Placing a premium on firefighter safety

There are a few notable issues in the fire world which transcend politics and unite factions, none more so than firefighter safety. As Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack appeals to fire and rescue leaders to support the union’s DECON campaign, which aims to protect firefighters from toxic contaminants, FIRE echoes his call for help ‘to get this training in front of all firefighters’ (see pg 70).

‘It is likely that contaminants have already taken so much from the firefighting community’, Matt reports, adding: ‘But with this training we can begin to fight back and improve safety for firefighters. And with the help of fire and rescue services across the country, we can go even further’.

The DECON training focuses on 11 easy actions firefighters can take to reduce their own, their colleagues’ and their family’s exposure to contaminants, including cleaning kit regularly and showering and changing before returning home.

The union’s campaign follows its research report with the University of Central Lancashire, ‘Minimising firefighters’ exposure to toxic fire effluents’, which called for urgent action after surveying more than 10,000 firefighters. Amongst key findings were that 4.1 per cent of survey respondents had already been diagnosed with cancer, compared with less than one per cent of the general population, whilst half of the survey respondents did not think their fire service takes decontamination practices seriously enough.

This preceded FIRE’s championing of interim findings on a report on ‘The physiological, immunological and contaminant monitoring of firefighters and instructors’ born out of absolutely no research being available into the longer-term health risks associated with severe repeated exposures to compartment fire behaviour instructors. It found that heat exposure effects inflammatory markers and immune system function demonstrating that there is a severe inflammatory response in some fire instructors, which is likely to be the result of severe over-exposure to extreme heat and activity.

Funded by the Fire Service Research and Training Trust, research lead Dr Alan Richardson said: “This demonstrates and supports the need for Fire Service policies on maximum wear numbers to be introduced in the UK and internationally.”

As Whitehall has proved by overlooking the pandemic preparedness report in the early days of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, research findings and recommendations without action quickly becomes irrelevant, a curse of gross ineptitude which the fire sector is sadly familiar. A decisive element of the judging panel’s thinking for the annual FIRE/Gore Research Excellence Award – which I have had the pleasure of handing out since 2007 – has been the practical application for fire and rescue services. In short, if it doesn’t contribute clearly and pragmatically then it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Therefore, the appeal from FIRE is clear: for those considering further research on any element of firefighter safety, consult the Research Trust for partnership and support, as we are keen – speaking as a trustee – to support the sharing of information and ideas that will benefit UK fire and rescue services. Equally, for those services, why not use all the resources at your disposal to help educate and train personnel to reduce the risks and actively seek to improve the health and wellbeing of your workforce? Placing a premium on firefighter safety requires above all else a unified purpose and straightforward pragmatism.

For more information on the training visit:

For more information on the Fire Service Research and Training Trust visit: