(Appeared in print as "A Model for All of Us to Follow")
You never know where networking at a conference might lead. It has been several years since I first met Duncan White, a station manager, i.e., the lead officer at a station, with the Devon & Somerset Fire Rescue Service, a fire brigade in the United Kingdom. Duncan and I had both attended the U.S./U.K. Fire Service Symposium in Plano, Texas, hosted by former Chief Bill Peterson. Shortly before this year’s FDIC in Indianapolis, White contacted Peterson to ask whether the Institution of Fire Engineers could send a representative to an important meeting being held the week after the conference at the Indiana State Capitol. Peterson contacted me with current contact information for Duncan and forwarded his request.
In addition to being a station manager, White also is an events manager with his department. That means he is the safety manager for any major event being held within Devon and Somerset’s jurisdiction, and frequently is called upon in other jurisdictions throughout the U.K. Following the tragic stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis last August, state officials launched several investigations. These reports have been received but Indiana has decided to take a proactive role in seeing that events in venues ranging from fixed structures to outdoor events such as the state fair will not again result in major injuries or deaths.
In April, a unique meeting took place hosted by Joe Wainscott, the executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. IDHS not only includes homeland security, but also fire and building safety, training, planning, and assessments. As such, the office of State Fire Marshal James Greeson falls within this department. The purpose of the meeting was three-fold:
- After assessing the reports on the stage collapse, Indiana officials wanted to assure the public that they were taking action to see that such this would never reoccur.
- They also wanted to review Senate Bill 273, which empowers the state’s fire-prevention and building-safety commission to adopt rules to regulate outdoor stage equipment. It took effect on May 2and has a unique two-year sunset provision that takes effect in 2014, so that they can take a longer view of the incident and find the best ways to prevent future occurrences.
- They wanted to discuss whether this legislation could be used as a model within all 50states to prevent similar future occurrences.
Prior to this meeting, I was introduced to another visitor from the U.K., Tim Roberts, director of The Event Safety Shop and a contributor to a publication adopted within the U.K. and parts of the European Union called the “Event Safety Guide,” but which is commonly referred to as the “Purple Guide” because of the unique color of its cover. It can be viewed at www.hse.gsi.gov.uk. The Purple Guide was to play a key part in the meeting.
In addition to senior representatives of the IDHS, as well as Roberts and me, the attendees included key members of the entertainment industry ranging from movies to wrestling; and from event promoters to representatives of the riggers and electricians who make the venue come alive with lights, sound and special effects. Also represented were members of the insurance and legal profession who specialize in serving the entertainment industry. Co-chairing the meeting were Jim Digby, production manager for the band Linkin Park, and Matt Bettenhausen vice president for security and public safety for AEG Live, which serves more than 120worldwide venues with entertainment productions.
To my surprise, everyone in the entertainment realm came to the table to request that a standard operating guide be adopted that could be used not only across the U.S., but in Europe, Asia and across the Americas. After brief introductions, Roberts began a presentation entitled “A Framework to Improve Event Safety,” using the Purple Guide’s chapter index as an outline. The guide provides a planning agenda for every position, from the promoter to fire, building and security inspectors, in a common frame of reference with safety as the ultimate goal. Toward that aim, it provides a set of common terms that adopt the language of risk assessment and safety. It covers the needs and roles of the vast array of stakeholders, including the public, promoters, vendors, venue, crews and staff, the performers and artists, the insurance industry, and local fire and building officials.
The Purple Guide did not introduce any new legislation or codes. Rather it references the existing codes and standards in the European Union, just as our building and fire codes reference sources such as the NFPA, ANSI or the ICC. After that presentation and consensus that such a guide would be helpful throughout the U.S., Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and key legislators from both the Indiana House and Senate joined the meeting. After additional discussion on the topic, Daniels and the legislators endorsed the concept of creating a document similar to the Purple Guide, but using U.S. weights, measures, codes and standards. What astounded me was the ability with which the stakeholders came to consensus with a common-sense solution to a very complex issue. No doubt there will be bumps along the way, but everyone saw the beauty of producing a guide with checklists that referenced our existing codes and standards, rather than creating a host of new standalone legislation.
At the present time, the organizations that were not present at the first meeting are being contacted. These may include the NFPA, IAFC and the National Association of State Fire Marshals. From the fire-service view, the key will be the creation of checklists that encompass the inspections prior, during and after the event. These checklists will have a place for signatures from all the officials on hand, from the fire inspector, to the promoter, to the stage manager to the onsite safety official. Using a concept similar to ICS, the effort also should clearly delineate who has the responsibility to stop, cancel or evacuate the venue during a natural or man-made emergency.
Now it is up to us as to who will represent the fire service in this endeavor to deliver a product we can use for the smallest county fair to a venue such as the Lucas Oil Stadium. Then we must lobby for its adoption across the country.