoc assistance has grown, decades later, into a close collaborative contractual working relationship between the two organisations. Today, Bureau Veritas offers round-the-clock support and technical advice to LFB, the busiest fire service in the UK.
Expertise On Hand
It is the scientific expertise that is the very essence of the service that Bureau Veritas offers LFB. Using an independent third party organisation gives LFB access to a team of highly skilled chemists, as well as state-of-the-art resources and laboratories across the country. It also means that Bureau Veritas’s fire science team of specialists can attend an incident alongside the Brigade’s own team, where they can begin to carry out a full scientific investigation by selecting and analysing samples on the scene for further investigation at one of our laboratories.
At our purpose-built forensic fire laboratories, Bureau Veritas specialists can also help LFB to accurately establish the cause of a fire by using methods such as analysing burning behaviour of materials and the latest x-ray techniques.
Using x-ray is a useful means of helping to understand the cause of electrical fires, allowing identification of metal components within a sample of debris. Importantly, this technique is non-destructive and so helps to preserve all evidence.
Using x-ray can also help LFB understand more about household appliances. This can include, for example, identifying any common faults among manufacturers or among particular types of appliance and establishing any common patterns. Indeed, the reports that Bureau Veritas has provided to LFB have even, on occasion, led to behavioural change amongst manufacturers.
Each investigation is followed by a detailed report to LFB outlining our findings, as well as any recommendations for fire safety improvements. LFB can then use this information to develop fire prevention and safety strategies; we may also work in conjunction with government agencies and organisations such as Trading Standards, Health and Safety Executive and Her Majesty’s Coroners.
Using a third party to provide this kind of expertise in the field of fire investigation means that LFB is utilising highly skilled and experienced forensic specialists to add value to their own Fire Investigation Teams, using the latest scientific innovations and methods. In addition, all of services and investigations provided are compliant with regulations, codes of practice and professional guidelines, providing LFB with professional assurance.
Fire investigation accounts for a large proportion of the service that Bureau Veritas provides to the London Fire Brigade. Another important area of support is advising LFB on the handling of hazardous materials. With the use of chemicals increasingly widespread across business and homes, it is important that LFB can call upon qualified scientists who are able to provide expertise and support at chemical, radiation and asbestos-related incidents. These incidents can range from the everyday, such as a chemical leak in a swimming pool, to the more serious and potentially catastrophic which might include, for example, fires containing radioactive materials.
In this field, we are able to provide LFB with on-site and remote support in dealing with hazardous materials and environmental protection. Again, the service we offer LFB enables our specialists to be first on the scene alongside fire crew colleagues, providing end-to-end support and helping to detect, identify and monitor any hazardous materials. This may include, for example, using methods such as sampling, spot testing or carrying out detailed chemical analysis with state-of-the-art equipment.
Bureau Veritas also provides London Fire Brigade with expert advice on the safe decontamination of a scene and works with fire service colleagues to develop a remediation strategy. We are also an important link between LFB and third party agencies, such as the Health and Safety Executive or Environment Agency. As is often the case with these incidents, several agencies may also be involved and our experts are able to liaise with their technical counterparts throughout the process to help determine a safe and swift resolution – keeping the time required from senior staff down to a minimum.
The final strand of the service that we offer is in the maintenance of skills of fire officers. Much of this is scenario-based, where we will identify the latest emerging issues, such as new chemical hazards or the best methods used to manage asbestos and providing LFB colleagues with industry best-practice.
Having worked alongside the London Fire Brigade for more than forty years, we have come to be viewed as an essential resource and an integral part of its service. By providing the London Fire Brigade with the scientific expertise and resources that it needs to help it understand, mitigate and prevent fire, we know that we are an important part of helping to enhance the professional capability of one of the largest fire services in the world.
For more information, go to www.bureauveritas.co.uk