Covid outbreak takes seven Surrey fire engines out of service

The fire brigade in neighbouring Surrey has been hit by an outbreak of coronavirus which has placed nearly one-third of the county’s full-time fire engines out of service.

Surrey’s firefighters have been protesting against cuts to their service, and now have been hit by a covid-19 outbreak.    Photo: Jess Hurd

According to the Fire Brigades Union, the outbreak has occurred after Surrey Fire and Rescue Service failed to implement properly health and safety measures for the pandemic, leaving firefighters struggling to maintain emergency cover. As many as seven fire engines have been unavailable at any one time from the outbreak.

A Surrey firefighter tested positive for covid-19 on July 25 after undergoing two days of training exercises without proper infection prevention and control measures, according to the FBU. This caused 20 more personnel to be removed from duty for self-isolation.

Safety-critical training exercises have been reintroduced in Surrey after a pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, but proper control measures have not been put in place, the FBU says.

Firefighters have reported that social distancing measures were not maintained during the training. Face masks were not worn during classroom sessions, while water bottles and cooling measures were shared between firefighters.

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has cut 31 per cent of its firefighters and control staff since 2010 and removed four fire engines in April. A further three fire engines are due to be removed in October.

Surrey firefighters were taking industrial action over the cuts, which they paused due to the coronavirus emergency.

The FBU has warned that “a decade of cuts have put the service in an extremely vulnerable position, annihilating any resilience” to an outbreak. They say that the removal of further fire cover is “reckless and dangerous”.

FBU’s Joe Weir: cuts are putting people at risk. Photo: Stefano Cagnoni

The FBU has called for firefighters and control staff to have access to routine weekly coronavirus testing, including those who are asymptomatic, to prevent outbreaks.

Joe Weir, the FBU’s regional secretary, said today, “Surrey firefighters have shown incredible dedication to their communities during this pandemic, but their brigade hasn’t shown the same dedication to keeping staff safe – and now it’s seriously impacting fire cover.

“We support bringing back safety-critical training but only if proper infection control measures are in place. Sadly, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has just returned to business as usual, as though we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic. They’ll say they’ve risk-assessed the activities, but without union input, they’re simply marking their own homework.

“Frankly, if Surrey’s fire service was properly staffed, they would be able to safely manage an outbreak like this. But a decade of cuts have put the service in an extremely vulnerable position, annihilating any resilience.

“Cutting another three fire engines in October would be reckless and dangerous.”

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