Like all fire and rescue services, South Yorkshire has taken on additional activities and adapted its work to meet a sudden and significant shift in risk and priorities. FIRE found out what it has been like

Chief Fire Officer Alex Johnson

Chief Fire Officer Alex Johnson was just a few weeks into her new role when the pandemic unfolded, having been promoted into the role in January. “I told my staff when the pandemic unfolded that I wanted to know that when our time came, we had done our bit. I’m proud that people from right across the service have responded to that call in a big way.

“We put out a request for volunteers to help us both with the additional activities we were taking on as part of the national agreement, and other work we were being asked to undertake by our Local Resilience Forum in South Yorkshire. We were overwhelmed with people coming forward wanting to be part of this, from operational firefighters to support staff.”

Like every fire and rescue service, all of this activity has been on top of its everyday work. In South Yorkshire this has included several large incidents, many of which were linked to the record breaking dry weather in April and May. The largest of those incidents saw firefighters from South Yorkshire and Humberside, supported by specialist advisors from elsewhere in the UK, spend almost a month tackling a major moorland blaze at Hatfield Moors near Doncaster.

“It’s been an unbelievably testing time for the service and the country and we’re planning for many more months of disruption yet. But it is clear that when our time came, the people who work for the fire and rescue service have proved themselves to be ready, willing and able to take on any challenge which is thrown at them.”

Station Manager Chris Lund

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue was among several in the country to answer the call for firefighters to volunteer to assist with driving ambulances. Thirteen of South Yorkshire’s firefighters underwent training, and some remain on standby for patient transportation if required. The cohort provided more than 700 hours of time to the ambulance service.

Chris Lund, a Station Manager, was among those who volunteered. “The training we underwent as volunteers was incredibly useful as it gave us a real insight into the challenges and competing demands faced by the Ambulance Service. It also allowed us to pass on our own expertise to our Ambulance Service colleagues about thing like disrobing from contaminated kit.

“Although we have not yet been used, several of us remain on standby and those of us who did volunteer are proud to have provided resilience to our 999 colleagues at a time of unprecedented national need.”

Community Safety Officer Amanda Thompson

Among those who stepped up to help their community were members of the service’s community safety team who have delivered hundreds of food parcels and thousands of prescriptions to isolated people who were shielding.

“Right at the start of lockdown, the service’s receptionists received a voicemail message from a member of the public who’d received a home safety check several weeks prior. The lady had found our contact number on some of the safety information we’d given her.

“One of our high-risk co-ordinators rang the lady who explained that she was shielding and had absolutely no support from friends and family living locally to her. The lady had run out of food and was worried because she couldn’t leave the house to buy any more.

“My team member spent a considerable amount of time on the phone reassuring the lady and was then able to source an immediate food parcel for her from Age UK Sheffield which then turned into a regular delivery. Our team member has made several phone calls since then to make sure the lady is doing ok. The woman rang up afterwards to say what an incredible difference all this had made to her.

“This is just one of dozens of similar stories. While we may not have been able to visit people’s homes to fit smoke alarms, I’m proud that we’ve been able to support some of the most vulnerable people in our communities in other ways.”

Prince’s Trust Team Leader John Daley

John Daley normally leads the service’s award-winning Prince’s Trust Team Programme, but with all youth engagement activity suspended until further notice he has instead spent his time supporting a local foodbank in Rotherham by using a fire service vehicle to collect fresh food donated by Costco.

“The last few months have been very hard for a great many people. But with my usual work suspended, I’ve been determined to overcome the negativity and channel my energies into something positive and to do something practical to help people who need our support the most right now.”

Training Manager Neil Morton

Other parts of the service have also had to adapt their work too. Neil Morton is Training Manager at the service’s development hub in Sheffield.

“Our training centre was turned into a massive distribution centre for PPE for the entire county. With hundreds of frontline care workers in desperate need of protection in the early stages of the pandemic, we coordinated the distribution of more than 2.5 million pieces of PPE from gloves and aprons, to visors and face masks.

“This vital kit had been sent to local authorities by central government and required a mammoth effort to unpack, load into vans and distribute to those who needed it the most. Our instructors worked alongside support staff volunteers and army planners to achieve this.”

While the training centre was repurposed, the new recruits to South Yorkshire FRS did not miss out on their initial training.

“Our pre-pandemic plans for a 24-strong firefighter recruits course also proved a massive challenge in the current climate. We’ve had to balance lots of different risks, but our instructors have responded brilliantly.

“We split our recruit course into two, then created a further two bubbles within that, to limit the contact between the recruits as far as possible. We’ve also shortened the course by removing some non-essential classroom content, but with no compromise whatsoever on safety critical, practical elements.

“Other measures, like face coverings and rigid adherence to social distancing have also had to be applied and our instructors have had to adapt their teaching methods accordingly.”