IFE News

12 June 2018

Royal Charter - recognising the status of fire professionals

Peter Wilkinson croppedUnderlying the many technical and cultural lessons arising out of Grenfell is the simple fact that the depth and breadth of professional competence held collectively within the fire sector has not earned for us a proportionate level of peer esteem. Unrivalled knowledge and competence has not translated into peer acceptance of our authority in areas where only we can rightly claim such authority. The status of civil, building services engineers, architects, surveyors, builders and just about every other contributor to the built environment is not only publicly recognised but formally endorsed by virtue of their Royal Charters. We fire professionals, on the other hand, are the only major contributor to a safe built environment which lacks such endorsement. The inference many will draw is that the fire sector, collectively, must represent a lower order of professional competence.

The IFE Board believes we should redress this imbalance by petitioning for our own Royal Charter. If we were successful (and there is no guarantee we would be) the entitlement of fire professionals to a similar degree of public regard to that enjoyed by professionals in the other Chartered bodies would immediately be apparent. And for those at the pinnacle of their profession, in whatever branch of fire safety they may operate, the opportunity for securing chartered status in their own right would become available to them.

There is, however, an aspect of our history which places a rather unusual obstacle in our path. As you’ll probably be aware, the IFE, an organisation which was born in England in 1918 was, a few years later, incorporated as a limited company in Scotland. Members living outside the UK may not appreciate that, although England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are equal partners in the United Kingdom, the four nations have significant political and legal distinctions. So although the IFE is administered from offices in England, the law shows us to be quite clearly a Scottish company and charity. For nearly a hundred years this has been little more than a historical legacy. Now, however, as we contemplate applying for a Royal Charter to Her Majesty’s Privy Council in London, our Scottish corporate identity introduces a complexity which would be likely to prolong the application process, if it didn’t ruin our chances altogether.

The Board is convinced that a Royal Charter would elevate the status of fire professionals to the level they deserve. It has therefore concluded that we should remove this technical hurdle by re-incorporating the IFE as an English company, registered as a charity with the Charity Commission of England and Wales (rather than simply with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, as at present).  I should immediately reassure you that such a change in our legal status would not affect members at all.  Indeed, I suspect few would even notice it had happened unless they looked closely at the small print on our letterheads and other corporate documents.

There is one further point. If we were to submit an application for a Royal Charter, having first re-incorporated the IFE as an English company, it would provide a good opportunity to consider again a question which has been asked several times in recent years: is our name quite right?  Some argue that a hundred years of history make the name untouchable; others believe that the inclusion of the word ‘engineer’ excludes those who do not consider themselves to be engineers in the generally accepted sense of the word, and may mislead stakeholders outside the Institution into believing that we are anything other than a body for all fire professionals. Compelling though the historical defence may be, the Board has concluded that the case for renaming ourselves ‘the Institute of Fire’ — and hopefully in due course, ‘the Chartered Institute of Fire’ — is even more compelling. (Such a change, by the way, would not necessarily affect the post-nominal letters which members are entitled to use, even though the final ‘E’ would represent part of our historical legacy.)

But the decisions — whether or not to apply for a Royal Charter, and whether or not to re-incorporate the IFE as an English company — are for members, not the Board, to take. So within the next few weeks we will frame a clear and comprehensive proposal and put it to members to vote upon at an Extraordinary General Meeting of the IFE. (Don’t worry if you can’t attend: all voting members of the IFE will have the opportunity to cast their vote by proxy or by electronic means.) Meanwhile we hope that branches will discuss the implications of the proposed constitutional changes and feed their thoughts back via the Chief Executive.

The process of applying is complex, with no certainty that our petition would be successful, but we are convinced the prize is worth the effort. What do you think?  Reply

If you have any questions about this article, please refer to our Royal Charter FAQs document.

Dr Peter Wilkinson BEng (Hons), MSc., EngD., CEng., FIFireE., PMSFPE., SIRM
IFE Chairman


Trefor Hazlewood-Jones   12/06/2018 at 16:43

If the institution is to be renamed, it should be the "Institute of Fire Professionals".

