Brigade delivers protective equipment for health and social care workers

London’s firefighters are helping in the fight against Covid-19 by delivering more than two million pieces of vital personal protective equipment to frontline health and social care workers

The brigade has transformed a former brigade distribution centre in South London into the Operation Seacole distribution hub delivering masks, gloves and eye protection to 33 local authority centres and London partners including police services and Transport for London.

The brigade receives orders from the health service, care homes, doctors surgeries and mortuaries that need PPE for their staff. The following day the orders are processed and agreed by London Resilience Partnership. Once agreed they are loaded onto a range of brigade vehicles and distributed across London.

London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe said: “Our incredible teams are stepping up again, using their logistics skills to support the distribution of PPE to health workers who are working so hard during the pandemic. As well as maintaining a full emergency fire and rescue service, staff across the brigade are working hard to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and assist our emergency and health partners.

“Throughout our 150-year history London Fire Brigade has played a key role in times of crisis and this is the same today. I’m extremely proud of our staff who are going above and beyond to protect the capital.”

Helping to Save Lives

The brigade started distributing PPE following a request from the London Strategic Co-ordination Group. Deputy Chair of London’s Strategic Coordination Group, Eleanor Kelly, said: “The Strategic Coordination Group is bringing together London’s emergency services, local authorities and other critical partners to tackle the impact of Coronavirus in the capital.

“By helping to deliver the most vital equipment to London’s frontline workers in this pandemic, we not only protect key workers by allowing them to continue to deliver their critical work, but no doubt we are helping to save lives.”

See pg 15 for a roundup of fire and rescue Covid-19 response.



Fire and rescue personnel eligible for Coronavirus testing

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that fire and rescue personnel, police, prison staff, and Department of Work and Pensions workers will now be eligible for coronavirus testing, in a session of the Health and Social Care Committee

Coronavirus testing for fire and rescue personnel comes after sustained pressure from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), calling on the government to secure Covid-19 tests for firefighters and control staff.

The FBU wrote to ministers across the UK in March and criticised the government for failing to secure tests for personnel in England, as testing began in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Whilst welcoming the development, the FBU raised concerns about the eligibility criteria for being granted a test as well as the accessibility of the testing centres.

The union has also said that there must still be an urgent increase in testing capacity so that key workers like fire and rescue personnel can get tested regularly.

Government guidance on going to press stated that arranging a test under the scheme is a matter for the employer and that workers should refer to their line manager.

Responding to the announcement General Secretary Matt Wrack said: “We’re pleased to see that the government has listened to the FBU and finally agreed to open up some testing to other key workers, including fire and rescue personnel. However, it is a shame it has come this late, with thousands of firefighters already self-isolating – this is something that could have been easily avoided.

“We are awaiting further details, but it is clear that there are questions around the functioning of the scheme that is now open to more key workers. The Health Secretary said fewer NHS staff were coming forward to be tested than hoped, but this is surely an issue of accessibility, rather than frontline staff not wanting to be tested. Many of the testing centres are far out of town and require extended trips in a car – if this is a barrier to nursing staff, it will also be a barrier to other key workers.

“It is also clear that this testing scheme will only identify the virus in those individuals presenting symptoms or living with others who are. Many key workers who have been exposed through their work will have contracted the virus, yet remain asymptomatic. Frequent and accessible testing of key workers who are at high risk of exposure is also needed to reduce the risk of spread in workplaces.

“To ensure that fire and rescue services and other vital services can continue to operate in this crisis, we don’t just need access to these testing schemes but to also see the capacity of the schemes themselves increase. There need to be more tests available full stop.”



How is London prepared to prevent another Notre Dame?

One year on from the devastating Notre Dame blaze, London Fire Brigade is warning managers of London’s closed historic venues not to be complacent about fire safety during the Coronavirus outbreak

Twelve months ago a blaze raged through the Parisian cathedral, destroying its roof and spire. The fire prompted London Fire Brigade to write to venue owners across London urging them to consider emergency response planning to protect their buildings and the precious items they contain. A year on and many of these venues have been forced to close due to the Coronavirus outbreak, but the brigade is warning that it is now more essential than ever for venues to work with them on planning for an emergency.

