Fire Dogs

The role of a fire investigation dog is in its most basic term, a tool to assist the fire investigation officer to ascertain if there is any liquid accelerant present at a fire scene.

The conviction rate for arson is very low, by its very nature fire destroys evidence, which can make the job of finding the cause and origin very challenging. Getting hard evidence to prove arson in a court of law is incredible difficult.

This is where the fire investigation dogs come in. Although they are no silver bullet they are by far the best way of finding if any liquid accelerants are present at the fire scene.

When carrying out a fire investigation a systematic approach must be adopted, part of that approach is to collect all the available data. For collecting data concerning liquid accelerants the dogs are the best tool available.

Should a fire dog indicate a find at an incident, alone this proves nothing, it is only a small part of the jigsaw that can help prove or disprove if arson was the most probable cause. The fire investigator will take the dog alert in to consideration along with all the other factual data that is available and using all this information form a hypothesis. Samples of where a dog has alerted are collected by crime scene investigators and sent to scientific labs for analysis.

A dog alert can give an early indication as to whether an accelerant has been used. But it must be used with caution, it is nothing more than a presumptive indication that accelerant may be present, it is the labs that give the definitive answer.

Should the labs results come back with an inconclusive result after a dog has indicated, this doesn’t mean the dog is incorrect, it just means the laboratory is unable to identify what it is the dog has alert on, since dogs can outperform the best scientific equipment in current use this isn’t surprising. But I also know that there are many produces in every household that will contain petro-chemicals that may cause a dog to give an alert, this doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is wrong it may just mean an innocent substance contains one of the dogs target substance.

The fire investigator using all their knowledge and experience will the come up with a likely hypothesis as to the cause of the fire. He will then test this hypothesis against every other possible likely cause and then come up with the final hypothesis. As with any hypothesis it is only as good as the data that it is based on, this hypothesis may change as new information comes to light.

But it’s not only at the fire scene the dogs can be used in an arson investigation, we also carry out route search’s, following the likely route an arsonist may have taken to an incident, this is to try and find a container that may be linked with an arson attack. Also property searches of a suspects houses and sometimes screen a suspects clothing on arrest.

Capabilities of a fire investigation dog

To prove the dogs capabilities we carried out tests by putting .02ml of petrol on a shirt washed it in washing machine at 40 degrees C then allowed it to dry naturally. Then using the dogs to screen the shirt along with six other shirts which went through the same process but without adding any petrol. The dogs were able to identify the shirt with the petrol on it and also indicate the precise location the petrol was put on the shirt. The GMS (gas mass spectrometer) just picked a reading up in the parts per trillion range.

Some of the benefits of using a fire investigation dog are;

  1. Dogs can detect accelerant in parts per trillion which is much smaller concentrations than any portable scientific equipment presently available.
  2. Dogs can accurately and rapidly detect the location of accelerant, which may reduce the time an investigator needs to spend excavating large fire scenes.
  3. The number of samples that require expensive forensic testing are reduced.
  4. Dogs can work on a cold fire scene many days after an incident.
  5. The use of dogs may deter would-be arsonists.
  6. A dog can to gain access to confined spaces.
  7. The dogs can be used to screen equipment prior to its use at an incident to prove it is clear of any liquid accelerant to help stop any cross contamination.
  8. A fire investigation dog/handler team is good for public relations in respect of arson prevention and community fire safety.

Another important role we carry out with the dogs is community engagement, in this role we find the dogs really help get a message across. By explaining the dangers and consequences of playing with fire we also show how the dogs help catch people who start fires deliberately. We’ve carried out numerous school assembles and by using the dogs as a hook we are able to engage with the children in a unique way. When the message we are telling them starts to fade, they never forget the dogs and by remembering the dog the message we have given them is once again remembered.

We have received a lot of positive feedback with this initiative and we are collating the statistics to try to quantify any success.

First day for new Chief Fire Officer

Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton has officially taken up her new role of Chief Fire Officer with West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service this morning.

Sabrina said she was “absolutely delighted” to be taking on the job.

She has nearly two decades of fire service experience, having most recently served as Interim Deputy Chief Fire Officer for Surrey Fire & Rescue Service.

She said: “I am absolutely delighted to be here at West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, and I am very much looking forward to getting out and about to all of our stations to meet our crews who keep the residents of West Sussex safe 24 hours a day.

“I do appreciate that it has been a challenging couple of months for the fire service following the recent inspection report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire & Rescue Services, but I am really looking forward to working with our crews and our staff as well as our partners to make West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service the fire and rescue service it deserves to be.”

