The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) have confirmed that firefighters across the country are being provided with thousands of lateral flow tests by the government in order to support the ongoing fight against COVID-19.
The Home Office informed the NFCC about the move by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) recently.
The initial 10,000 tests a week will enable at least 5,000 firefighters to continue to assist with the fight against COVID and support key aspects of the programme, such as continuing to undertake activities in support of Ambulance and Health Trusts, mass testing and vaccination.
Throughout the pandemic Chief Fire Officers up and down the Country have been keen to see firefighters’ skills capitalised on, particularly given the extensive fire aid and trauma care qualifications they hold.
The availability of these tests can now make greater involvement a reality, with firefighters being equipped to take on frontline roles, such as vaccinator or patient advocate at a vaccination centre
This move will provide further help to support the NHS, in terms of the vaccination programme but is a direct attempt to tackle COVID-related admissions and the winter pressures it is currently facing.
This means regular health surveillance testing for firefighters undertaking this work – can now be assured, a step which will see Fire and Rescue Services at the heart of the response to COVID-19.
NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher said: “For months, dedicated and skilled firefighters across the entire UK have gone above and beyond to assist those who need help the most.
“We have thousands of firefighters who are ready, willing and able to take on more in the fight against COVID-19. Today’s announcement means thousands of firefighters are being equipped to support one of the biggest means to combat the virus and reduce its devastating impacts”.
NFCC stated the health and safety of all staff is paramount to every Chief Fire Officer, all of whom take this duty of care very seriously. Firefighters would be not asked to do this work without the correct training; suitable risk assessments and the same health surveillance / testing arrangements afforded to others.
Echoing Mr Wilsher’s comments, Chair of NFCC’s COVID Committee and national lead, Phil Garrigan commented: “Fire services have been exploring for some weeks now how they can help with the roll out of the mass vaccination programme, this announcement enables this work to commence in earnest.
“We have seen staff across the entire UK take on more to assist in the fight against COVID, which shows their commitment and dedication to the communities they ably assist each and every day. We won’t stand back whilst others struggle on the frontline – it’s in the DNA of the Fire and Rescue Service to step up to serve and that is what we will do.”
Minister for Fire Lord Greenhalgh said: “Since the start of the pandemic, firefighters and FRS staff have played a crucial role in supporting the fight against coronavirus.
“From delivering essential medical supplies and transporting patients to hospital, to providing training on preventing infections to care home staff, our fire service has met the challenges of this pandemic admirably.
“I am immensely proud of their efforts – they have proved themselves to be ready, willing and able to support the national effort to protect the NHS and save lives.”
With almost 23,000 wholetime firefighters across England alone, there is a real opportunity for Fire and Rescue Services to play a key role in helping to deliver and administer vaccinations across the entire UK. There are an additional 12,498 on-call firefighters ready willing and able to help.
This additional measure of regular lateral flow testing will help to ensure the health and safety of staff is monitored and that the testing in place mirrors that of the partner agency we are helping. It will also remove the need to isolate staff (on a precautionary basis) on return from such duties which would have a huge and adverse impact on our ability to support the work in the first instance, notwithstanding the impact it would have on our core firefighting duties.