FBU balloons on a demonstration

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has welcomed moves by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate a new Breathing Apparatus policy in the Fire and Rescue Service, which it has branded “dangerous and irresponsible” and “one of the biggest threats to firefighters’ health and safety in decades”.

In high-rise fires, the Fire Brigade establishes a ‘bridgehead’ in a safe position within the building. Before proceeding towards the fire, firefighters undertake a series of checks and activate their Breathing Apparatus. But under proposals from the National Fire Chiefs Council, they would be instructed to proceed without activating it.

The FBU claims this would put firefighters at risk of being overwhelmed by smoke or other hazards before they could put on their Breathing Apparatus, and would mean increased exposure to toxic fire contaminants.

Fire authorities in London, Birmingham and Manchester have already said that they will not implement the policy, but others have indicated that they will push ahead.

The FBU wrote to the HSE in May 2022 to complain about the policy. The union claims it took more than a year for the HSE to respond, with the body stating that the issue did not fall within their remit.

However, the HSE has now said it will be investigating the new Breathing Apparatus policy. In a letter to the FBU, the public body conceded that their approach thus far had been inadequate and apologised to the union.

In the meantime, the Fire Brigades Union has issued advice to its members not to put themselves in danger by going beyond the bridgehead without activated Breathing Apparatus.

Ben Selby, FBU Assistant General Secretary, said: “We welcome the fact that the Health and Safety Executive has seen sense and decided to investigate this issue properly. The delays and buck-passing that we have faced while trying to raise an urgent matter of safety were unacceptable, and it is positive that they have reflected on this.

“Fire and Rescue Services should now ditch this dangerous and irresponsible policy once and for all.”

Riccardo la Torre, Fire Brigades Union National Officer, said: “The change to breathing apparatus safety procedures is one of the biggest threats to firefighters’ health and safety in decades. We will continue to hold the Health and Safety Executive to account and challenge any fire and rescue service that tries to implement this practice. We are prepared to take whatever action is necessary to stop this policy.

“Our advice to members remains the same: as professional firefighters and BA wearers, they should not put themselves in a position of danger above the bridgehead with non-activated breathing apparatus.”

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Image credit: Socialist Appeal – Creative Commons