Firefighters’ work responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has been extended until July, as the UK continues to battle coronavirus.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), and National Employers agreed the extension to the national agreement stating that the virus “continues to be a risk in our communities”. It comes despite the government moving to ease lockdown restrictions.
The agreement first reached on 26 March has allowed firefighters to assist ambulance services, deliver vital supplies to the elderly and vulnerable, and move the bodies of the deceased. Since then, a number of further activities have been agreed, including assembling personal protective equipment (PPE) and training care home staff in infection, prevention and control.
The work has now been extended to 15 July and could be extended until 26 August.
But the Tripartite Group – as the FBU, NFCC and National Employers are known – has raised concerns about variation in local risk assessments, with the latest agreement stating that “the hazards do not vary across fire and rescue areas”.
National risk assessments are now to be produced for all fourteen agreed activities, to be implemented locally by fire and rescue services. If successful, the agreement will be extended until 26 August.
Firefighters working in ambulances, mortuaries, hospitals, and care homes should be detached from their normal fire service location, the Tripartite Group recommended, and services should halt any coronavirus response work outside of the agreement until activities can be agreed at a national level.
New COVID-19 testing guidelines for fire and rescue personnel have also been agreed, requiring a test after 3 days of removal from detachment for coronavirus response duty. Staff will not be permitted to return to fire stations until they have tested negative.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:
“You need only look at the horrific death toll in our care homes to see that this pandemic is not over yet. The government may be easing restrictions, but firefighters are still needed to respond to this serious threat.
“We are concerned about the variation in risk assessments between services, as well as attempts by some fire chiefs to force firefighters into work outside of the agreement. The co-operation seen in most fire and rescue services has been extremely encouraging, but these steps are needed to make sure our members are safe and that safety standards are consistent.
“Firefighters’ work so far in this pandemic has been extraordinary and will have undoubtedly saved lives and helped to keep the NHS on its feet. The threat to our communities is still severe, so we’re doing what we can to ensure firefighters can continue helping them through this crisis.”