Last week, the FBU reported 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’. FRSs will ‘cease’ most of their home fire safety checks as well as avoid hospitals, care homes and residences of vulnerable people, to ‘limit coronavirus cross-infection between firefighters and the public’.

This move was agreed between the FBU and FRS bosses, with firefighters and control staff to provide the ‘critical risk-based service’ to ensure residents ‘remain protected’ for the duration of the UK outbreak. The announcement also added that any requests from either central or devolved governments for additional support ‘will be considered by all sides’, with the FBU, the NFCC and the National Joint Council (NJC) coming together to make this decision.

The three groups first agreed to ‘minimise protection activity’, such as the aforementioned home safety checks, ‘except for where deemed necessary by a risk assessment’. In turn, they agreed that FRSs should ‘avoid visiting hospitals, care and nursing homes or any other premises where vulnerable people reside’, except in a fire or other emergency, with ‘any request for non-emergency visits by homeowners or premises staff’ needing to be agreed by service management.

Finally, the groups will ‘continuously review’ the types of incidents firefighters attend ‘in line with the associated risk of infection’. The FBU had called for firefighters to ‘cease all non-emergency interactions with the public’, including both fire safety visits and inspections, school visits and public meetings, as well as calling for ‘tightened restrictions on access to control rooms’, which many FRSs ‘already have complied with’.

It also called for priority testing for coronavirus for FRS staff, after a number of FRSs ‘reported losing hundreds of personnel to self-isolation’. These included ‘at least’ 280 London Fire Brigade personnel, or 5% of its staff; 105 West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service personnel, or 5.5.% of all staff; and 285 Scottish Fire and Rescue Service staff.

The FBU has now confirmed that hundreds of LFB firefighters have agreed to drive ambulances and assist paramedics in the London Ambulance Service’s response to the pandemic, with 300 to help voluntarily. LFB commissioner Andy Roe made it ‘clear’ in turn that no firefighter ‘will ride an ambulance or support other services unless they are supplied with the right personal protective equipment [PPE]’.

Many have already begun assisting paramedics due to being trained in basic life saving skills and being qualified to drive emergency vehicles, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan stating that the firefighters’ ‘commitment to keeping Londoners safe on top of their usual jobs builds on the remarkable community spirit we are seeing across the capital’.

David Shek, FBU executive council member, added: ‘We can already see the devastating effect of coronavirus on London. All emergency services are playing a part while we can keep our core functions running and many of our members are proud to volunteer. We’re glad that the Fire Commissioner has assured us no firefighter will do this work without appropriate PPE. It’s vital that we keep ourselves safe while helping our communities.’