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Firefighters ready to help deliver vaccines and assist test and trace procedures thanks to COVID-19 agreement

15 December 2020

FIREFIGHTERS ARE ready to assist with the UK’s roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines after an agreement was reached between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) – the Trade Union representing the UK’s operational firefighters and emergency fire control staff – and the Fire and Rescue Service National Employers.

Specifically, the new agreement allows firefighters to assist other public sector organisations with track, trace and isolate measures, and also to check that potential higher risk premises are COVID-secure.

In practice, firefighters will inspect workplaces where relevant authorities have raised concerns about COVID-19 security, notably identified in Leicester garment factories. The FBU is encouraging anyone concerned about workplace COVID-19 security to raise it with their local council in the first instance.

The FBU and the National Employers have stated that Fire and Rescue Services are open to assisting with the vaccine roll-out if requested to do so by local resilience forums. Firefighters will have to wait three days and receive a negative COVID-19 test before returning to Fire and Rescue Service premises when they’ve finished pandemic duties.

Firefighters’ work in responding to the pandemic was previously permitted under a tripartite agreement involving the National Fire Chiefs Council, but the FBU and the National Employers observed in a joint circular that the temporary agreement had become “much longer term than originally envisaged”.

The work will now come under the jurisdiction of the National Joint Council where the FBU and the National Employers negotiate pay and conditions (ie the normal body for national industrial agreements in the Fire and Rescue Service). All 14 previously agreed activities are covered in the new agreement.

Sustained and essential assistance

From March through until October, firefighter volunteers helped the pandemic response in delivering more than 111,000 essential items to vulnerable people, assisting paramedics and driving ambulances at more than 87,000 incidents and delivering 25,000 units of PPE. 68,000 single-use face masks have been assembled and 32,000 food parcels packaged.

Firefighter volunteers have also assisted with 1,500 COVID-19 tests, delivered more than 1,000 infection, prevention and control training sessions and moved upwards of 2,000 bodies of the deceased.

The latest agreement is initially in place until January next year in a bid to ensure that Fire Brigades comply with all safety measures with a view towards extension beyond that date.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s general secretary, said: “This year has been an extraordinary one for the Fire and Rescue Service, with firefighters stepping up and doing more to tackle the pandemic than could previously have been imagined. We finally have a COVID-19 vaccine and, having already helped so many in their communities through this pandemic, firefighters will want to do their bit to help with the mass vaccination roll-out.”

Wrack continued: “We are still in the midst of the second wave of this pandemic and cannot be complacent about the serious risks posed by the Coronavirus. That’s why we’re expanding this crucial work, offering to assist with track and trace and to check that higher-risk premises are COVID-secure.”

In conclusion, Wrack stated: “It remains as crucial as ever to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in Fire and Rescue Services. This means taking proper precautionary measures, including testing and isolation, to make sure that firefighters don’t become ill when protecting members of the public.”