Union calls for more testing of fire and rescue workers with 3,000 self isolating

13 April 2020, 10:03

3,000 fire and rescue workers are in self isolation (file image)
3,000 fire and rescue workers are in self isolation (file image). Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

There are almost 3,000 fire and rescue workers in self-isolation across Britain, a union reported today.

The figure represents 5.1% of the UK’s overall fire and rescue workforce, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said, adding that some control rooms have lost as much as 15.9% of their staff.

The FBU issued a call today for the government to roll out testing to allow those who do not have coronavirus to return to work.

Fire crews have taken on extra tasks during the Covid-19 pandemic, including transporting personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing masks for frontline health workers to ensure they fit properly before use.

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Firefighters have already agreed to drive ambulances, deliver essential items such as food to vulnerable people and retrieve dead bodies in addition to their core roles.

The FBU told the broadcaster that an eighth of staff in Bedfordshire are off work, while 10% of staff in London are self-isolating.

It added that while there were planned testing programmes in Scotland and Wales, and firefighters in Northern Ireland have already been tested, there was no such system for England.

General secretary Matt Wrack said services would be put on a "dangerous knife edge" if staff are forced to isolate unnecessarily.

"Currently, crews are maintaining services, but this will become increasingly difficult as the virus spreads.

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“There are already thousands of firefighters and control staff in self-isolation, only a fraction of which will have the disease.

"If we aren’t able to find out exactly who is infected, and more staff isolate unnecessarily, services will be put on a dangerous knife-edge.

“Of course testing of NHS staff has to be a priority, but firefighters and other emergency service personnel are also at serious risk.

"The very safety of the public relies on them being able to attend work.

"There needs to be a clear and deliverable testing strategy for all workers required to continue at work."