Leading the way in firefighter safety

Health and safety experts have visited Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service to learn how they are leading the way in firefighter safety.

Representatives from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited the Service to learn about their investments in reducing firefighter exposure to contaminants.

It is an area TWFRS has been driving forward for a number of years and follows on the back of a highly successful DECON Seminar they hosted during 2022.

The seminar saw Professor Anna Stec of the University of Central Lancashire, a leading academic on the subject, deliver a keynote presentation.

Crew at fire station

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Peter Heath, who will take over as Chief Fire Officer when Chris Lowther retires from the positon later this year, spoke of his pride at their work in the area.

He said: “We are proud of the work we have undertaken to reduce contaminants and make the role of a firefighter safer than ever before by working to reduce exposure to the by-products of fires.

“I firmly believe we are driving ahead in this field and welcome the request by the HSE to visit and see and hear what we have done and our plans for continuing to focus on Firefighter safety.

“We can always do more to reduce contaminants and that is why we are supportive of the research being done in this field by Professor Stec and by engaging with our local Fire Brigade Union representatives in a partnership approach.

“Our focus as a service and my ambition is to explore all opportunities to improve firefighter safety and by working together the research and our actions and plans will help us better understand what impact we can have.

“We were the first FRS to volunteer to participate in blood screening as part of Prof Stec research and I along with a number of other colleagues undertook the voluntary health screening with UCLan earlier this year.

“We hope to be able to take part in further blood screening as part of the research later in this year.

“Firefighter and staff safety will always be my top priority and the work around contaminants is central to ensuring the safety and well-being of those who are keeping communities safe every single day.”

Fire crew at station

During the visit to Tyne and Wear, HSE colleagues received a presentation on how the focus is on reducing contaminants by taking a holistic systems approach to this that involves every department and workforce.

A key focus was on the systems, processes; policies; procedures and people aspects of the services approach and how often many small changes add up to contribute to and positively influence our safety culture.

The delegates also received a tour of the Service’s training centre, one of their community fire stations and their Technical Services Centre (TSC) where their fleet of vehicles are maintained.

HSE colleagues heard about the recent agreement the service has made to support a PhD student who will work with the Service over the next few years focussed on work place, vehicle and at incident air monitoring.

TWFRS plan to use this to further understand and influence how they might configure their workplaces and procedures based on sound research findings to be even safer.

Wayne Anderson, TWFRS Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, welcomed the partnership working that is prioritising firefighter safety in both the short and long-term.

He said: “We welcome the opportunity to show the Health and Safety Executive our progress in protecting the workforce from contaminants.

“Joint working between the FBU and TWFRS will help protect firefighters locally and the research hosted by the Service will contribute to improving safety, as part of the national DECON project for all UK firefighters.

“The partnership approach lets us move quickly when the research produces new recommendations.

“We look forward to welcoming Prof Stec and her team back to Tyne and Wear for the next phase of the research.”

Carol Downes, the Health and Safety Executive fire and rescue service lead, said: “Our visit to Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has provided a great insight into the challenges they face in managing personal protective equipment following an incident, as well as the processes they have put in place to help manage those challenges.

“We are extremely grateful to them for their welcome, openness and commitment in striving for continuous improvement in the management of the risks relating to contaminated kit and equipment, while ensuring the health and safety of their staff.”

Councillor Phil Tye, Chair Person of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority, said:”The Fire Authority continue to support the Services drive to improve firefighter safety and wellbeing and the actions it has taken to date to advance this.

“I speak for all members of the Fire Authority when I say that there is no greater priority to us than the health, safety and wellbeing of the staff at TWFRS and the communities they serve.

“As a Health and Safety professional myself, I understand only too well the importance of ensuring that health, safety and wellbeing remain organisational priorities and the Fire Authority is committed to supporting that agenda.”

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