In the early stages of lockdown, the FBU, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) 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. That month, the NFCC confirmed FRSs would ‘work with local partners to support care homes’ and stop the spread of COVID-19, and then confirmed that the FRS agreements have been ‘extended’ following ‘extensive negotiations’ that lasted ‘a number of days’.

FRSs ‘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’. Most recently last month, it pointed out that with the COVID-19 pandemic potentially continuing ‘for the next few months, even years’, there will be changes for FRSs, before the NFCC shared FRS staff experiences during the lockdown.

The FBU has now confirmed that firefighters ‘have agreed to continue aiding the coronavirus response’, warning that the threat ‘remains serious’ despite lockdown restrictions being eased. It also sought to reassure the public that ‘firefighters aren’t going to abandon their communities now’ while preparations for a second wave of the virus ‘commence’. The FBU, NFCC and the national employer all agreed to extend the working partnership until 30 September.

This is ‘six months longer than planned’, and there is the ‘possibility for further renewal’, with the initial agreement made for two months but extended in June, and ‘due to expire last week’, but as a consequence of the ‘continued threat’, another extension was agreed ‘provided that coronavirus response work is properly risk assessed’. The FBU had raised concerns that ‘there was too much variation in the risk assessments being carried out’ by FRSs.

As a result, national risk assessments for 11 work areas have been agreed, with FRSs to implement these locally, while risk statements have been provided for three of the activities ‘deemed to be of lower risk’. One agreement made last month was that firefighters working in ambulances, mortuaries and hospitals ‘should be detached from their normal [FRS] location’, with all three bodies recommending FRSs ‘halt any coronavirus response work outside of the agreement until activities can be agreed at a national level’.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack commented: ‘The government may be signalling that the pandemic is over – but for the emergency services on the ground, the threat from coronavirus remains serious. As lockdown restrictions ease, the risks of infections may increase – and firefighters aren’t going to abandon their communities now. As summer draws to a close in the coming weeks, preparations must be made for any potential second wave in the approach to winter.

‘It’s vital that [FRSs] do all that they can to prevent coronavirus outbreaks among personnel. To keep firefighters safe, we have agreed detailed risk assessments for each area of COVID-19 response work, which should help prevent mass-absences in [FRSs] whilst also protecting the public. Come what may, firefighters are here to protect the public – and we’re here to make sure they do so safely.’