Sabrina takes over from Gavin Watts who retired in June. Deputy Chief Fire Officer Neil Stocker has been Acting Chief Fire Officer in the interim. Sabrina said: “I would like to thank Neil for doing a great job leading the service for the past few months and I look forward to working with him as we take the service forward.”

Cabinet Member for Fire and Rescue and Communities Jacquie Russell said: “I am delighted to welcome Sabrina to West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service. Her wide ranging expertise will prove invaluable in helping to reaffirm a sense of value and identity within the workforce and developing future strategies that will assist us in continuing to both improve and provide an effective and efficient fire service for our residents.”

Sabrina began her career with South Wales Fire & Rescue Service where she served as a firefighter, before working her way up to more senior roles in the service and eventually serving in London Fire Brigade before her secondment to Surrey Fire & Rescue Service.

She has helped shape national fire service policy and practice during her government secondments at Her Majesty Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service (HMICFRS) and at the National Fire Chiefs Council.

Throughout her career as a firefighter, Sabrina Cohen-Hatton has pursued further and higher education. She is a chartered psychologist and her pioneering research into critical decision-making has received national and international recognition.

She added: “Psychology as a discipline is really important to me, as it helps you to see the human element of everything you do, whether that’s the decisions you make, or the strategies you set. It is so important to think about the impact of what we do day in day out on the people who rely on us.

“As a fire and rescue service we are in an incredibly privileged position to be trusted by residents to know what to do when they’re, quite frankly, having the worst day of their lives. Understanding the psychology behind that means we can all make a contribution to doing our best to help them when they need us most.”

Fire service wins national award for its support for the military

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service is to receive national recognition for its commitment to Britain’s Armed Forces

The Service, which employs 1,100 people and has its headquarters in Hull, has won a Silver Award under the Ministry of Defence’s Employer Recognition Scheme 

The scheme recognises employers of all sizes who employ and support reservists, veterans, the military and their families The Service itself employs more than 100 reservists and veterans and has introduced new policies and procedures to ensure they are treated fairly – including by giving 15 days extra leave a year to reservists to enable them to do their annual mandatory training 

Station Manager Terry Taylor who served in the Royal Engineers before becoming a firefighter, said:

“We have 30 stations across Humberside and there aren’t many that don’t include a couple of veterans or reservists

“Over the last couple of years we’ve made a real effort to ensure we offer a forces-friendly working environment We’ve introduced small cultural changes such as encouraging veterans to wear their military ribbons on their fire service uniforms 

“But we’ve also made wider changes For example, we now have gold-standard policies in place to support reservists who are deployed on active service, making sure we keep in touch with their families and ensuring nobody suffers a break in their pension contributions”

Watch Manager Mark McKenzie, right, became a firefighter twenty years ago after serving in the Royal Engineers He has been a reservist in the Royal Engineers for the past 12 years He said:
“I used to keep it quiet that I was in the reserves but things have changed in the service and there’s now an open acceptance and I genuinely feel that my role and experience in the military is something that is very much valued

“I’ve been deployed to Afghanistan as a reservist during my time with the Service and managers were very supportive and made sure I didn’t lose out in anyway

“I value the support the service gives to the military and feel it’s made a big difference”

Now in its fifth year, the ERS Silver Awards reward employers who employ and support those who serve, veterans and their families – typically by putting in place employment practices that support reservists to train and mobilise and veterans to transition to civilian life The RFCA Yorkshire and The Humber run the scheme on behalf of the Ministry of Defence in the region

Commenting on the announcement of the 2019 Employer Recognition Scheme Silver awards, Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace said: 
“These awards recognise the outstanding support for our armed forces from employers across Britain and I would like to thank and congratulate each and every one 

“Regardless of size, location or sector, employing ex-forces personnel is good for business and this year we have doubled the number of awards in recognition of the fantastic support they give” 

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Johnny Mercer said:
“Veterans make a huge contribution to businesses across the country and it’s fantastic to see a record breaking number of organisations recognised for their support

“We’re working closely with businesses to help them further understand the huge value that veterans, reservists and military spouses can bring to their organisation”

• ERS Silver Award winners from across Yorkshire and The Humber will be presented with their awards at a special ceremony in Bradford attended by all four Lord Lieutenants of the region on Thursday, October 17

Sprinklers not fitted at any London school or college which had fires this year

Following today’s news that sprinklers were not fitted at any London school or college which had fires this year, Nicki Stewart, UK Director of Firexo comments on the need for fire safety innovation in the public sector.

