An agreement reached between the Fire Brigades Union and other stakeholders will see firefighters take on additional roles in the Covid-19 crisis, including driving ambulances and retrieving dead bodies.
Working with fire and rescue employers and fire chiefs, the union has today unveiled what it calls a “joint national approach” that will see its members take on several responsibilities alongside their current jobs.
Under the agreement, firefighters will be able to deliver food and medicine to vulnerable people, drive ambulances, assist ambulance staff and retrieve dead bodies should there be mass casualties.
This is a temporary arrangement that is due to be in place for two months, but can be extended or shortened if necessary. Firefighters will continue to fulfil their core functions throughout.
Commenting on the agreement, general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The coronavirus outbreak is now a humanitarian emergency and firefighters rightly want help their communities.
“To get through this, we must find ways to work together with other emergency services. Firefighters are fantastic at teamwork, are experienced in driving emergency vehicles and, as a service rooted in the community, may be best placed to deliver essential items to the most vulnerable.
“Many fear the loss of life in this outbreak could be overwhelming – and firefighters, who often handle terrible situations and incidents, are ready to step in to assist with body retrieval.
“Firefighters and control staff have always stepped in when the public has been in danger and this crisis is no different. The strain on all emergency services will be great, but we can and will get through it together.”
Stakeholders will continue to meet weekly to assess the risk and consider additional requests for assistance. There are around 48,000 firefighters and emergency control staff in the UK.
Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council Roy Wilsher said: “This joined-up approach is testament to the three organisations working together, to ensure fire and rescue services can be at the forefront of the response to the current situation. I look forward to continuing this joined-up work with the National Employers and FBU.”
Also commenting, the chair of the National Employers Nick Chard said: “Fire and rescue has always played its role in meeting seemingly insurmountable challenges and this crisis is no exception.
“We can immediately step up our assistance to support our over stretched public sector colleagues, especially ambulance services, with our can do attitude and sense of community spirit.”
The authorisation for firefighters to take on extra roles comes after the FBU declared last week that they should stop all non-essential contact with the public to limit contamination.
584 people in the UK have died from coronavirus and there are over 12,000 recorded cases across the country. There are nearly 10,000 in England alone, while London has the highest number.