Portsmouth firefighters back plan to 'do whatever it takes' - including retrieve dead bodies - to help during pandemic

FIREFIGHTERS have said they will ‘do whatever is needed’ - including retrieve dead bodies - after it was agreed they would step into the breach to offer help during the coronavirus pandemic.

Friday, 27th March 2020, 5:39 pm
Updated Friday, 27th March 2020, 8:04 pm

Under a new agreement, firefighters will be able to deliver food and medicines and drive ambulances in an unprecedented agreement between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), fire chiefs, and Fire and Rescue Employers.

For the first time, all three groups have agreed a joint national approach to the crisis - reflecting the grave nature of the situation and need for an urgent response.

Firefighters will continue responding to core emergencies, such as fires and road traffic collisions, but under the agreement can now provide additional services specifically related to Covid-19.

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Tom Davies, crew manager of Southsea Fire Station, said: ‘We’re here to help and will do whatever we can. This will give more flexibility for us to be able to help out where we can.

‘Hopefully our support will help flatten the curve of the virus and avoid a peak. These are challenging times and we want to help to get back to normal as quickly as possible.

‘We have 60 per cent of our firefighters who are emergency fire appliance drivers which means they can drive with blue lights so if needed they would be able to drive an ambulance.

‘Even those who are unable to drive ambulances will be able to help with other things like driving people around and free-up ambulances.’

Asked about helping retrieving dead bodies, Mr Davies said: ‘If it came to it then we will. If there is a steady rate of deaths then I’m sure the undertakers will be able to cope but if it is large scale we will be there to help.’

Mr Davies added: ‘There has been a downturn in calls. Everyone is at home so we are not being called out to automatic fire alarms for businesses and if a fire does happen at home people are there whereas normally they are at work.

‘There’s not been call-outs from fires caused by barbecues and bin fires as much.’

The additional work taken on by firefighters will initially be in place for two months but the agreement can be extended or shortened if agreed between all parties.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: ‘We face a public health crisis unparalleled in our lifetimes. The coronavirus outbreak is now a humanitarian emergency and firefighters rightly want help their communities.

‘Many fear the loss of life in this outbreak could be overwhelming – and firefighters, who often handle terrible situations and incidents, are ready to step in to assist with body retrieval.’

Roy Wilsher, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said: ‘This joined-up approach is testament to the three organisations working together, to ensure fire and rescue services can be at the forefront of the response to the current situation.’

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Nick Chard, chair of the National Employers, said: ‘Fire and rescue has always played its role in meeting seemingly insurmountable challenges and this crisis is no exception.’