The complex link between fire and mankind surpasses international borders and disciplinary boundaries. The science of fire knows no geographical or political limits. Over time countries have learned fundamental fire safety principles for preventing fire events and managing their impact (i.e. the common principles: Prevention, Detection and Communication, Occupant Protection, Containment, and Extinguishment) that can be consistently applied across. On many occasions this has often compelled legislative changes – to continue in such a way is an abandonment of responsibility of the first magnitude. Growth in the global population drives toward greater urbanization, which results in more people living in higher-density, high-rise developments containing numerous uses and occupancy types. Similarly, urban areas are encroaching on wildland spaces, creating increased areas of risk for interface fires.

Much is known about the phenomena and effects of fire, as well as what needs to be done to protect people, buildings, and the environment from the destructive effects of fire. This knowledge, however, is not shared as effectively as it could be. Thus, requiring a concerted and more consistent approach that will yield considerable benefits and improve Fire Services’ ability to:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly for any Fire risk
  • Provide advice regarding any developments
  • Learn from past failures and successes

Sharing knowledge of the principles of fire safety that have been adopted around the globe represents an important opportunity to educate stakeholders and improve protection for people and Buildings from the risk of fire and could help drive improvements in safety in both developed and developing economies. The development of a common understanding of Building design, construction, and management and how the impact of fire affects these will help to build trust and confidence among many and varied actors and improve quality of life and increase investment in line with UN sustainable development goals.

In September 2015, more than 190 world leaders committed to the 17 SDGs to help end extreme poverty, fight inequality, combat climate change, and build resilience to disasters. While all the SDGs are relevant for building a sustainable and resilient world, a number of them have targets directly or indirectly related to fire risk reduction. However, using the

latest available data and estimates reveal that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is in grave jeopardy due to multiple, cascading, and intersecting crises.

Similarly, South Africa faces a complex fire problem which is compounded by increasing urbanization which is accompanied by an exponential increase in the number of informal settlements, increasing wildland-urban interface, and lack of capacity by some municipalities to name but a few. Consequently, the number of lives lost and injuries sustained due to fires is alarming. In economic terms, the Fire Protection Association of Southern Africa (FPASA) noted that in 2016, the recorded financial fire losses incurred by the country exceeded R3.144 billion. Taking into account that this figure reflects fires attended to by Fire Services and reported to the FPASA while excluding to a large extent uninsured losses, and fires occurring in areas where no professional fire services exist, it becomes evident that the cost of fires to our country’s economy are significant and pervasive. The transportation of dangerous goods across the country’s road networks also significantly increases risk. Cross-border incidents involving dangerous goods also pose challenges to fire services located in cross-border towns. The White Paper on Fire

Services prioritise fire safety and prevention which plays a central role in the disaster risk reduction agenda 2030. “Development that is not risk-informed cannot be sustainable. Recurring disaster losses are a significant brake on poverty eradication.”

This concept paper seeks to bring all critical role players to work collaboratively to reduce fire risks and losses in the country. It is against this background that the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) hosts a Fire Safety and Prevention Seminar annually to galvanise all role players to contribute to the fire risk reduction agenda.