COVID-19: Firefighters called in to help stem spread of infection in care homes

  • Latest national agreement will see firefighters train care staff in infection, prevention and control
  • Request for help came from senior health officials in England

Firefighters have been called in to deliver special infection, prevention and control (IPC) training packages to care home staff in a move that is hoped will help to halt the spread of coronavirus in the sector.

Under the new measure, firefighter volunteers will train care home staff directly on IPC procedures, the “donning and doffing” of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), hygiene measures, hand cleaning, and how to safely carry out COVID-19 tests. Designated care home staff will also be taught how to carry out the same training for their colleagues.

The agreement will allow support to be provided to nursing and care homes, domiciliary care, supported independent living and sheltered accommodation.

England’s Chief Nursing Officer and Director of Community Health requested the work, which was followed by a letter from the Westminster Fire Minister.

While the request only came from the Westminster government, the agreement allows firefighters across the UK to support care staff subject to local negotiation. Local resilience forums, care homes and NHS clinical commissioning groups can now write to their fire and rescue service to request the support.

It builds on firefighters’ work face-fitting PPE masks for frontline NHS and care staff, delivering PPE and medical supplies to NHS and care facilities, and assisting in taking COVID-19 test samples.

Firefighters have now signed up to a total of 14 new areas of work including moving dead bodies, driving ambulances, and delivering food and medicines to vulnerable people.

The agreement contains a number of measures to prevent cross-infection between vulnerable individuals, care home staff and firefighters. Firefighters will take measures to prevent clothing and equipment that may have been exposed to the virus from contaminating fire engines, including using sterilised safety bags.

All those volunteering for the work will need appropriate training, PPE, and high standards of hygiene and social distancing must be carried out. Services will need to follow a generic risk assessment, provided by the FBU, NFCC, and National Employers.

More than 11,000 people have died due to coronavirus in UK care homes with the government coming under fierce criticism for allowing infections to spread through the sector.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“The crisis in care homes is a national scandal but our members will do what they can to help. Firefighters, highly trained in the safe use of PPE and infection prevention and control, can provide vital support at this difficult time.

“We’re coming into wildfire season and can expect an incredibly busy few months for firefighters. But, nonetheless, crews have taken on extraordinary new areas of work to support their communities through this pandemic.

“While firefighters are here to help care staff and residents through this crisis, we must be clear that it should never have come to this. The government has disgracefully mishandled this pandemic, allowing the virus to spread into care homes unchecked – and thousands have paid with their lives.

Media contacts

Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

FBU press office,uk

  • The full agreement between the FBU, NFCC, and National Employers is available here: 2020 may 22 – tripartite 7 – final minus hyperlink.pdf
  • This is the latest of fourteen new areas of work detailed in the full agreement
  • Under previous agreements, firefighters can now construct vital protective face shields for NHS and care staff, drive ambulances in parts of the country, will also now begin transferring both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients from Nightingale hospitals:
  • Firefighters are now permitted to assist ambulance services in some specified activities and drive ambulances; deliver food and medicines to vulnerable people; and, in the case of mass casualties due to COVID-19, move dead bodies.
  • Firefighters can also fit face masks and deliver vital PPE and medical supplies to NHS and care staff; take samples for COVID-19 antigen tests; drive ambulances to non-emergency outpatient appointments and to transport those in need of urgent care; and to train non-emergency service personnel to drive ambulances:
  • The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is the professional and democratic voice of firefighters and other workers within fire and rescue services across the UK. The general secretary is Matt Wrack
  • The FBU is on Twitter: @fbunational and Facebook:
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2020 may 22 – tripartite 7 – final minus hyperlink.pdf