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Firefighters to protect vulnerable by avoiding hospitals and care homes

27 March 2020

Fire and rescue services will cease most home fire-safety checks and avoid hospitals, care homes and residences with vulnerable people, to limit coronavirus cross-infection between firefighters and the public, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and fire and rescue bosses have agreed.

Firefighters and control staff will provide a “critical risk-based service” to ensure that residents remain protected during the COVID-19 outbreak. Any requests from central or devolved governments for further support will be considered by all sides.

In a meeting with Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and the National Joint Council (NJC) for local authority fire and rescue services, agreed to:

  • Minimise prevention activity, such as home-safety checks, except for where deemed necessary by a risk assessment
  • Avoid visiting hospitals, care and nursing homes or any other premises where vulnerable people reside, except for fire and other emergencies. Any requests for non-emergency visits by homeowners or premises staff will need to be agreed by service management
  • Continuously review the types of incidents attended by firefighters in line with the associated risk of infection

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “In this ever-accelerating crisis, it’s vital for public safety that fire and rescue services continue to keep people safe. To do that, our crews must be kept safe too. We can’t help people if we are infected.

“Some services are already losing hundreds of staff to coronavirus so we must do everything we can to further minimise the risk of cross-infection between firefighters and the public. This will help protect vulnerable members of the public and ensure that we have enough healthy firefighters to respond to emergencies during this crisis.

“We’re glad that employers have heard our concerns about limiting non-essential contact between members of the public and firefighters. We’ll continue to work with all parties to ensure firefighters can safely help their communities through this emergency.”

Last week, the FBU called for firefighters to cease all non-emergency interactions with the public, including fire-safety visits and inspections, school visits, and public meetings, and for tightened restrictions on access to control rooms, which many services already have complied with.

The union has also called for priority coronavirus testing for fire and rescue service staff, after services reported losing hundreds of personnel to self-isolation.

At least 280 personnel in the London Fire Brigade are in isolation, 5% of its overall staff; West Midlands Fire Service, which covers Birmingham, has 105 staff in self-isolation, 5.5%; and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has 285 staff in isolation.