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Fire chiefs reported to Health and Safety Executive for forcing firefighters to tackle blazes with breathing equipment off

FIRE chiefs were formally reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) yesterday for forcing firefighters to tackle blazes with their essential breathing equipment turned off.

In a letter to the workplace regulator, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said that the “unsafe and unlawful” policy, recently introduced by Hampshire & Isle of Wight and Dorset & Wiltshire fire-and-rescue services, breaches health and safety law.

The HSE must use its “statutory powers to bring an end” to the practice, which has already been struck down in London by the fire service’s health and safety advisory panel for being unsafe, the union stressed.

The policy, which the FBU said was first introduced by the National Fire Chiefs Council, sees firefighters instructed to turn on their breathing apparatus only after the activation of alarms monitoring for dangerous gases. 

This is “far too late, contradicts all expert advice, doesn’t allow firefighters time to don their breathing apparatus or escape to safety and increases [their] risk of contracting cancer and diseases,” the union charged.

The warning comes after the International Agency for Research on Cancer — an intergovernmental body within the World Health Organisation — said last week that occupational hazards for workers in the sector should be classified as carcinogenic or cancer causing.

FBU national officer Riccardo la Torre slammed bosses for introducing guidance which “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.

“Those chiefs imposing this policy have worked harder to take the breathing masks off of firefighters’ faces than they have to get flammable cladding off of people’s homes.

“It is scarcely believable that the recent fire and rescue white paper appears to propose giving [employers] more power over decisions such as these and reducing workers’ voices.

“Some fire and rescue chiefs simply cannot be trusted to get vital decisions like these right.

“Firefighters aren’t cannon fodder and don’t deserve to be treated as such.”

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Andy Cole welcomed a review of its procedures, saying: “We have an excellent health & safety record and any suggestion that we would put people at risk is wrong, as the safety of our crews and the public we serve will always be our priority.

“We will continue to engage with the [FBU] but will not be making any further comment until any process undertaken by the HSE has been concluded.”

His counterpart from the Hampshire & Isle of Wight service, Neil Odin, said: “This national approved guidance has been designed to make life safer for our firefighters and the public — any suggestion that we would put people at risk is wrong.”


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