Fire chief ready to return to the front line as coronavirus cause staffing pressures

Tyne and Wear’s Chief Fire Officer has said he may return to the front line if staffing pressures linked to the Covid-19 outbreak worsen.

Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 6:34 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th April 2020, 5:18 pm
Chief Fire Officer for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, Chris Lowther.

In response to the pandemic, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) have already asked the majority of non-operational staff to work from home.

Frontline firefighters have been issued with protection equipment alongside new decontamination procedures and technology to allow communication between duty watches.

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Other actions have included suspending all non-essential community work as part of a wider drive to stop the spread of Covid-19 while maintaining an operational response.

Currently, around 10% of operational staff are self-isolating.

But Chief Fire Officer for TWFRS, Chris Lowther, said this has not impacted on the service so far due to retraining schemes and retired firefighters answering the call to return to active duty.

“Thankfully it hasn’t impacted on our staffing levels so far because we still have all of our fire engines on the run,” he said.

“We can cope, we have retrained everybody in headquarters who used to be a firefighter in frontline firefighting and also we have reengaged some people who have retired in the last two years and given them some retraining.

“If staffing gets really bad, we will bring them on.

“I’m fully qualified as Chief Fire Officer and I might even ride a fire engine myself if necessary.”

The fire chief added that TWFRS has no plans to furlough staff with most staff working from home or carrying out alternative duties to support the NHS and other public service partners.

The comments came during the third week of the national lockdown, imposed by the Government in mid-March, to stem the spread of coronavirus.

TWFRS have recently received an extra £273,779 to meet Covid-19 pressures with a large proportion invested into cleaning products and protective equipment for staff.

If there is no resolution to the virus, Chris Lowther said, TWFRS will need further funding to maintain current arrangements.

In a message to staff, the fire chief added: “I’m sure I speak not only as Chief Fire Officer but for the public in giving a huge thank you to everyone in TWFRS.

“In the last few weeks we have faced massive challenges and I’m immensely proud of how we have all pulled together and all the effort the staff have put in.

“This situation may well get worse before it gets better but thanks to their hard work we’re prepared for what’s to come.

“I’m confident we will continue to do what we do best, which is keeping people safe.”

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