Recently, the NFCC, FBU and the national employer confirmed that additional activities to assist other key services during the pandemic had been agreed for fire and rescue service (FRS) staff, including mask face fitting, delivering personal protective equipment (PPE), administering tests, and driving as well as training on driving ambulances.

Earlier this month, an agreement between the FBU, NFCC and FRSs saw 300 London Fire Brigade (LFB) firefighters drive ambulances and assist paramedics in London’s pandemic response, after last month’s 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 that, 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 ‘are being requested by partner organisations, which are still under discussion’, with negotiations on these to ‘continue over the coming days’.

Most recently last week, it was revealed that over 4,000 FRS staff have volunteered to assist the other key services during the pandemic, while a further 10,000 staff are ‘on standby to assist as and when required’, the NFCC stating this shows ‘how staff from across all fire services are ready, willing and able to play their part during the pandemic’. Staff are providing ‘direct support’ to NHS colleagues ‘working tirelessly to keep the public safe’.

This most recent development has seen the three bodies agree that firefighters can build protective face shields for frontline NHS staff and care staff, and can also begin transferring patients from and to Nightingale hospitals, alongside packaging and repackaging food supplies. The FBU has ‘secured assurances’ that the latter task and the shield assembly ‘will not be undertaken for profit-making organisations’, and the new tasks will continue ‘for the duration of the coronavirus emergency’.

It also noted that appropriate personal protective equipment and risk assessments are mandatory for FRS staff undertaking these tasks, while any personnel ‘who do not wish to carry out the work will not be forced to do so’.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack stated: ‘Our NHS and care staff are facing the fight of their lives, so firefighters are temporarily taking on sweeping new areas of work to help them through the crisis. That now includes transporting patients to and from Nightingale Hospitals and assembling vital protective equipment that the government has so far failed to provide in proper numbers.

‘After a decade of damage from austerity, public services can only get through this crisis by pulling together and our members are proud to step up to help. This pandemic is further proof that properly resourced public services are not only the foundations on which society is built but also the first line of defence when crises like this arrive.

‘Across the country, firefighters are already driving ambulances, delivering PPE and supplies, and moving the bodies of those who have tragically died. We hope these new areas of work will go further to help our fellow emergency services through this unprecedented crisis.’