“When will our society’s disregard for fire safety be recognised? It’s likely that today’s news will provide a chilling indicator for many parents in the UK. By failing to fit sprinklers at these London schools and colleges, it is clear that the Government is neglecting its duty of care towards young people. With fires inflicting millions of pounds worth of damage and putting lives at risk, there needs to be a far greater emphasis on adopting proactive methods to tackle flames, rather than just simply reacting to incidents. This can best be achieved by utilising new technologies. The Government must act now to address its outdated attitudes towards fire safety.

Whilst sprinklers are an important step towards preventing small flames from erupting into something potentially devastating, the public sector desperately needs to embrace fire safety innovation. Despite recent incidents of fire dominating headlines, there is still a fundamental lack of concern throughout the UK. To really make a difference, it’s time for this mindset to change.”

All London school fires this year had no sprinklers fitted, new Brigade figures reveal

Shocking new figures released today show that no schools, which have had fires this year, had sprinklers fitted.

This year alone, London Fire Brigade have attended 57 fires in schools* in the capital and new figures released by the Brigade show that not a single school had an automatic fire suppression system (AFSS) fitted.

The Brigade has long been calling for sprinklers to become a mandatory requirement in schools. In particular, we want sprinklers to be mandatory in all new school builds and for all schools to be retrofitted with sprinklers during major refurbishment.

Sprinklers are especially important during the summer holidays when buildings are empty and fires can smoulder undetected, causing extensive and expensive damage.

Charlie Pugsley, Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, said: “It is shocking that we have been campaigning for a number of years to make sprinklers mandatory in new schools and retrofitted during major refurbishments and yet this year, every school fire we have been called to has had no sprinklers fitted.

“Sprinklers are the only fire safety system that detects a fire, suppresses a fire and can raise the alarm. Sprinklers save lives and protect property. Millions of pounds are wasted every year repairing fire damage in London’s schools when sprinklers could have prevented the spread of fire.

“This is not just about saving money; when a school is closed it disrupts a child’s education, impacts on the local community and affects parents by closing breakfast and after school clubs.”

Last week marked the ten year anniversary of a devastating fire at Thomas Fairchild School in Napier Grove, Hoxton.  At the height of the incident, 15 fire engines and more than 100 firefighters attended the scene and crews remained at the school for more than 10 hours.       

The school was closed for almost three years after the fire while it was rebuilt and the school’s 300 pupils were schooled at two different locations.

Charlie Pugsley added: “The easiest time is to fit sprinklers when schools are being built or refurbished. I find it staggering that such a simple safety measure is so easily omitted from the designs.”

In all school fires attended by the Brigade since 2014, there have only been 13 cases where sprinklers have been fitted.

·         * Figures are up to and include 25th July 2019

Full school fire stats 

 201420152016201720182019 to 25/07/19Grand Total
Infant/Primary school334232383518198
Secondary school302722322714152
College/University262220281611123
Preschool/Nursery17151320131492
Grand Total106106871189157565

School fires where sprinklers were fitted

 201420152016201720182019 to 25/07/19Grand Total
Infant/Primary school1000001
Secondary school4112109
College/University1101003
Preschool/Nursery0000000
Grand Total62131013

Verdict of Judicial Review of fire service governance

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority has expressed huge disappointment at the news it has not been successful in its fight to prevent the transfer of governance of the fire and rescue service to the Police and Crime Commissioner.

The outcome of the judicial review, which took place last month, was announced and the judge has upheld the Home Office’s decision to allow the Police and Crime Commissioner to take over governance of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service from the Fire Authority.

The Fire Authority has always believed that the Police and Crime Commissioner’s business case, which the decision was based on, contained insufficient evidence to prove the case for what it believes is going to be a costly and unnecessary change in governance arrangements that reduces public accountability of the fire service.

Chairman of the Fire Authority, Councillor Kevin Reynolds, said: “I know I speak for the whole Fire Authority when I say that we are hugely disappointed with the outcome of the judicial review. We sought a judicial review as we believe the fire authority and fire and rescue service in Cambridgeshire work extremely well together as a governance model and no reason had been demonstrated to change that in either the business case, or the documentation we received from the Home Office to explain their decision to rule in favour of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

“As a Fire Authority, we have always believed we have an efficient and effective fire and rescue service and since we sought the judicial review, the government-commissioned HMICFRS inspection has assessed us to be ‘Good’ in efficiency and effectiveness. In fact, we are only one of two out of 30 fire services so far inspected by the HMICFRS to not get a single area that has been classified as requiring improvement. Surely that demonstrates that what we are doing and how we operate now is working well. I could understand it if we were poorly performing but we’re not. We’re one of the best fire and rescue services in the country but that doesn’t seem to count for anything. It’s all just so frustrating.”

