Blog

  • Categories
  • Category Archives: FBU

    Fire Brigades Union

    Firefighters across the UK could support the delivery of COVID-19 testing, including taking samples for antigen tests, in the latest agreement between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), fire chiefs and fire service National Employers. After appropriate training, firefighters will be able to carry out swab tests on other fire and rescue personnel, their families, and the wider public if necessary.

    The update to the national agreement will now allow firefighters to drive ambulances to non-emergency outpatient appointments and to transport those in need of urgent care. Firefighters can also begin training non-emergency service personnel to drive ambulances to aid the coronavirus response.

    It follows an agreement last week between the union, fire service National Employers, and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), which has allowed firefighters to fit face masks and deliver vital PPE and medical supplies to NHS and care staff.

    Firefighters have already begun driving ambulances, delivering food and medicines to vulnerable people, and moving dead bodies in some areas, after an initial agreement was reached on 26 March.

    The FBU warned earlier this week that around 3,000 fire and rescue personnel were already in self-isolation due to coronavirus. The union says NHS and care staff are a priority but that testing must also be urgently made available to fire and rescue personnel.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “While the government is lagging behind its own schedule to deliver testing, the number of tests that have long been promised may require assistance from outside of the NHS and we are here to help.

    “Firefighters are highly skilled and are able to take on new areas of work to assist in these extraordinary times – and this now includes carrying out antigen tests, driving ambulances to non-emergency incidents, and training other personnel to drive ambulances.

    “We’ve raised our concerns about the government’s mishandling of coronavirus testing and the impact it is already having on frontline services. Fire and rescue personnel are now able to assist in the national testing which is so urgently required.

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

    1 Comment

    Fire and rescue personnel urgently need coronavirus testing, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned, as services lose up to 12% of their firefighters and control staff to self-isolation.

    Nearly 3,000 fire and rescue staff are in self-isolation and unable to work, representing 5.1% of the UK’s overall fire and rescue workforce. Just under 2,600 of them are operational firefighters and control staff, making up 5.3% of the total.

    Emergency fire control rooms, which have fewer staff, have been worst hit in some areas, with some control rooms losing 15.9% of their staff.

    The FBU has said that, without urgent testing of frontline personnel, there will inevitably be an impact on brigades’ ability to provide fire cover and respond to other emergencies, including their work supporting the coronavirus response. Fire and rescue services in the UK are operating with 11,500 fewer firefighters than in 2010.

    The FBU’s research reveals:

    • In London Fire Brigade (LFB), 472 firefighters and control staff are in isolation, nearly 10% of the total. Overall, 478 LFB staff (8.5%) are in isolation, an increase of nearly 200 since 20 March.
    • West Midland Fire and Rescue, covering Birmingham, has 110 firefighters and control staff in isolation, totalling 7.5%.
    • West Yorkshire’s control room has 15.9% of its staff in isolation, while in Mid and West Wales it’s more than 13%.
    • Bedfordshire has the highest proportion in isolation, with 55 firefighters and control room staff, 12% of their total.

    The Scottish government has committed to initial limited testing of firefighters and control staff which has already begun at Glasgow airport, as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service loses 362 staff to isolation, just under 5% of its workforce.

    Testing has been made available to 50 personnel from Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service who have symptoms. 147 staff (7.5%) are currently in isolation. In Wales, where 178 staff are in isolation, the devolved government has committed to testing other emergency service personnel once tests have been secured for NHS staff.

    But in a letter to the FBU, Security Minister James Brokenshire made no commitment to testing fire and rescue personnel in isolation in England, of which 2,300 are in isolation.

    Emergency fire control staff handle 999 calls and provide vital fire survival guidance for areas of up to 5 million people from a single room. Should one member of staff contract the virus, the emergency call infrastructure for an entire region could be at risk.

    Some firefighters are now driving ambulances and assisting ambulance staff; delivering food and medicines to vulnerable people; and working with the police to move dead bodies, after the FBU reached a landmark agreement with fire chiefs and fire and rescue employers.

