Leighton Andrews, Minister for Public Services
We have a proud record in Wales of reducing the incidence and severity of fire. Casualties have more than halved since responsibility for fire was devolved in 2004-5; and there have been no firefighter fatalities during operational deployment since then.
However, there is always scope to do more. There are still too many serious incidents –fires which cause death or serious injury to members of the public, and/or expose a serious and unmanaged risk to firefighter safety. Reducing the incidence and severity of such incidents relies on understanding their causes and how those might be prevented.
Serious fires are often the subject of investigations by the Police or Health and Safety Executive, or of a Coroner’s Inquest. These investigations are clearly vital, but focus narrowly on establishing fault, liability or cause of death. As such, they need to establish every fact surrounding the incident and often involve many months of witness interviews, scientific tests and legal proceedings. They are not designed to identify and promulgate broader lessons about the cause of a fire, how it might have been prevented or how the Fire Service might respond effectively to similar fires. .
Such lessons are crucial to reducing the risk to the public, fire fighters and other emergency workers. They must be identified and applied quickly, and without attributing any fault or blame. That needs an independent and objective investigation process, as has long been recognised in other safety-critical sectors like aviation. While there already are investigations by a Fire and Rescue Authority itself or by the Fire Brigades Union, there is no consistent, objective or independent approach across Wales.
The Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser is in an ideal position to provide this. I have therefore today published a protocol setting out how and when investigations co-ordinated through the Adviser will be undertaken, the decision making process for such investigations, and involvement of other parties with an interest.
The aim of this protocol is not to duplicate or cut across investigatory work which may be undertaken by other bodies such as Police and HSE. It is also not about apportioning blame, but is aimed at ensuring arrangements are in place to, when necessary, gather sufficient information and identify, at an early stage, important lessons which could improve staff or public safety.