On Tuesday this coming week, many of us will attend the funeral of Brother Stephen Hunt in Bury. I will be wearing my FBU black ribbon badge in honour of Stephen and in memory of our other colleagues who have died in the line of duty.
We introduced the ribbon badge a few years ago after we became increasingly concerned at what appeared to be a sharp rise in the number of deaths of firefighters at work, at fires and at other emergency incidents. As a result of this concern we commissioned research on the subject and published a report (In the Line of Duty). This remains the most detailed and up to date report on UK firefighter fatalities.
We did this because we wanted to ensure that the lessons of such tragedies are learned and that the same mistakes are not made again. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that is the case. The issues we raised within the fire and rescue service in 2008 are still there today.
The investigation of recent firefighter deaths reveal that lessons have not been learned or applied across our service. It therefore angers me when I hear people talking complacently about improved safety in the fire and rescue service; usually people who have not bothered to do the slightest bit of research or reading.
When such tragedies happen the entire fire service is shocked. We pull together to try to look after the bereaved families and the other people affected by the incident. But all such tragedies leave deep scars which don’t just go away once the funeral is over. The FBU is still fighting for compensation for bereaved families more than six years after one such incident – and fighting against the resistance of the employer.
In other cases we have identified that steps recommended following previous deaths have simply not been adopted or implemented across the board. Tragically and disgracefully, central government (at least in England) says this has little or nothing to do with them. It’s all down to local arrangements and the local plans of the fire and rescue authority, apparently.
What they are incapable of answering is how the service improves if there are no mechanisms to ensure it does and no adequate monitoring or inspection requirements.
These are matters which were raised again at our conference in Blackpool in May this year, two months before Stephen Hunt was tragically killed carrying out his duties. We are currently arranging follow up research building on what we did in 2008 to ensure we can carry on fighting for the safety of firefighters and for justice for their families. This is a struggle which is never easy and never short.
So on Tuesday, whether you can be at the funeral in Bury or not, wear your FBU black ribbon badge. Your brigade officials should have them. Wear it in honour of Stephen and in solidarity with his family, friends and colleagues. Wear it in memory of our other brothers and sisters killed in the line of duty – here and across the world.