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Tomorrow’s Paradigm

This is the last editorial I will be writing for Asia Pacific Fire. After five very enjoyable years I feel it is time for me to move on. It is also an opportunity for me to speculate on what the future fire prevention, firefighting and rescue landscape might look like across the Asia Pacific region in the coming years. So here goes.

Let me first take a look at fire prevention. While in some Asia Pacific countries there is still a long way to go before fire safety legislation is both in place and – equally important – enforced rigorously, fairly and universally, the arsenal of detection and alarm technology is, I feel, more than adequate to meet the challenges. Manufacturers continue to invest time, energy and money into ever-improved solutions that undeniably have the potential to further safeguard lives and protect property. I use the word “potential” because I see the biggest strides that can be made in fire safety in the coming years are going to be in improved awareness and training. And not just for fire prevention professionals; in particular I have in mind greater awareness and training for the general public and building owners and occupiers.

All too often we hear about fires being caused by what can only be described as stupidity (like allowing fireworks to be let off inside crowded nightclubs); people dying in buildings because of complacency (when, for example, exits are blocked by stored goods); negligence (as when fire systems are not maintained properly); apathy (such as not taking the likelihood of a fire and its consequences seriously); and sheer ignorance on the part of people completely unaware of what to do in a fire or other emergency. Hopefully, a time will come when these shortcomings are addressed across the entire region, in effect forming a robust fire prevention partnership between the profession, proprietors and the public.

The landscape for firefighting and rescue operations is, I believe, going to be dominated by climate change and the sooner we move away from argument and counter-argument as to whether or not it is man-made the better. The reality is that climate change is a fact. Indeed, I would contend that it is not so much climate change as climate big change. We are going to have to contend with the impact of natural disasters that are more frequent and more severe.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, NASA, and the University of Alabama, the world has just had its warmest October on record, with the planet on course towards its hottest ever year. Australia is about to face a particularly tough bushfire season; New Zealand has just been hit again by a 6.5 magnitude earthquake that rocked the east coast of North Island; this year China had its deadliest landslide for six decades; and floods have killed thousands across Asia. The list goes on, and these events are going to place unprecedented demands on the emergency services.

So we have to move away from any notion that these disasters are not going to happen. Most scientists will tell you that it is now when, not if. Alarmingly, some scientists are already expressing the view that it is too late to ward off some of the consequences of the political, industrial and life-style decisions we have taken in the past and continue to take. Some of you may recall the 1989 film Field of Dreams in which Kevin Costner was told: “build it, and he will come”? We seem to have too many decision makers around that subscribe to a similar but more alarming belief, namely: “ignore it, and it won’t happen” (well, not during their watch anyway). Sadly, I believe it will.

Finally, in closing on this less than optimistic note, I would like to thank all of the contributors from across the Asia Pacific region that I have had the pleasure of working with, and I hope we will meet again, as I am planning to stay closely involved in this fascinating and vitally important industry in which we all have a part to play.

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