Advice to Building Managers

During these uncertain times it is understandable that premises’ owners may be concerned about the safety of their buildings. The brigade is issuing practical advice such as switching off non-essential appliances, substituting older light bulbs with safer LED bulbs and ensuring adequate control measures are in place if construction work is still being carried out on site. It is also essential to ensure that fire safety systems and equipment are maintained in good working order. Fire detection and alarm systems should be subject to regular testing and maintenance.

Having an up-to-date emergency response salvage plan is equally as important and this is something that venue managers can produce remotely. The plan, which will give our firefighters a strategy for their salvage operations, should identify the priority items that need to be removed from the building, along with other important information such as the size of the item, the number of people required to lift it, any security fastenings that need to be removed and also the exact location of the item within the premises.

Help Us to Help You

London Fire Brigade’s Heritage Team Leader William Knatchbull said: “Help us to help you is my key message to building managers right now. We’re lucky to have so many beautiful historic buildings in London and we need to make sure they are treasured by generations to come.

“Currently, many special buildings are closed to the public, so it’s even more imperative to get salvage plans in place. With less people on site, there may be a lack of information available to our fire crews, in the first instance. Having a salvage plan available will allow us to commence our salvage operations in a formulated manner. Your emergency contact list should also be reviewed as in the current climate, some key staff members may be unable to attend in the event of an emergency.

“Many of London’s venues have emergency response salvage plans in place and work closely with us. But there are still many whom we are yet to hear from and while they may have plans in place it would be prudent to work with us to ensure the plans are appropriate to be used by our firefighters in an emergency salvage situation.”

The Brigade’s Heritage Team is currently providing advice and guidance via phone and email. Site visits are currently on hold due to the government’s #StayHomeStaySafe guidance.

Law Society Fire

Twenty-five fire engines were called to the Law Society of England and Wales when it had a fire late at night at the beginning of February. While the brigade’s crews worked to contain the fire within the modern parts of the building, and safeguard the listed parts of the building, it was fortunate that the historic library containing old legal texts books and case law dating back to the 16th century were protected.

The Law Society’s Head of Corporate Real Estate, Tom Booton, said: “We were very upset this happened to this wonderful and historic building. My advice for any building manager is know your building. Understand exactly what is historically significant, so once the brigade has controlled the fire, they can rescue or preserve things that cannot be replaced. I had a call with the incident commander at four am, to talk him through what was and wasn’t important within the building so, he could focus his resources.

“The brigade has a priority to preserve life, then the building, then contents. If you’ve plans, and know your building, you’ll save lives, time and you’ll probably save more of your building and its contents. Never think it won’t happen to you.”

Flooding at Marx Memorial Library

Last September, firefighters were called to the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell. Fire crews manually rescued over a thousand items due to flooding from the first floor of the building which affected the ground floor and basement.

Meirian Jump, the Archivist and Library Manager, said the flood was a massive shock: “A lot of paper-based items were affected by water, before being removed to safety. Luckily staff were on site who knew our collection; without this, things could have been so different.

“The brigade was absolutely wonderful, arriving in four minutes after we called 999. Twenty minutes later, crews were in our basement rescuing items in an incredibly sensitive and upbeat way.

“Workable salvage plans are so important. The better the salvage plan, and the more you can anticipate, the better you will be able to respond. This is why we’re currently working on a detailed salvage plan which the brigade can use out of hours. We’re so lucky considering the potential devastation to our invaluable collection.”

Out of a library collection consisting of 60,000 items, fortunately only five items were lost and a further 30 needed conservation work. Luckily the building was only closed for a fortnight thanks to the crews and staff who worked quickly when the alarm was raised.



Covid-19 response: fire services ‘Ready, Willing and Able’

National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Roy Wilsher reports on the additional work fire and rescue services are undertaking supporting the response to the pandemic

The current Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world we currently live in; it would have been almost unimaginable at the start of the year to predict the situation we now find ourselves in. I do not recall any of the many pandemic exercises I have been involved in over the years having an inject that included lockdown.

The work carried out by the National Fire Chiefs Council has happened at pace and continues to do so. By working closely with the Home Office and other government departments, the unions and employers, we are ensuring a single professional voice. NFCC has led on PPE procurement, communication, testing and the production of national guidance across service delivery areas to support fire services and reduce pressure locally.

