There is a fine line between priming the public to be prepared and spreading blind panic. It was a line the government walked during the fuel tanker dispute with all the due care and attention of a staggering drunkard.
Whilst Prime Minister David Cameron defended the government’s approach to the fuel tanker dispute as somehow being “very calm, very sensible”, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude’s advice that “a bit of extra fuel in a jerry can is a sensible precaution to take”, was met with justifiable indignation by Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack.
He said that any stockpiling of fuel could have “disastrous” consequences. “This is not sensible advice − the general public does not properly understand the fire and explosion risk of storing fuel even if it was done sensibly.”
As he pointed out, it is against the law to store more than 10 litres of petrol in two proper five litre plastic containers in the home. It is very disturbing then that a government minister should be advocating what amounts to stockpiling highly flammable substances.
What also disturbs this reporter is the government’s complete failure to consult safety experts before going to press with ill thought-out recommendations. In this case it is obvious that fire sector experts should be the first port of call.
In the United States any member of Congress would know to consult or at the very least refer to guidance laid down by their own National Fire Protection Association. Here we do not, as yet, have the equivalent body. The Federation of British Fire Organisations and the Fire Sector Partnership have made significant strides forward, yet neither has managed to pull every stakeholder on board. The Fire Safety Advisory Board – one of the best things the last government did in the fire sector – was highly effective. However, the next government chose to disband it, possibly because it asserted too much influence.
Recent proposals to form an independent National Fire Congress – a strategic body constituted of all fire sector organisations – would fill this gap and would be the obvious consultation body for any fire-related issue. Come the next potential national emergency requiring a modicum of common sense, the minister in question could consult with those with superior knowledge, thereby avoid putting the public in peril again.
There has, however, been success in the past through informal liaisons which have forced through changes in legislation – look no further than the Foam Filled Furniture Regulations of the 1980s which have saved hundreds, possibly thousands of lives. CFO Brian Fuller, backbench MP Ian McCartney and the Fire Brigades Union came together to affect massive life-saving change. However, such initiatives are rare in the history of the Service, normally because they come up against powerful intransigence. I am reliably informed by some of those involved at the time that the Foam Filled Furniture Regulations had a particularly difficult opponent. Who? One Francis Maude no less.
There is a burgeoning desire to establish a high-level strategic body: a source for sound tactical advice is just one pressing need amongst many.
Posted April 3rd, 2012 at 1435 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org