Rick Ogden   12/06/2018 at 16:56

G.I.F., M.I.F., F.I.F, sounds like a range of cleaning products.

Doug Farmer   12/06/2018 at 17:16

I agree with Trefor that the 'Institute of Fire Professionals' would be an appropriate name change

Daryl Townsend   12/06/2018 at 18:00

I’d go for the Chartered process, but leave the name as is. “MCIFireE” looks ok to me... Just my thoughts.

Robert Bacon   12/06/2018 at 18:12

In Europe the term Engineer is protected, but in UK anyone, such as a mechanic who mends your washing machine or car can legally call themselves an engineer, so even though I am a CEng, I am not wedded to it remaining in the title. However, Trevor & Doug, professional is also a widely abused term. What ever is chosen should be protected by law & be limited to qualified & registered persons if that is legally possible?

Michael Chiaramonte   12/06/2018 at 19:01

I agree with changing the name to the Institute of Fire Professionals. This, however, leads to another discussion, that of the definition of "Professionals."

Chris Perrin   12/06/2018 at 20:08

I would support the IFE in updating the name and the status of the Institution. The definitions of any proposed words need to studied carefully so that the title is future-proof for the next few decades.

Bill Gough   12/06/2018 at 20:36

I lived in a miners community throughout my childhood, the very popular local social club and watering hole for miners was called the ‘miners institute’. I think being a very proud member of an incorporated global institution has greater status and meaning than any institute can offer.

Raymond Manser   13/06/2018 at 00:21

It may cause some angst in Australia among registered fire engineers (Charter; Incorporated; and Tech) as these qualify as part of the accreditation process for registration as Fire Engineers in each State. If there are competency issues in the UK then the problem is the standards required for registration. In my opinion the standards assessed both professional and ethical with the accompanying disciplinary panel is the solution as name change or geographical incorporation will not fix a competency issue.

Ayub M. Mundu   13/06/2018 at 07:32

What is in a name? A name is a name but the conduct of a person carrying that name in more important. The code of conduct may be should be more detailed to keep in check the carriers of the name and their respective titles.

Steve Metcalf   13/06/2018 at 08:43

I certainly support the application for a Royal Charter and if moving from Scottish registration can assist to expedite that process, then that should also be addressed. However, I'm not convinced about a name change, as any form of 're-branding' normally attracts some negative impact.

Steve Emery   13/06/2018 at 09:54

I am in complete agreement with re-incorporating the company to gain Royal Chartered status. However I am not keen on losing the title of Fire Engineer. There has been a lot of discussion in the past about what a fire engineer is and the conclusions were that we quantify fire risk. This is a more useful term than Professional.

Bob Bantock   13/06/2018 at 10:42

In the strive to get our voice heard and to improve our status within the wider fire sector then yes I am in agreement for change. I still like the term engineer as it has wider appeal.

Alex Mcpheators   13/06/2018 at 13:08

So the board at the IFE want to start a new club. Re-incorporate the IFE in England and change it's name and you have created new entity, good luck with that andave bye bye to 100 years of proud history. So being a Scottish Registered Charity "ruins" your chance achieving a Royal Charter. Does this smack of institutional racism? Very worrying. Time to go your own way England.

Martin Jones   13/06/2018 at 13:36

I tend to agree with the comment of Daryl Townsend; MCIFireE.

Martin Weller   13/06/2018 at 15:46

I'm fairly agnostic about this - I'm not sure it'll materially improve the Institution's status. Royal Institute of Fire Safety has a pleasing ring about it, though (following the RIBA name format).

Claudio Baratta   13/06/2018 at 15:54

I am definitely in favor of elevating the status of fire professionals but leave the name as is. If however the name changes to something else, the professional status of every member - engineer or technician - should be specified in his/her post-nominal.

Ngoako Raymond Raseruthe   14/06/2018 at 06:17

This is a complex subjects indeed, a name change will be a downfall of the organisation. I agree with Steve Emery, I am not keen on losing title of Fire Engineer. We are all professionals before we can be members of the organisation, so IFE its more useful, please leave the name as it is.

