Agreement made on COVID-19 firefighter assistance
AN ‘UNPRECEDENTED’ agreement between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and fire and rescue services (FRSs) will see firefighters deliver food and medicine and drive ambulances during the outbreak.
The NFCC and FBU announced the agreement, which will see firefighters deliver food and medicines, drive ambulances and retrieve dead bodies during the pandemic outbreak, with the ‘unprecedented’ deal seeing all three stakeholder groups – the FBU, the NFCC and FRS employers – agree a ‘joint national approach to the crisis […] for the first time’. This is, all three added, because of the ‘scale of the national crisis and the urgency of the response required’.
In addition to delivering essential items including food and medicines to the vulnerable, firefighters will also drive ambulances and assist ambulance staff, and ‘retrieve dead bodies, should the outbreak cause mass casualties’, while also continuing to respond to ‘core emergencies’ including fires and road traffic collisions. These additional services are ‘specifically related to COVID19’, with the agreement stating that ‘core responsibilities must be maintained throughout the crisis’.
All involved will meet weekly to ‘discuss any additional requests for assistance made’ by local resilience forums and strategic coordination groups, and any considered ‘will be risk assessed’, with FRS personnel being given any ‘necessary additional training’ as well as the appropriate personal protective equipment. Initially in place for two months, this agreement can be ‘extended or shortened if agreed between all parties’, and will be temporary to ‘tackle’ the pandemic.
This agreement came after a decision to ‘limit cross-infection’ between firefighters and the public announced earlier this week, with FBU general secretary Matt Wrack commenting: ‘We face a public health crisis unparalleled in our lifetimes. The coronavirus outbreak is now a humanitarian emergency and firefighters rightly want help their communities. To get through this, we must find ways to work together with other emergency services.
‘Firefighters are fantastic at teamwork, are experienced in driving emergency vehicles and, as a service rooted in the community, may be best placed to deliver essential items to the most vulnerable. Many fear the loss of life in this outbreak could be overwhelming– and firefighters, who often handle terrible situations and incidents, are ready to step in to assist with body retrieval.
‘Firefighters and control staff have always stepped in when the public has been in danger and this crisis is no different. The strain on all emergency services will be great, but we can and will get through it together.’
NFCC chair Roy Wilsher added: ‘All [FRSs] are working to protect communities during COVID-19 and they will use their wide-range of capabilities and skills to ensure community reassurance and support; doing what they can to support people through this crisis. This joined-up approach is testament to the three organisations working together, to ensure [FRSs] can be at the forefront of the response to the current situation. I look forward to continuing this joined-up work with the National Employers and FBU.’
Nick Chard, chair of the National Employers, stated: ‘We have worked at pace to bring an extra resource to the battle against the impact of COVID 19, working collaboratively with the FBU and NFCC for the benefit of local people. Fire and Rescue has always played its role in meeting seemingly insurmountable challenges and this crisis is no exception.
‘We can immediately step up our assistance to support our over stretched public sector colleagues, especially ambulance services, with our can do attitude and sense of community spirit.’