He added: “We had already submitted an application for a second judicial review prior to the hearing in June, based on new information, and so now we will seek legal advice about whether to continue to pursue that or what other options there may be for us now.”

Five thousand people “safe and well”

More than 5,000 Bedfordshire residents have benefitted from life-saving Safe and Well visits.

Across the county 5,612 visits were carried out between April 1, 2018, and March 31, 2019, by Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and its partners.

This is almost double the number completed the year before.

A Safe and Well visit involves trained staff visiting vulnerable people in their homes, which can include the elderly, people who live alone, smokers, people with health conditions such as limited mobility, and households that do not currently have smoke alarms fitted.  The visit provides advice and guidance on fire safety in the home including the installation of required safety equipment such as smoke alarms. The visits can also see a falls risk assessment carried out, crime prevention advice discussed, along with smoking and alcohol consumption. 

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Andy Hopkinson explained: “There has been a huge shift over the past few years to addressing the growing risk in our communities that comes with an ageing population. Our drive to get out into the community and complete Safe and Well visits is closely aligned with our mission to help make Bedfordshire safer and we do believe helping people in their homes contributes hugely to this.”

Fire service staff complete the visits and also work with partners including local authority, charities and community organisations to receive referrals.

As a result of Safe and Well visits, when required the Service signpost or make referrals to partner agencies that may be able to offer additional support, like the Bobby Scheme or Telecare.

Prevention Support Manager Jordanna Simpson manages the Service’s Safe and Well programme. She said: “Everyone involved with the Safe and Well programme has worked extremely hard to make the most vulnerable people within our communities stay safer for longer in their own homes – a huge thank you to all involved.”

The public can also request a Safe and Well visit for a vulnerable friend, family member or neighbour by emailing sandwell@bedsfire.gov.uk or calling 01234 845 000.  If we are unable to visit we can still provide advice. Further details can be found on our website https://www.bedsfire.gov.uk/Community-safety/Home-safety/Safe-and-Well-visits.aspx

Firefighters commemorated at 50th anniversary of Dudgeon’s Wharf tragedy

Firefighters have joined families of the victims of the Dudgeon’s Wharf disaster to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

Five firefighters and a construction worker lost their lives when an oil tank exploded at the site on the Isle of Dogs on 17 July 1969.

Dudgeon’s Wharf remains the greatest loss of life of London Fire Brigade staff since the Second World War. Firefighters Michael Gamble and Alfred Smee from Millwall Fire Station, John Appleby and Terence Breen from Brunswick Road Fire Station and Trevor Carvosso from Cannon Street Fire Station were all killed in the explosion as well as construction worker Richard Adams.

As a result of the incident, there were changes to legislation and a strict ‘Code of Practice’ now controls the removal of tanks which have contained flammable substances.

The incident also influenced the development of the Hazchem Code in the 1970s, meaning all known chemicals were allocated an identification code to help firefighters when dealing with chemical fires or spillages. It also provided information about what personal protection they needed.

At a dedication service held at the site earlier today (Wednesday 17 July), the Fire Brigades’ Union unveiled a red plaque in memory of the firefighters.

The service was attended by family members of some of the victims, London Fire Brigade staff and the Bishop of London The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE.

Fireman Terrance Breen’s son Terry, who was five when his father was killed, gave a short reading at the memorial service.

Speaking about his father, the 55-year-old said: “Dad had been in the Brigade 12 years when  he was killed and my mum was left with me and my two brothers. It affected us all in different ways.

“He was a fantastic family man and we are all incredibly proud – you can’t not be proud of someone that has served in the Brigade.

“I’m always thankful we are able to mark the anniversary. It’s so important not to forget and to always honour their memory and we were very proud to be part of the service.”

The Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner Andy Roe said: “As a Brigade, it is so important that we take the time to remember lives lost and acts of bravery by firefighters.

“This incident and the tragic deaths it caused led to significant changes to the way we deal with chemical incidents to ensure the safety of firefighters.

“It is always devastating when it takes a tragedy for changes to be implemented and we look at all incidents we attend to make improvements to firefighter and public safety.

“As well as adapting and making changes to our own training, policies and equipment, we also lobby for changes to legislation.

