Firefighters in London training for major incident

Concern over 30% reduction to specialist terror incident equipment

Firefighters are worried that government plans to reduce the number of specialist decontamination units for fire and rescue services in England will mean increased risk to the public and firefighters. The decision, say the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), has been taken without adequate consultation. 

There are currently 65 ‘Incident Response Units’ (IRUs) in England, introduced to the fire and rescue service after the 9/11 USA terror attacks as the most efficient means to decontaminate people affected by terrorists launching biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear attacks. However, following a ‘review’ by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), 22 of these units will be withdrawn at the end of this year. 

Thousands of firefighters have been trained in the use of specialist decontamination units, and regular training exercises have been undertaken to ensure such incidents can be effectively dealt with.

According to the FBU the argument for cutting the numbers of decontamination units has not been made.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “This is vital specialist equipment that can save thousands of lives in the event of particular types of terror attacks. Removing one third of them significantly reduces capability across England – this isn’t scaremongering, it’s fact. The remaining vehicles would have to travel further, meaning decontamination would be delayed, possibly with disastrous consequences for human safety. 

“This announcement was made without proper discussion or consultation, and we are unable to examine the basis upon which the government made this decision.  Fire and rescue services in the affected areas (see notes to editors for more info) need to know how long they will have to wait for specialist support, while local communities have a right to know what has changed during 2015 to make them less at risk from these threats. Does the government think our communities have become safer? Are they assuming reduced potential casualty numbers? What are the changes to risk assessment? None of this is clear. These questions should have been addressed before the government decided England could withstand this 30% cut. Given the current terrorist threat in England, this is very worrying news indeed.”

The FBU have raised their concerns with Labour MPs, and the issue is being raised with shadow home secretary Andy Burnham.

IRUs are used for mass decontamination, and were fully operational in 2004 in England and Wales at a cost of £54 million. Each vehicle carries two mass decontamination units, each capable of treating 200 people an hour. Supporting equipment includes disrobe and re-robe packs, pumps, water heaters, lights, hoses, gas-tight suits and detection and monitoring equipment such as radiation dosimeters and survey meters.

Read the all members circular on the cuts to IRUs here.

Listed below are the areas where the IRUs will be removed from.

         Station                                Region                            IRU code

Alfreton

Derbyshire

IRU 078

Broughton

Buckinghamshire

IRU 075

Blandford

Dorset

IRU 049

Bovey Tracey

Devon and Somerset

IRU 023

Burton

Staffordshire

IRU 012

Canley

West Midlands

IRU 045

Cheltenham

Gloucestershire

IRU 058

East Greenwich

London

IRU 027

Godstone

Surrey

IRU 043

Hereford

Hereford and Worcester

IRU 021

Morecombe

Lancashire

IRU 039

Penzance

Cornwall

IRU 073

Plaistow

London

IRU 053

Slade Park

Oxfordshire

IRU 008

Southern

Leicestershire

IRU 018

St Albans

Hertfordshire

IRU 067

St Neots

Cambridgeshire

IRU 061

Stalybridge

Greater Manchester

IRU 034

Stanmore

London

IRU 029

Walsall

West Midlands

IRU 079

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