Fire and rescue personnel will fit face masks for frontline NHS and clinical care staff and deliver medical supplies to hospitals and care facilities during the coronavirus outbreak after an agreement was made by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) with fire chiefs and national employers.
Under the agreement specially-trained and experienced fire and rescue personnel will fit protective masks to frontline NHS and clinical care staff working with patients infected with COVID-19.
Firefighters will now also be able to begin delivering much needed personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies to overstretched NHS hospitals and care facilities.
These two new areas of work agreed extend the previous agreement reached at the end of March which allows firefighters to be able to begin driving ambulances, delivering medicine and food to vulnerable people, and assist in the movement of bodies.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently gave a strong warning that the incorrect fitting of a protective face mask can increase the risk of COVID-19 infection and ‘lead to immediate or long-term ill-health or can even put the RPE [Respiratory Protective Equipment] wearer’s life in danger.’ Firefighters have been wearing respiratory masks for decades and the specialist trainers are certified to undertake the face-fit testing.
During a face fit testing, the ‘tester’ must ensure that the RPE is clean and functioning and that the seal with the wearer’s face is tight and can prevent hazardous substances getting into an individual’s airways. Under the new areas of work, the agreement states that the facemask fitting practitioner and the candidate must not come into skin-to-skin contact or be in close proximity to the exhaled breath of the other without suitable protection.
Under the agreement, firefighters could also be expected to assist in the delivery of PPE to the social care sector which has reported critical shortages of essential equipment. For those delivering PPE and medical supplies, delivery locations must be established that limit the risk of cross-infection.
The update to the agreements will now see firefighters able to carry out:
- Face Fitting for masks to be used by frontline NHS and clinical care staff working with COVID-19 patients
- Delivery of PPE and other medical supplies to NHS and care facilities
- Delivery of essential items like food and medicines to vulnerable people
- Drive ambulances and assist ambulance staff
- Move dead bodies, should the outbreak cause mass casualties
Firefighters will continue responding to core emergencies, such as fires and road traffic collisions, but under the updated agreement can now provide further additional services specifically related to COVID19. The agreement states that core responsibilities must be maintained throughout the crisis.
Any activities taking place at a local level must be risk assessed with fire and rescue personnel being given any necessary additional training and the appropriate PPE.
The additional work taken on by firefighters will be temporary to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially in place for two months, the agreement can be extended or shortened if agreed between all parties.
There are around 48,000 firefighters and control emergency staff in the UK.
Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said:
“This public health crisis will require all of us to do our bit to get through it, and firefighters rightly want to play as much of a part as they can.
“We are already driving ambulances, delivering food and medicine to the vulnerable and moving dead bodies, and the new work will see fire and rescue personnel use their expertise to fit protective masks and get vital PPE and medical supplies to NHS colleagues on the frontline.
“The coming weeks and months will be a huge challenge for all services, not least for fire and rescue services who must continue to respond to emergencies whilst supporting the response to coronavirus. For that reason, testing for the disease must be made available to fire and rescue staff, so that as many healthy firefighters can be kept on the frontline as possible.”