Hampshire and Dorset fire services reported to Health and Safety Executive
TWO fire and rescue services have been reported to the government for a policy which a union claims could see firefighters sent into fires with their breathing equipment turned off.
The Fire Brigades Union has reported Hampshire and Isle of Wight, plus Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Services to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in a letter published today (Wednesday), writes David George of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
The policy change involves instructing firefighters to go beyond the point of safe air with their breathing equipment turned off in high-rise building fires, in a move which the union say breaks health and safety law.
Riccardo la Torre, Fire Brigades Union national officer, said: "This procedure is unsafe, unlawful and unprofessional, and puts firefighters and the public at greater risk.
"It tears up half a century of health and safety law, best practice guidance, manufacturers’ instructions, and firefighter training.
"It will not make living and working in high rise buildings safer or tackle the wider crisis in building safety. It simply puts firefighters and residents at greater risk."
The new practices were put forward by the National Fire Chiefs Council last year, sparking outrage from firefighters across the region.
According to the policy, firefighters are to turn on their breathing apparatus only if a gas monitor alarm is activated, and return to "clean air" – but the Fire Brigades Union argues this would be too late and doesn’t allow firefighters time to don their breathing apparatus or escape to safety.
When the policy was first launched, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service said that the policy change would not prove a risk to firefighters.
The fire service has now added that full training on the new policies has been provided, and that stairwell procedures have been designed to secure escape routes for the public and firefighters from a fire in a high-rise building.
The fire service says that under the new policy firefighters working in protected stairwells of high-rise buildings will now be provided with breathing apparatus, when previously they could operate without them. The service says this is therefore an additional safety measure so BA are there is needed.
Chief fire officer Neil Odin said: "The updated procedures have been designed to make life safer for our firefighters and the public by building on lessons learned from tragedies, including the Grenfell Tower fire.
"This is nationally approved guidance for fire and rescue services, which has been developed following extensive consultation with various stakeholders, including our own FBU safety representative.
"Any suggestion that we would put people at risk is wrong, as the safety of our firefighters and the public we serve will always be our priority."