In the early stages of lockdown, the NFCC, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the national employer confirmed that additional activities to assist other key services during the pandemic had been agreed for FRS staff, including mask face fitting, delivering personal protective equipment (PPE), administering tests, and driving as well as training on driving ambulances.

In April, a further agreement saw 300 London Fire Brigade (LFB) firefighters drive ambulances and assist paramedics in London’s pandemic response, after news that firefighters would aim to protect the vulnerable in society by avoiding hospitals and care homes, as part of an agreed ‘critical risk-based service’.

Prior to this, FRS staff had been confirmed to be undertaking COVID-19 antigen testing, driving non blue light ambulance transport and non COVID patients, and training others to drive ambulances for the same services. Other activities ‘requested by partner organisations’ were ‘still under discussion’. Also in April, it was revealed that over 4,000 FRS staff had volunteered to assist the other key services, while a further 10,000 staff were ‘on standby to assist as and when required’.

In May, the three bodies agreed firefighters could build protective face shields for frontline NHS staff and care staff, and transfer patients from and to Nightingale hospitals, alongside packaging and repackaging food supplies. Most recently, the NFCC confirmed FRSs would ‘work with local partners to support care homes’ and stop the spread of COVID-19, the three bodies agreeing that ‘helping those who need it most is in the DNA of [FRS] staff; showing their dedication and commitment to those who need it most’.

Now the NFCC has confirmed that the FRS agreements have been ‘extended’ so that staff can ‘continue to support the NHS, ambulance services, local authorities and other vital organisations’, following ‘extensive negotiations’ that lasted ‘a number of days’. FRSs ‘will remain at the heart of the response’, and continue to undertake the agreed activities ‘until at least’ 26 July, with the potential to ‘extend further’ to 26 August ‘if joint work on reviewing assessments is agreed and concluded’.

Discussions covered ‘reviewing learning and experiences’ from the previous two months, while new FBU requests ‘were also brought to the table which required additional consideration’, while the joint work on risk assessment reviews would aim to extend the agreement as mentioned to late August. ‘Important’ additions include delivering predesigned training packages on infection prevention and control to staff, including hand hygiene, PPE ‘donning’ and ‘doffing’ guidance.

Supporting care home staff testing training was also extended, with the intention to ‘train care home staff to train others according to the principle of “train the trainers”’.

NFCC chair Roy Wilsher commented: ‘This agreement is testament to [FRS] staff being ready, willing and able to play their part in the response to COVID-19, using their wide range of skills and expertise to help those who need it most. The agreement was initially made in March, with a number of new activities added as COVID-19 brought new demands.

‘NFCC was confident [FRSs] could assist and just as importantly - if not more so - would want to play a key role in supporting the pandemic’s challenges. These negotiations have not always been easy, but I knew FRSs would want to continue being at the heart of the response, doing what they do best; supporting those who need help and assistance.’