Firefighters told they will not face action over acts of heroism

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FIREFIGHTERS have been told they can go into water to carry out rescues if they choose to be a hero.

The new guidance has been issued to Hampshire crews in the wake of a controversial incident in which a man was left in a Gosport lake because firefighters were forbidden to go in.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service has adopted the so-called ‘heroism clause’ which was recommended by officials at the Health & Safety Executive.

The service says the move is not as a result of the Walpole Park tragedy in March in which 41-year-old Simon Burgess died. But The News understands that firefighters were issued with the advice after Mr Burgess’s death and were told that it related to circumstances like that incident.

At the time of Mr Burgess’s death, fire crews were working under rules which said that only specially-trained firefighters were allowed to go into water that was more than ankle deep. Firefighters would not break that rule for fear of an investigation leading to possible disciplinary action.

Now, they have been assured they will not face action over an ‘act of heroism’ as long as they have not put their colleagues at risk.

And if they are injured during an act classed as heroic, they will still be entitled to benefits as normal.

The HSE guidance says: ‘We view the actions of firefighters as truly heroic when it is clear that they have decided to act entirely of their own volition in putting themselves at risk to protect the public or colleagues and there have been no orders or other directions from senior officers to do so.’

It adds: ‘If it becomes clear that the incident involved an act of heroism by individual firefighters, then HSE will not investigate the actions of the individuals in order to take any action against them.’

Gill Hughes, 53, of Beryton Road, Gosport, who dialled 999 after seeing Mr Burgess in the water, said: ‘It’s a bit late for that now.

‘The firefighter I spoke to said they weren’t allowed to go in and I didn’t understand why.

‘Then another one told me they aren’t allowed to go in more than ankle deep. I was totally baffled.’

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service area manager Andy Bowers confirmed the fire service had ‘welcomed’ the HSE’s statement. He said: ‘It recognises the dynamic, risky and time-pressured situations firefighters find themselves in.

‘There would be no penalties from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service for any of our staff who perform brave and heroic acts in carrying out the role the public expect.

‘Disciplinary procedures are triggered by actions outside normal policies and are not dependent on whether the act was deemed brave or otherwise.

‘This was developed by the HSE over a number of months and is completely unrelated to the Walpole Lake incident where the unfortunate person was under the surface of the water and not visible to our crew.

‘Our actions at this incident were not driven by health and safety considerations but by the specific circumstances that our personnel found when they arrived at the scene.’