‘There won’t be enough to crew an engine’ - firefighters desperate for coronavirus testing

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service are currently operating without 4.2% of their workforce. Picture:: S

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service are currently operating without 4.2% of their workforce. Picture:: SUFFOLK FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE - Credit: Archant

Fire crews are pleading for more coronavirus tests for emergency workers - after revealing that Suffolk is losing nearly 5% of its firefighters due to self-isolation.

Phil Johnston is the chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch and works at Lowestoft

Phil Johnston is the chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch and works at Lowestoft South Fire Station. Pictures: ANDREW PAPWORTH - Credit: Archant

The Fire Brigades Union has warned the government that nearly 3,000 fire and rescue personnel across the UK are in isolation and unable to work as they can’t access testing kits to check for positive cases of Covid-19.

The union has claimed in Suffolk, 25 personnel are currently unable to work - a total of 4.2% of the workforce.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service say the level of absence within the workforce is currently at 2.9%.

That includes control room workers, who are constantly needed to answer 999 calls in an emergency and coordinate the response.


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Union representative for Suffolk, Phil Johnston, is concerned that without vital tests, there may come a day when there aren’t enough firefighters to crew an engine during an emergency.

“Suffolk is suffering the same as the rest of the country,” he said.

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“If you have symptoms or come into close contact with a family member who does you need to isolate for seven to 14 days, that time away means our workforce is reduced.

“We want to have everyone who can be available and on a team of seven, if there are two people isolating and one more goes off sick we get to the point where we can’t crew a fire engine.

“I work at Lowestoft South and there are two people on my watch who are isolating because people in their families have symptoms, so that is them gone for two weeks.”

The fire crews often work closely with police and ambulance services and Mr Johnston is concerned the added contact time will be increasing the risk of infection.

He said: “We’re in close proximity to ambulance workers, who are in contact with probable cases of Covid-19 several times a day.

“We are potentially then passing the virus on back home and to other members of the public during our work.”

While the crews are provided with face masks, they do not feel this is adequate protection.

Mark Hardingham, chief fire officer for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, has said that he feels levels of absence in the fire service due to Covid-19 are currently ‘very low’ and wants to reassure the community.

He said: “Covid-19 testing is being established in Suffolk for all key workers and this will include the fire and rescue service.

“The availability of our on-call fire engines has been excellent, and actually much better than normal when on-call firefighters would be working elsewhere in their primary employment.

“Unfortunately for many of them, they are not able to work their primary job due to the lockdown.”

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