Yesterday, the NFCC, the 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.

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’.

The NFCC has now reported that over 4,000 FRS staff from across the UK are volunteering to help, while a further 10,000 staff are ‘on standby to assist as and when required’, which it noted 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’.

The NFCC also added that it is ‘working closely’ with the Home Office to ensure that the fire sector ‘receives the support it requires at this crucial time’, with the Fire Minister having written to the NFCC to ‘outline how the government is providing support and removing burdens’ on FRSs. Such actions include ensuring FRSs receive needed equipment ‘when they need it’ such as personal protective equipment, and enabling re employment of retired key workers alongside the Treasury.

Other moves include ‘allowing for delays to the publication of national framework, annual assurance statements and IRMPs’; working with HMRC to ‘issue guidance to employers and employees’ to ensure ‘retained staff are not ruled ineligible for the COVID-19 loss of earnings benefit’; working alongside Public Health England to extend testing to firefighters; and ensuring that those who can drive can continue their ‘crucial role’ by relaxing medical report driving licence renewals.

Roy Wilsher, NFCC chair, commented: ‘This is testament to the commitment and determination of all fire and rescue service staff to assist during a time of crisis. We have seen people from every part of fire and rescue services volunteer to take on additional work to support the response to COVID-19. This dedication shows staff doing what they do best; using their wide range of skills and capabilities to support people in the heart of their communities.

‘This means we can assist the health service, ambulance trusts, social care and a range of other organisations on the front line, ensuring those who need help, receive it.’

Lord Greenhalgh, Fire Minister, added: ‘I would like to thank the thousands of incredible firefighters and staff who have stepped up to the plate to help ambulance services, NHS staff and carers as well as supporting the vulnerable in our communities. The response by fire and rescue services has been heroic and is contributing hugely to our national effort to protect the NHS and save lives.’