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13 May 2021

FBU defends vital breathing apparatus safety procedures

Fire Brigades Union Stand: 5/H222
FBU defends vital breathing apparatus safety procedures

The union has successfully overturned a dangerous policy which would have endangered firefighters’ lives and undermined public safety.

The proposed policy would have allowed firefighters fighting a fire in a tall building, to be deployed beyond the bridgehead wearing breathing apparatus (BA) but not under air. While the specific matter originates in London Fire Brigade (LFB), it has implications for all services and for all firefighters. This policy review is a result of the crisis in building safety highlighted by the Grenfell Tower fire, and was referred to the union through an LFB mechanism for resolving disagreements on health and safety matters.

In response, the union made submissions to LFB’s Health and Safety Advisory Panel arguing that the proposed policy would breach Health and Safety legislation, overturn decades of BA safe practice and expose firefighters to toxic fire effluents and other hazardous substances. Ultimately, the union argued that it would undermine public safety by the potential to hamper fire ground operations. The FBU welcomes the LFB’s participation in the panel and indeed their subsequent adoption of the recommendations in full.

Alarmingly, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has produced national guidance that would also permit this proposed policy across Fire and Rescue Services in England and Wales. This guidance should now be withdrawn. The FBU argues that no employer in the fire and rescue service should be deliberately breaching health and safety law.

Matt Wrack, general secretary:

“We are pleased that the union’s work to oppose this policy has been successful. It has become clear that building safety in much of the UK has been compromised by lax regulation, poor research, and lack of adequate enforcement action, by cost cutting and profit seeking. These problems have emerged over 40 years under different governments and the crisis has been exacerbated by huge cuts in public services.

“The ultimate problem is a crisis in building safety, and all parties, but especially Government, must work urgently to fix it. We know that this is not an easy problem to solve, however, the rush to ‘do something’, must not come at the expense of firefighters’ lives.  Dead or injured firefighters cannot save anyone and therefore this type of policy change will do nothing to improve public safety.

“We welcome this LFB panel and its decision and we thank those involved. We call on the NFCC to immediately remove their unsafe guidance on this issue. We are clear that such policies, if introduced, would be unlawful. We are urgently investigating FRS’s approach in this issue, and for the safety of our members, we will challenge this practice wherever it appears. We will never compromise on firefighter and public safety."