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Firefighters remain on COVID-19 alert after bravely engaging with first wave response

05 October 2020

FIRE AND Rescue Services are preparing for a second wave of Coronavirus as daily UK cases surge to record highs. An agreement allowing firefighters to assist the NHS and the social care sector has been extended by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the National Fire Chiefs Council and fire service national employers.

The agreement comes as new data reveals firefighters have intervened more than 400,000 times to aid the COVID response. Eight-in-ten Fire and Rescue Services have delivered more than 80,000 packages of food, medicines and other essentials to vulnerable individuals. Three-quarters of them have provided personnel to drive ambulances and assist ambulance services.

More than 70% of Fire Brigades have delivered PPE, mostly for the NHS and the ambulance service. Almost two-thirds of Fire and Rescue Services have assisted with the movement of dead bodies to mortuaries and 44% of Fire Brigades have assisted with face-fitting masks, providing 4,000 masks for NHS and care staff.

Fire and Rescue Services have now been asked to risk assess all Coronavirus-related response activities, including those that haven’t been requested by Local Resilience Forums, such that Fire Brigades are ready for a second wave of the virus. The extension will last until Thursday 29 October, while risk assessments for the nationally agreed activities are implemented locally. The agreement can then be extended further.

Risk assessments “crucial”

The FBU has warned that proper risk assessments are crucial in order to keep “heads above water” and prevent Coronavirus outbreaks in Fire and Rescue Services themselves.

In late March, more than three-quarters of Fire and Rescue Services reported having supply chain problems, including maintaining the supply of respiratory masks, hand sanitiser, wipes, cloths and coveralls.

Eight Fire Brigades reported problems when it came to securing essential cleaning products from breathing apparatus suppliers. Issues securing face mask cleaning products, respirator protective equipment and other items of PPE actually persisted into April.

In early April, almost 3,000 Fire and Rescue Service personnel were in self-isolation, but at no point were Fire and Rescue Services unable to function due to staff absences. Overall, COVID-related absences averaged at just 1.6% of Fire and Rescue Service personnel. The FBU is not aware of any serving UK firefighter who has died from Coronavirus infection.

In July, and as reported by Fire Safety Matters, firefighters and Control Room staff were offered a pay increase of just 2% (ie the same figure as the previous year).

On high alert

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s general secretary, said: “As death tolls soared earlier in the year, firefighters stepped in to aid their communities in their darkest hour. With a second wave of infections now arriving, our crews are staying on high alert. Much like their colleagues in the NHS, firefighters and Control Room staff have had to pick up the pieces left as a result of Government austerity measures.”

Wrack added: “The Fire Brigades Union has played a central role in forming the Fire Service’s response to the pandemic, ensuring the safest possible conditions for firefighters. However, Fire Brigades must not be complacent about the risk posed to firefighters and the public. Implementing risk assessments locally is going to be crucial for keeping our heads above water.”