“The changes implemented following this incident have been used worldwide undoubtedly helping to protect firefighters all over the globe meaning that the loss of life on that terrible day has not been in vain.”

The Bishop of London said: “It was a privilege to join together with the relatives of the disaster’s victims and lead them in prayer to honour all those who lost their lives that terrible day.

“Fifty years on, it is important that we continue to pay tribute to their work, remember their sacrifice and celebrate their legacy.” 

Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, Fiona Twycross, said: “We will never forget those who lost their lives in the Dudgeon’s Wharf tragedy 50 years ago.

“Today’s anniversary is a reminder of the huge bravery and courage shown each and every day by our firefighters, as they put themselves in danger to keep Londoners safe.”

Firefighters commemorated at 50th anniversary of Dudgeon’s Wharf tragedy

Firefighters have joined families of the victims of the Dudgeon’s Wharf disaster to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

Five firefighters and a construction worker lost their lives when an oil tank exploded at the site on the Isle of Dogs on 17 July 1969.

Dudgeon’s Wharf remains the greatest loss of life of London Fire Brigade staff since the Second World War. Firefighters Michael Gamble and Alfred Smee from Millwall Fire Station, John Appleby and Terence Breen from Brunswick Road Fire Station and Trevor Carvosso from Cannon Street Fire Station were all killed in the explosion as well as construction worker Richard Adams.

As a result of the incident, there were changes to legislation and a strict ‘Code of Practice’ now controls the removal of tanks which have contained flammable substances.

The incident also influenced the development of the Hazchem Code in the 1970s, meaning all known chemicals were allocated an identification code to help firefighters when dealing with chemical fires or spillages. It also provided information about what personal protection they needed.

At a dedication service held at the site earlier today (Wednesday 17 July), the Fire Brigades’ Union unveiled a red plaque in memory of the firefighters.

The service was attended by family members of some of the victims, London Fire Brigade staff and the Bishop of London The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE.

Fireman Terrance Breen’s son Terry, who was five when his father was killed, gave a short reading at the memorial service.

Speaking about his father, the 55-year-old said: “Dad had been in the Brigade 12 years when  he was killed and my mum was left with me and my two brothers. It affected us all in different ways.

“He was a fantastic family man and we are all incredibly proud – you can’t not be proud of someone that has served in the Brigade.

“I’m always thankful we are able to mark the anniversary. It’s so important not to forget and to always honour their memory and we were very proud to be part of the service.”

The Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner Andy Roe said: “As a Brigade, it is so important that we take the time to remember lives lost and acts of bravery by firefighters.

“This incident and the tragic deaths it caused led to significant changes to the way we deal with chemical incidents to ensure the safety of firefighters.

“It is always devastating when it takes a tragedy for changes to be implemented and we look at all incidents we attend to make improvements to firefighter and public safety.

“As well as adapting and making changes to our own training, policies and equipment, we also lobby for changes to legislation.

“The changes implemented following this incident have been used worldwide undoubtedly helping to protect firefighters all over the globe meaning that the loss of life on that terrible day has not been in vain.”

The Bishop of London said: “It was a privilege to join together with the relatives of the disaster’s victims and lead them in prayer to honour all those who lost their lives that terrible day.

“Fifty years on, it is important that we continue to pay tribute to their work, remember their sacrifice and celebrate their legacy.” 

Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, Fiona Twycross, said: “We will never forget those who lost their lives in the Dudgeon’s Wharf tragedy 50 years ago.

“Today’s anniversary is a reminder of the huge bravery and courage shown each and every day by our firefighters, as they put themselves in danger to keep Londoners safe.”

Back of the net for firefighting exercise

Firefighters switched their normal training ground for Luton Town Football Club for a special exercise.

More than 30 firefighters were involved in the drill yesterday (Sunday, July 14), which tested Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s response to a fire in the main wooden stand.

The simulated environment meant four fire engines, an aerial platform, incident command unit and support pump and a number of commanders took part and implemented the Service’s incident command system.

Observers from St John Ambulance, the football club’s safety officer and staff from the venue also attended and learned about what happens in an emergency.

Watch Commander Gary Brogan, based at Luton, said: “The exercise was a great success and we would like to thank Luton Town Football Club Safety Officer Stephen Copp and the rest of the staff for the use of the stadium for us to practice our procedures.”

Training in different environments in the community helps test firefighters’ skills even more than normal and enables crews to learn in a realistic environment.

Crews that took part were Luton, Toddington, Dunstable, Stopsley, the incident command unit from Leighton Buzzard and support pump.