National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Roy Wilsher expresses his pride in the ‘amazing response’ of fire and rescue personnel to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This time last year, a hospital in Merseyside was gearing up to accept around 100 British nationals from the Chinese city of Wuhan, a city which was relatively unknown to the wider world, but a name which is now indelibly stamped in most people’s minds.
At the time, there were no known outbreaks in the UK of this relatively new strain of Coronavirus, but its impact was already being felt internationally.
The Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) knew it had to move quickly; looking at how it could help, how it could mobilise staff to assist with what would become a pandemic on a scale the UKFRS had not known for generations.
There was no question FRS staff would want to help and would be first in line to offer their support to those who needed it the most.
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) worked with national fire employers and the Fire Brigades Union to create a tripartite agreement that started out as an enabling framework for Covid activity. NFCC also worked with government to ensure that firefighters and other fire staff professionalism, experience and extensive skills could be utilised as soon as possible. Helping to reduce pressure on the NHS, in partnership with our blue light family, health and social care colleagues.
I have talked before about the wide range of additional activities undertaken by the FRS, whether delivering items to vulnerable people, driving ambulances, delivering PPE, assisting care home staff and sadly, mortuary support. This happened through the first phase and continues today.
But in the past few weeks this has moved up a gear, with an amazing response from the UKFRS to support the mass vaccination programme. From helping to set up the centres, supporting people at the centres, to actually administering the vaccinations. The FRS command, control and logistics skills along with our ability to work with the vulnerable have been invaluable.
On an almost hourly basis we are hearing from staff who are involved in these activities. Radiating from our colleagues is their pride about how their involvement is helping to combat this terrible virus; how they want to be at the heart of the response and support their communities.
The pride I feel when seeing these stories is humbling; and I know every chief fire officer shares this – many of whom are also out on the frontline assisting – while working tirelessly to run their fire services. They are also ensuring their staff are afforded the right health and safety measures, to keep both them and communities safe.
More colleagues, each and every day are joining the vaccination effort; more and more staff being trained to support millions of people to receive vaccinations. This is on top of the other Covid-related work underway. We are also receiving testimonials from the public, which shows staff are exactly where they should be; at the heart of response.
Safety measures are at the heart of the response. There is not one single fire chief who does not take their responsibilities for the welfare of their staff seriously. These measures were developed at a national level, providing a framework of best practice available, to be locally implemented and were established with clinical and other professional guidance.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the recently published HMICRS report. The one area I would like all staff to take away is HMICFRS’s statement: ‘Overall, Fire and Rescue Services responded very well to the outbreak. Services maintained – and continue to maintain – their ability to respond to fires and other emergencies in these extraordinary times.”
Yes, there are lessons to be learned from the report which we should acknowledge and then move on. When the report was published, I stated: ‘I am pleased that senior leaders, firefighters and staff have been praised for their outstanding work. They have done amazing things during this period and they should be proud of the contribution they have made’.
This contribution continues and I have been humbled by the response we have seen – and continue to see.
I think it is worth reminding ourselves that in April last year, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, told a government select committee that keeping the number of UK deaths below 20,000 would be a “good result”, which was a shocking figure to hear at the time and was difficult to comprehend.
Yet the number of fatalities now stands at more than 100,000 in the UK, which has devastated lives, families and communities. There are few people who have not been touched by the pandemic and I would like us all to take some time to remember these people and all those who have suffered as a result.
The UKFRS will continue to support where it is needed to; this is what our people do best – step up, help and make a difference.
“The FRS command, control and logistics skills along with our ability to work with the vulnerable have been invaluable”