The impact of fire on local authority staff

  • As well as the economic impact and threat to safety, the human cost of fire can be significant – affecting not just the public but local authority staff too
  • Major fires can increase the pressure on already stretched local government departments
  • We discuss the human impact of fire and how local authorities can better manage and mitigate the risks

With UK fire and rescue services attending more than 182,000 fires over the course of 2018/19, fire represents a major risk to local government.

As well as the risk of injury and the financial costs – large fires can have significant implications for the wellbeing of individuals affected (see our latest whitepaper, The human impact of fire).

Additional pressures on staff

The human resources required for recovery following a major fire means that staff will be under considerable pressure to not only manage the loss, but to remain fully focused on their existing responsibilities.

In the case of the most serious fires – where entire buildings are destroyed or left unusable – it may be difficult to quickly find alternative premises that will allow work to continue as normal. Few local authorities will have empty buildings that can be instantly repurposed, so alternative ways of working need to be considered to ensure that work doesn’t grind to a halt.

When alternative facilities are found, in some cases these will not be on or even near to the original site. For staff, this can potentially mean longer commutes and changes to travel arrangements, which can in turn affect other areas of life.

At the same time, staff may become a focal point within the community following a major fire. If an incident causes disruption to the lives of local residents or the smooth running of local government, staff may bear the brunt of this frustration, which could in turn add stress to an already difficult situation.

While some increase in workload and stress may be unavoidable during a recovery process, it is important that this is taken into account and monitored. Staff should be encouraged to record any additional hours worked. Debriefing meetings for those involved will help to identify the additional work required and allow strategies to be adjusted as situations evolve.

Dealing with media interest

Following a major fire, local authorities are likely to receive a raft of enquiries, both from affected individuals via social media, and from the media. In some cases, the time spent dealing with these enquiries can make it harder for staff to manage their existing workloads, which can in turn compromise recovery efforts.

The level of likely media interest should be considered carefully as part of emergency planning, and clear guidelines should be put in place to establish which members of staff are authorised to speak publicly.

The need for media training should also be considered. Media planning and scenario-based workshops can help local authority departments to develop clear media and communication strategies.

Emergency and business continuity planning

Emergency planning and business continuity planning are essential in order to reduce the time it takes to recover following a major fire, and thereby limit the impact on staff.

It is important to clearly define roles and responsibilities and ensure that plans are regularly updated as circumstances change, for example if there is a change in a building’s use. It is also vital to test continuity plans across a wide range of fire scenarios.

Emergency and business continuity plans can help to identify other potential threats, improve incident response times, and reduce recovery periods, thereby helping to reduce the likelihood and severity of claims.

How Zurich Municipal can help

We can help customers to better manage and mitigate fire risk, for example by assessing emergency and business continuity plans and identifying any areas that require action or improvement.

We have also published a report exploring the human impact of fire and how to manage it. You can also visit our Fire Risk Resource, which aims to answer questions about fire risk, ranging from laws and regulations to risk management measures.

For more information on managing fire risk, please call us on 0800 232 1901 or email us at info@zurichmunicipal.com