    Firefighters will now also be able to fit masks and respirators for NHS staff and deliver Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and medical supplies to NHS trusts, after a further agreement was reached on Thursday 9 April.

    While the FBU has called for firefighters to cease all non-essential, non-emergency interactions with the public, they will continue to come into contact in emergency situations and as part of their coronavirus response work, placing them at greater risk of infection.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “The Westminster government is playing with fire by not testing firefighters and control room staff for coronavirus. Currently, crews are maintaining services, but this will become increasingly difficult as the virus spreads.

    “There are already thousands of firefighters and control staff in self-isolation, only a fraction of which will have the disease. If we aren’t able to find out exactly who is infected, and more staff isolate unnecessarily, services will be put on a dangerous knife-edge.

    “Of course testing of NHS staff has to be a priority, but firefighters and other emergency service personnel are also at serious risk. The very safety of the public relies on them being able to attend work. There needs to be a clear and deliverable testing strategy for all workers required to continue at work.

    “The government failed to secure test kits in sufficient numbers early in the pandemic and now frontline services are paying the price. Devolved governments have begun to take steps in the right direction, but in Westminster time is standing still – ministers need to get to grips with this crisis and ensure that all emergency service personnel are tested as soon as possible.”

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

     

    Comments Off on 3,000 fire and rescue personnel in coronavirus isolation as services pay the price for testing fiasco

    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 [NOTE 1] 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 [NOTE 2] 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. [NOTE 3]

    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.”

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

    Note 1 – Updated full Tripartite agreement: https://www.fbu.org.uk/sites/default/files/attachments/2020%20apr%2009%20-%20tripartite%20agreement.pdf

    Note 2 – HSE guidance on fit testing of masks https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/face-mask-ppe-rpe-coronavirus.htm

    Note 3 – Under the Control of Hazardous Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, ‘respiratory equipment at work’ guidance, proper face-fit testing of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE), such as the widely used FFP3 respirators worn by health and care staff, must take place. Firefighters trained in this area will now be able to offer their support to NHS and care colleagues COSHH Regulations, ‘respiratory equipment at work’ – https://www.hse.gov.uk/pUbns/priced/hsg53.pdf

    Note 4 – The FBU called for the priority testing of firefighters and emergency control room staff on 20 March – https://www.fbu.org.uk/news/2020/03/20/covid-19-fire-and-rescue-services-lose-hundreds-firefighters-self-isolation-union

    The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is the professional and democratic voice of firefighters and other workers within fire and rescue services across the UK. The general secretary is Matt Wrack

    The FBU is on Twitter: @fbunational and Facebook: facebook.com/FireBrigadesUnion1918

    For national spokespeople contact the press office via the details above. For local and regional spokespeople, please contact officials directly. You can find contact details for each region via this webpage: www.fbu.org.uk/contacts

    FBU press office
    press@fbu.org,uk

    Comments Off on FIREFIGHTERS TO FIT FACE MASKS AND DELIVER VITAL PPE AND MEDICAL SUPPLIES TO NHS AND CARE STAFF

    Fire and rescue service personnel must receive priority testing and vaccination for coronavirus, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said after some brigades reported losing hundreds of staff to self-isolation.

    In a letter to ministers in Westminster and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the FBU has said that without testing, firefighters and control staff could be self-isolating unnecessarily, when they could be on hand to protect the public.

    The union also says that testing could help reduce the risk of frontline staff transmitting the infection to vulnerable members of the public.

    London Fire Brigade has at least 280 personnel in isolation, 5% of its overall staff; West Midlands Fire Service, which covers Birmingham, has 105 staff in self-isolation, 5.5%; Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has 285 staff in isolation, 3.75%; Essex County Fire and Rescue Service has 61 staff in isolation or 4%.

    Fire and rescue services across the UK are operating with 11,500 fewer firefighters than in 2010, and, unless services are able to test their employees, they could face dangerous shortages.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “In this time of national crisis, every emergency service worker has an important role to play. The NHS is an obvious priority, but any testing regime needs to address all key public services.