KOLITHA SRINISSANKA   14/06/2018 at 13:40

Dr Peter Sri Lanka branch fully support your initiative. Correct time to change and obtain the Charter Status. Chartered Institute of Fire Engineers would be our preferred status/name. along with the change of name we need to focus on professional development of its members.

SUPRATIM BANERJEE   14/06/2018 at 16:57

Definitely it will be a great elevation to the Royal Charter status but the Post Nominal as for me like GI FireE add a prestigious level in my Organisation.So new change is always welcome but the change must also restore some of its heritage

Tony Cash   16/06/2018 at 23:10

A couple of observations.... This isn't a new debate. See what views the Fire Industry Association aired: https://www.fia.uk.com/news/blog/why-do-we-need-chartered-fire-engineers-.html There's an AGM coming up during which the subject could be acted upon, negating the need for an Extraordinary General Meeting and enabling International Members to voice their feelings (provided the administrative details can be worked out within a few weeks or a couple of months to make it onto the AGM agenda). Is it being suggested that Members chartered via the current machinery of the IFE are in some way lesser rated than those whose CEng was awarded by an institution in possession of a a Royal Charter? Does the Board intend to hold any regional workshops to gather the thoughts of root-and-branch Members and would the qualifications be any better recognised on a global scale than the current qualifications earned by examination or other merit?

Michael Robinson   19/06/2018 at 06:16

I do NOT see the need to be chartered and certainly do not want to change my post nominals. I already have more letters after my name than in it! People know what IFE is and what MIFireE means; there is no need to spend money getting chartered, and more money on educating public, then members changing business cards, stationery, etc. I have been through this twice before with other memberships. Not again, please!

Ashley Theakstone   24/06/2018 at 23:53

Wow, I did not realise the scope and number of responses this would receive from members. Interesting read. I can understand a great many of the comments to either keep as is, fire engineer, Institute, professional. Suppose, like everything, when you ask the question to the whole, you going to get a range of answers. Not all you'll like or expected. I'm not for changing post-nominals, but I don't believe its asking for that. In this period and media what is post-Grenfell, women in engineering, STEM, pre and post-Brexit, Crossrail, HS2 and Heathrow; we need the term Engineer; we need the definition of professional; and we need the term Institute; all linking with the word fire...arh, does that mean Institute of Fire Engineers?!

Simon Hawkes   25/06/2018 at 15:20

I am all for gaining Chartered recognition for the IFE but cannot see why we would need to change anything else apart from putting 'Chartered' in front of the Institution of Fire Engineers similar to other professional institutions i.e. the chartered institution of Building Services. Secondly when you look at our peers in engineering they are all called 'The Institution of' chemical engineers, civil engineers, mechanical engineers etc Thirdly have become the conduit for Fire Engineers to gain engineering council recognition and also in the light of all that is going on at the moment why would we want to distance ourselves from the word engineer,

The Institution Of Fire Engineers   25/06/2018 at 16:45

The IFE is really grateful for the huge response to this article. Thank you to everyone who replied, either with a comment above or, by far the larger number, by means of the ‘Reply’ button in the article. A number of questions have been asked as a result of the article so a copy of these, together with responses, have been uploaded as a new article on the website. You can read the full article here - https://www.ife.org.uk/IFE-News/royal-charter-answer-to-members-questions. Thank you again for your feedback and we hope you find the new article helpful.

KD(Kern) Owens   06/07/2018 at 21:07

Although I am already chartered through the IET and not an IFE member, it would seem that a title change to the "Institution of Fire Engineering & Technology" i.e. IFET, would preserve the existing professional registrants and promote inclusivity to other professionals.

Dr Ronnie KO   01/08/2018 at 07:49

whatever name it is. It's time to upgrade our status. It is a must to deal with the fast changing world.

Marc Harries-Watkins   11/08/2018 at 08:47

The IFE should apply for Chartered status. Much like IOSH IFE Members would become Chartered Fire Engineers CMIFireE. They shouldn’t rebrand 100 years of history and one of the most prestigious titles away.

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