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UK co-chairs inaugural World Fire Congress in Washington DC

04 June 2024

UPWARDS OF 50 countries were represented at the first-ever World Fire Congress, which ran in Washington DC on 7-8 May. Hosted by the United States, the World Fire Congress was convened in a bid to increase the level of international collaboration in relation to the growing challenges faced by Fire and Rescue Services across the globe.

Importantly, the event witnessed nations signing the World Fire Congress Charter, thereby indicating their continued commitment to work together on tackling all of today’s pressing fire-related issues.

Government representatives and fire professionals from no fewer than 54 countries – including UK delegates Mark Hardingham (pictured, chair of the NFCC), Sarah Gawley (director of fire and major events at the Home Office) and Roger Thomas (chief fire officer for the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service) – attended the gathering.

At the close of the event, the US handed over the reins to the UK, with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) assuming responsibility for organising the next World Fire Congress, which is set to take place in 2026.

Key themes

Congress focused squarely on a number of key themes. The opening day witnessed delegates discussing structural fires with a keen focus on tall buildings and the impacts of climate change (including wildfires and flooding).

On the second day, attentions shifted to emerging energy technologies and, in particular, the escalating risk posed by lithium-ion batteries and battery energy storage systems. This topical discussion was followed by a session aimed at addressing firefighter health and well-being.

With most countries in attendance signing the World Fire Congress Charter, it was also agreed that the US would host online communities of practice for each of the core themes. Ultimately, this will mean representatives meeting each month to establish a global footprint of work, share experiences and learning and connect research, training and development.

It’s expected that Congress will rotate around different continents. As stated, the UK is hosting in 2026 followed by the United Arab Emirates in 2028.

Sharing ideas and expertise

Commenting on Congress, NFCC chair Mark Hardingham observed: “It was a huge honour to be in Washington and co-chair this historic event. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to our US hosts for their hospitality and for putting on such a fantastic inaugural Congress.”

Hardingham added: “Congress stood as an important reminder that the UK’s Fire and Rescue Services are not alone in the challenges they face, whether that challenge emanates from fires in tall buildings or having to deal with the worst impacts of adverse weather. There’s a huge amount to be gained by sharing ideas and expertise with global partners and working collaboratively on finding the necessary solutions.”

The US hosts were Alejandro Mayorkas (the United States’ Secretary of Homeland Security), Deanne Criswell (administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and Dr Lori Moore-Merrell (the US’ fire administrator).

*The full agenda for the World Fire Congress can be viewed online