It’s very easy to be precious about concepts and ideas. I have been guilty of this in the past thinking that if I was the one to put the work in, I should reap the benefits! I’ve also worked on projects (in environments) where individuals seem more protective of their own work rather than getting the best result for the team or the client.
But I have quickly learnt that sharing knowledge doesn’t cost anything – after all… (cue cheesy fire analogy) ‘a candle loses nothing by lighting another’. In fact in the long run honest communication and open collaboration can produce wonderful groundbreaking outcomes that can benefit many people.
Data and how we use it is key.
Even over the past 11 years, the evolution of data representation has been staggering. I’ve poured over the hand drawn schematics of Westminster Palace, so beautifully intricate in their detail it felt more like I was studying pieces of art. But it was a long process, checking each page one by one for hidden information……An historical fire engineering ‘Wheres Wally’ you might say – particularly niche!
2D CAD was established by that point and with new software versions constantly emerging, the functionality drastically improved and suddenly your drawings were not just lines on paper – they could incorporate internal attributed blocks which could hold their own data. I think this is where my slight obsession with data processing began. Tired of monotony and repetition, i’d much rather click a button and concentrate on the actual engineering part of my job. Simple things such as scheduling which had taken so long previously could be auto-generated. LISP programming allowed the user to create shortcuts – daily tasks sped up.
From 2D there was 3D with Revit becoming the ultimate powerhouse. This was a game changer for me. So much data contained in a single source! Complex designs could come alive and architectural concepts made so much more sense, allowing you to walk-through the design and look around to understand structure and form. Families were available, standard or specific developed by manufacturers with data preassigned, which meant human error through data entry was reduced.
VR and AR now stand on the periphery to break the realms of reality – fully immersive and my inner nerd is doing back flips at the thought of the potential within the fire industry.
But how well have we been able to move with these emerging technologies? Not as well as we could in my humble opinion.
When I worked in a multi-discipline engineering company, I carried out an exercise to determine the inputs each discipline used for their initial calculations. From Structures, Mechanical, Electrical, Public Heath, Acoustics, Waste and of course Fire all the way to toilet and car park provisions, and it was rather surprising the number of outputs that could be calculated from a small amount of inputted information.
Similar, repetitive processes were being carried out by multiple people in different teams. Some by hand, some by outdated spreadsheets and not much was being shared to support others. It was frustrating. We had so much data at our fingertips and we still were not using it to its full potential!
I worked to develop a tool that could automate a huge amount of data. Using our very clever developers we connected the system to the architectural BIM models so one click could spit out results in both visual and tabulated formats – reducing an engineer‘s time from 1 or 2 days to a click.
That not to say I was the only one with these ideas – automation was becoming a common theme in a number of teams but sharing not always so much.
I believe that data has always been key and that the future of engineering will be determined by how we harness, process and share that data.
Designs fed into a system which can review any code and amend your designs based on a predefined hierarchy – Fire and safety always taking precedence of course. Fully automated results reducing human error and allowing more time for creativity and ‘real’ engineering.
The only risk here is someone creates a super tool that’s so amazing and accurate – there’s no longer the need to hire engineers ever again. In which case….please ignore the above – I’d quite like a job at the end of all of this!
Collaborating internally amongst your colleagues is great but external collaboration, cross company and around the world is even more commendable.
During my research for FireTreks, I have come across Adam Course who is a Crew Manager with Avon Fire and Rescue Service and currently seconded to The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) Firefighter Safety Database (FFSDB) Project. Adam realised that mass data could and should be represented in a clear and concise way via an online database to share and learn from knowledge on a global scale.
He tells me that the website is designed to be a one stop shop for easily accessible information with the aim of assisting learning, development, understanding and helping to improve decision making at incidents both during and in the lead up to potential incidents. This isn’t just for firefighters and incident commanders but is also designed to be used by other fire service decision makers. In addition, it is intended that the information will also assist decision making in other fire professional sectors such as fire engineering, regulatory, guidance and standards sectors, emergency management/planning, built environment planning, building designers, architects, environmental management, the construction industry, transport and other sectors.
‘We simply cannot solve a problem if we don’t know what the problem is’
Adam decided to create the online database because he couldn’t find UK firefighter safety related incident data in one place earlier in his career. When he was at training school in 2006 he was only ever taught about 1 firefighter fatality incident, Blaina which occurred in 1996. He was struck by the power of the presentation and at the time didn’t know it was helping him improve what he later understood to be decision making ‘by example’, raising his awareness about a number of causational factors related to the incident. He understood these types of incidents could easily and directly affect him and his colleagues, and he related to this. He states ‘Understanding incidents that can directly affect us as firefighters made this information interesting and highly relevant to the chosen profession or job. I knew about other firefighter fatality incidents but could not find any information about them.’ Adam also began to realise that the many technical, regulatory, fire engineered and fire safety awareness failings at incidents, typically where members of the public were dying and being injured were a significant and common problem at just about every fire incident historically. Unfortunately recent events continue to demonstrate how poorly we collectively learn on a Global scale often until many people die.
On leaving training school he arrived at a station that had a fairly high percentage of working jobs including numerous fires and highway related incidents. He had within a short space of time several incidents that left him wondering what he had not been taught rather than what he had been taught, especially relating to incidents. Although his trainers were good he didn’t feel the training was long enough or covered enough incidents and case studies and found it difficult to access such information which he knew was beneficial. ‘I felt I left with many more questions than answers. How could the trainers plan this input into their training packages and sessions if they themselves weren’t aware of the firefighter safety related incidents, apart from a small number of incidents. Where were they going to get the information from……’
He began researching firefighter safety related reports and information and as the collection got bigger he realised the data needed to be stored, processed and utilised more efficiently so that it could be accessible to all.
The FFSDB was planned in 3 phases:
Phase 1: UK firefighter safety related incidents including fatalities, serious accidents and near misses,
Phase 2: International firefighter safety related incidents of the same nature and
Phase 3: Incidents of interest where significant number of members of the public have been killed and/or nearly killed.
Adam highlighted that Phase 3 is potentially a very large section of the database. ‘How can it be that we keep seeing repetitive common causational factors and failings at incidents and these same lessons do not appear to be learned from time and time again….’
With the FFSDB’s home within the IFE, its 100 year pedigree, its independence and widespread international element there is a really great opportunity to create a ‘beneficial to all’ incident database and learning tool with support of other organisations.
Adam‘s vision in time is that ‘we’ can look at and learn from historic and recent emergency incidents in a holistic way, enabling firm preventative measures being put in place for the near future and future generations by creating a lasting legacy database of incident and learning information.
Adam hopes that the countries that suffer from the types of fire and emergency incidents the most will be able to benefit as well as the countries that have well-funded and established reporting, sharing and learning protocols in place. ‘So many of the most vulnerable countries and people, including firefighters seem to have to learn the hardest lessons that have been learnt elsewhere in the World.’
Initially I approached Adam to discuss contacts in South America, however since this is a region that the incident database has not reached yet FireTreks aims to collaborate with him to gather data/contacts for Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the database to help widen the reach of this great project and promote international knowledge sharing.
If you are interested in supporting this mission please contact me via the contact tab above.
Adam will be speaking at Firex International at Excel London on the 18th-20th June 2019.