Hero Firefighters Under Attack

It appears that despite their heroic efforts during the pandemic, including assisting the ambulance service, helping move dead bodies to the morgue and showing Care Homes how to use PPE, Firefighters are unfairly under attack one again.

On the 15th of January, Fire Service Bosses pulled out of a COVID-19 Agreement with the Fire Brigades Union without informing the Union or the workforce. Negotiations were ongoing between National Employers and the Union before the agreement was cancelled, with the FBU arguing that the decision “appears to be supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council.” This shocking behaviour was compounded with a Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) report claiming that the FBU had “prevented” firefighters from helping communities during the pandemic,.

The COVID-19 Agreement between the National Employers and the FBU had been in place for ten months and ensured certain health and safety measures be in place when firefighters take on extra pandemic community work. Under the agreement, firefighters were required to submit a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before returning to their fire station on normal duties, protecting the service from mass outbreaks by removing the risk of cross contamination. However, in talks the National Employers attempted to remove this protection at a national level.

Just to get that right, the National Employers were not happy with the FBU demanding workers, before returning to their station, submit a negative COVID-19 test after supporting the community in tackling the pandemic. The union had offered a range of alternative safety measures to enable the activities to proceed safely, but these were rejected by employers. The employers then unilaterally withdrew from the agreement, As a result, there are now no national protections for firefighters delivering COVID-19 duties.

This cutting of vital health and safety measures for firefighters epitomises this Government’s lack of care for our brave frontline workers. Since 2011, fire and rescue services in the UK have had 11,500 firefighters cut from their staff, and since 2013 have seen real-terms spending on their service slashed by 38%. They are stretched as it is, and we simply will not have a Fire Service to conduct their usual service plus the extra pandemic/community tasks if the virus is rampant amongst the workforce.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

β€œThis irresponsible move from fire and rescue service employers threatens to endanger the lives of firefighters, their families, and the public.

The FBU has consistently worked with employers and fire chiefs in good faith to enable firefighters to safely take on new work to help their communities through this pandemic. But employers have decided to begin a race to the bottom on safety, abdicating their responsibility to keep their staff safe, and services protected from mass outbreaks.

Rather than support firefighters’ life-saving work, employers have walked away from the very agreement which enabled it. By removing national safety standards, they are exposing staff and services to a deadly disease – all apparently to make a political attack on a trade union simply because we are trying to ensure work is safe.

Firefighters carrying out COVID-19 duties have undoubtedly saved lives and we are proud to have helped them do it safely. We deeply regret that employers have scrapped this crucial agreement and urge them to reintroduce vital national safety protections and resume talks. They should stop playing politics and get round the table to resolve this.”

If you want to hear more about the attacks on Firefighters, I spoke to Steve Wright, South East Regional Organiser for the FBU, on the State of the Union Podcast from Red in the Face.

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