We have had virtual daily meetings with the Home Office to ensure they are aware of the wide range of work underway and NFCC is influencing what services need from national government to assist their delivery.

NFCC has also been working tirelessly with government to ensure fair funding for fire services, and I am pleased to see the recent allocations announced by the Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick MP. This should go some way in reducing pressure on already stretched services. We will continue to assess this.

Fire and rescue services across England are set to receive an additional £48 million in government funding to support their response to Covid-19.

This is part of the £1.6 billion funding announced on April 18, which is in addition to the first tranche of funding announced on March 19, which also stood at 1.6 billion.

New guidance is being produced every day; and we are now in the process of ensuring it is constantly kept up to date via our dedicated NFCC COVID Gold group. This in itself is a mammoth task but vital to ensure fire services have access to positions, guidance and information which they can have absolute faith in and adapt for local needs.

The way all fire and rescue services have adapted to the pressures of Covid-19 has been second to none. This is what the FRS does best; ensuring those who need help, receive help.

The role of fire services has been evolving on a daily basis, sometimes every few hours. Following in-depth discussions between NFCC, the National Employer and the Fire Brigades Union we have arrived at a number of additional activities, the first agreement being made towards the end of March. The six circulars are valuable enablers to allow adoption or adaptation to meet local needs; they are not instructions to each FRS.

While these discussions have often been positive, there have also been some in-depth negotiations, but we have now secured these agreements and I hope these relationships continue in this vein in the future. We have also had constructive discussions with other trade unions such as FOA and the FRSA.

The movement of bodies, driving ambulances and assisting vulnerable people, transporting patients to and from Nightingale Hospitals, face shield assembly and packing, assisting with antigen testing, ambulance transport, driver training and instruction, assisting with face fit and delivery of PPE and medicines are areas of work now being carried out.

We estimate 4,000 members of staff from all parts of our fire and rescue services have volunteer to undertake these additional duties, with an additional 10,000 on standby, which gives an idea of the sheer size of the response being undertaken. This is testament that firefighters and other Fire Service staff across the UK are Ready, Willing and Able to take on additional work, supporting the response to the current Covid-19 pandemic. The wellbeing of staff remains paramount and this is being carefully monitored as people are undertaking work they would not usually be doing, in often highly stressful and emotive situations.

This is in addition to maintaining the delivery of core duties; it is clear to see the dedication and commitment. The Fire Service has stepped up and is carrying out this work professionally, with the community at the heart of their response. This ‘can do’ ethic and the use of our existing skills, competence and capability is second to none.

To support this, we launched our #ReadyWillingAble campaign, to showcase all the work fire and rescue services are carrying out during the pandemic. It is important to me that all staff know how important they are and that they are recognised for the additional activities currently underway.

Alongside the response to Covid-19, other work is continuing. The government has said the removal of dangerous cladding needs to happen and with people currently spending more times in their homes, it is imperative that this work takes place with the relevant safety measures in place. We have updated our ‘Waking Watch’ guidance to reflect the current situation, which we hope will go some way to help people feel safer, but it is imperative that the removal of cladding continues.

We have seen the second reading of the Fire Safety Bill, which should provide further clarity on a number of areas; this remains of paramount importance, especially with the unprecedented challenges we are currently facing. It is essential that buildings are safe as this is absolutely critical to public safety.

While it looks like we are seeing some improvements in the UK and planning assumptions are starting to change as we adapt to the changing situation, the ‘new’ business as usual is unlikely to see fire and rescue services returning to pre-Covid activities for some time. NFCC have started to plan for the new normal, how we move make into wider protection and prevention work, how workplaces might ease out of lockdown and prepare for any second phase. We also aim to learn from the response and feed into our programme and project work, as we have with the Grenfell and Inspectorate recommendations, to adapt and not kneejerk into a change of direction.

I would like to give my thanks to all fire and rescue staff for the work which is being carried out during these difficult times. Rest assured, NFCC will continue its work to ensure fire and rescue services get the best possible support and recognition for its outstanding effort into the Covid-19 response.