Firefighter heroes of the pandemic get an official thumbs up
- Credit: Cambs fire and rescue
Firefighters have been praised for driving ambulances, training ambulance drivers, helping vulnerable people and face fitting of masks to NHS front line staff during the pandemic.
“I am very grateful to your service for the positive contribution you have made to your community during the pandemic,” firefighters were told by Zoe Billingham, Her Majesty’s inspector of fire and rescue services.
She highlighted the work of firefighters during a report published today (Friday) following an inspection of Cambs Fire and Rescue last October.
Chief fire officer Chris Strickland said: “Our staff have been fantastic and I’m delighted that the inspection team recognised the importance we have put on health, safety and wellbeing.
“Not only have staff adapted well to the changes, they have been volunteering to assist partner agencies where possible, driving ambulances, training ambulance drivers, checking in on those shielding and fitting face masks in hospitals.”
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He added: “We’ve had a great response recently too asking if staff would like to volunteer to help the vaccination programme to support our NHS partners and next week, we should have staff helping across the county at local vaccination centres.
“I’m immensely proud of everyone who works here for the way they have stepped up and risen to the challenge.”
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Mss Billingham says her team were commissioned by the Home Secretary to undertake the review of how the fire service was working throughout the pandemic.
She said Cambs fire service had some further requests for work by partner agencies that initially could not be agreed with the Fire Brigades Union.
However, she says, “the service undertook the visits using its on-call and professional support staff on a voluntary basis. As a result, the community didn’t have to wait before this support was provided.”
The inspector said: “In summary, we were impressed with how the service adapted and responded to the pandemic effectively.
“We were impressed too with the way they put the health and wellbeing of their people at the forefront of decision-making.”
She said: “It used its wholetime firefighters to respond to emergencies, and used the increased availability of its on-call workforce to provide extra support, especially to its local ambulance trust.
“This meant the people of Cambridgeshire were better supported through the pandemic.”
The inspector said: “A notable achievement is the extra wellbeing services put in place for its workforce who are at higher risk from Covid-19, including its black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and those with underlying health conditions.”
Those assessed as vulnerable to serious illness or as high or very high risk, had safeguards put in place such as modified duties including remote or home working.
“The service worked with staff to develop and implement processes to manage the risk”, she said.
"The service made sure that firefighters were competent to do their work during the pandemic. This included keeping up to date with most of the firefighter fitness requirements.
"The service provided its workforce with appropriate PPE in a timely manner.”
She said that in line with good governance, Cambs fire service had a pandemic flu plan and business continuity plans in place which were in date.
“These plans were activated,” she said “The plans were detailed enough to enable the service to make an effective initial response, but understandably they didn’t anticipate and mitigate all the risks presented by Covid-19.”
The service has now reviewed its plans “to reflect the changing situation and what it has learned during the pandemic”.
The report touches on absences, noting that they had increased compared with the same period in 2019.
The inspector said the service confirmed that the number of days lost due to sickness absence between April 1 and June 30 increased by 31 per cent compared with the same period in 2019.
Looking forward the inspector said Cambs fire service intends to maintain changes it has made to its ways of working in response to Covid-19. This will include the reduced number of staff working in headquarters, flexible and home working, changes to the training of control recruits, and the use of webinars as part of its usual processes.
“The service has changed how it operates during the pandemic,” said the inspector.
"The service plans to consider how to adapt its flexible working arrangements to make sure it has the right provisions in place to support a modern workforce.”
“The senior leaders have had positive feedback from staff on how they were engaged with during the pandemic.
“As a result, the service plans to adopt these changes in its usual procedures and consider how they can be developed further to help promote a sustainable change to its working culture.”