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Coronavirus: Concern over lack of testing for firefighters

Coronavirus: Concern over lack of testing for firefighters

Published by Lisa Darvill at 8:10am 14th April 2020.

The Fire Brigades Union has called for "urgent" coronavirus testing of firefighters.  

  • The FBU says nationally 3,000 personnel are in isolation 
  • 94 firefighters are isolating in West Yorkshire 
  • 29 are doing the same in North Yorkshire 
  • The FBU says without urgent testing of frontline staff, there'll be an impact on the ability to respond to emergencies

The FBU says 3,000 fire and rescue personnel are currently in coronavirus isolation, representing 5.1% of the UK’s overall fire and rescue workforce. Just under 2,600 of them are operational firefighters and control staff, making up 5.3% of the total.

In West Yorkshire, 94 staff members are isolating, representing nearly 5% of the workforce. West Yorkshire’s control room has 15.9% of its staff in isolation. 

In North Yorkshire 29 personnel are in isolation, 3.8% of the workforce. 

North Yorkshire fire and rescue fire engine


The FBU claims without urgent testing of frontline personnel, there will inevitably be an impact on brigades’ ability to provide fire cover and respond to other emergencies, including their work supporting the coronavirus response.

Some firefighters are now driving ambulances and assisting ambulance staff; delivering food and medicines to vulnerable people; and working with the police to move dead bodies, after the FBU reached a landmark agreement with fire chiefs and fire and rescue employers.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“The Westminster government is playing with fire by not testing firefighters and control room staff for coronavirus. Currently, crews are maintaining services, but this will become increasingly difficult as the virus spreads.

“There are already thousands of firefighters and control staff in self-isolation, only a fraction of which will have the disease. If we aren’t able to find out exactly who is infected, and more staff isolate unnecessarily, services will be put on a dangerous knife-edge.

“Of course testing of NHS staff has to be a priority, but firefighters and other emergency service personnel are also at serious risk. The very safety of the public relies on them being able to attend work. There needs to be a clear and deliverable testing strategy for all workers required to continue at work.

“The government failed to secure test kits in sufficient numbers early in the pandemic and now frontline services are paying the price. Devolved governments have begun to take steps in the right direction, but in Westminster time is standing still – ministers need to get to grips with this crisis and ensure that all emergency service personnel are tested as soon as possible.”