    “Without proper testing, the number of fire and rescue personnel available could drop to dangerously low levels. Fires and other non-virus related emergency incidents won’t wait for this crisis to subside and ministers need to consider that carefully.

    “It is vital for public safety that firefighters and control staff, like their colleagues in the NHS, receive priority testing and, once available, vaccination.

    “We’re pushing for measures to limit our members’ exposure to the virus, but some interaction with the public cannot be avoided and ministers need to manage that risk.”

    While the FBU has called for firefighters to cease all non-essential, non-emergency interactions with the public, they will continue to come into contact in emergency situations, placing them at greater risk of infection.

    Emergency fire control staff handle 999 calls and provide vital fire survival guidance for areas of up to 5 million people from a single room. Should one member of staff contract the virus, the emergency call infrastructure for an entire region could be at risk.

    Media contact

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

    Comments Off on COVID-19: Fire and rescue services lose hundreds of firefighters to self-isolation, as union calls for priority testing

    Interactions between firefighters and the public should temporarily be drastically scaled back to limit coronavirus contaminations, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said.

    Non-emergency work such as fire safety visits and inspections, school visits, and public meetings, should be temporarily suspended to reduce the exposure of firefighters to COVID-19 and to protect at-risk individuals from potential contamination from firefighters.

    A number of fire and rescue services have already taken measures to restrict interaction between firefighters and the public, despite little directive from central government.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “While the FBU fully supports public engagement and preventative work as essential to improve fire safety, these are exceptional circumstances.

    “Any non-emergency work that involves interaction with the public must be ceased immediately, as some services have already done, for the protection of both firefighters and the potentially at-risk individuals they interact with.

    “As a core emergency service, firefighters and control staff need to be protected from infection as far as possible. When an emergency does happen, we need to ensure that firefighters are healthy and available in good number to respond.”

    The FBU is calling for services to cease all outside activities other than emergency response unless there is an immediate or imminent safety imperative.

    The union supports actions by services including Northamptonshire to limit these activities and believes all services should immediately tightly control access to emergency fire control rooms and cease:

    • 7(2)d fire familiarisation inspections;
    • Community fire safety visits and inspections (including home safety visits)
    • Audits of fire safety risk assessments and arrangements;
    • Exercises;
    • School visits
    • Public meetings held on fire and rescue service premises;
    • Public access to fire stations

    The announcement was made in a circular to the FBU’s more than 30,000 members, representing the vast majority of the UK’s firefighters and control room staff.

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

    Comments Off on COVID-19: Firefighters should cease non-essential interactions with the public, union says

    Responding to the 2020 UK government Budget, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has criticised the Chancellor for failing to recognise the role of firefighters in responding to flooding, for failing to provide building safety funding for buildings under 18m and for promising “pittance” to fund firefighters’ crucial fire safety work.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “This budget once again fails to end a decade of pay restraint for firefighters and the chronic underfunding of the fire and rescue service.

    “The government has finally recognised that they did not provide sufficient funding to keep people safe after Grenfell and that the building safety crisis goes further than just the same flammable cladding that burned that night. But these measures do not go far enough. They are still ignoring those at risk in buildings under 18m, such as the Bolton Cube. This is not good enough and won’t keep people safe.

    “After the devastating floods, firefighters pleaded with the government to provide the dramatic funding increase they need to keep people and communities safe, but once again, these pleas fell on deaf ears. When flooding or wildfires inevitably hit again with more intensity, the Chancellor will have to live with knowing that he failed to properly resource the response. He should be ashamed.

    “A decade of drastic funding cuts and unfair pay restraint has resulted in the loss of a fifth of our firefighters and a quarter of our fire safety officers – it’s about time that the government recognised and reversed the damage they have done. But, frankly, the £20 million promised to fund fire safety is a pittance compared to the £141.5 million cut since 2013 in England – and it’s utterly insufficient.”

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

    Comments Off on Budget fails on flood response and fire safety, firefighters say