FITTING masks to NHS workers, moving dead infected bodies, driving ambulances, making face shields, carrying out tests and delivering food to the elderly: all of these tasks are to be done by firefighters, leaving them little or no time and resources to do the job they have been trained for – fighting fires!
This unprecedented national agreement was reached between the FBU union, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), and national employers. The agreement puts 10,000 Fire and Rescue Service staff on ‘standby to assist as and when required’. These figures were demanded by the Home Office!
Firefighters post-Grenfell know that there are thousands of fire-risk buildings, containing dangerous Grenfell-type cladding that have to be dealt with, and are dangerous places for tenants and their children every day and every night.
The fire service is still critically short of staff after over a decade of Tory cuts, and now their own union leaders have agreed that they will be doing all manner of dangerous tasks – other than fighting fires – and around the clock as well.
A tired fire service and a lack of available firefighters to fight fires will undoubtedly put the general public at greater risk of burning to death. The scene has been set for more horrific incidents on a par with the Grenfell Tower fire which claimed the lives of 72 men, women and children.
Grenfell Tower was completely covered in Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) which rapidly spread the fire up the side of the building. With the vast majority of the 67 million-strong UK population locked down in their homes, how many of them are locked inside potential fire death-traps?
We know that there are 181 private high-rise buildings fitted with ACM cladding, plus 140 social housing blocks wrapped in flammable ACM – so well over 300 flammable buildings over two and a half years after the Grenfell fire still remain fire traps.
However, recently, another form of cladding, High Pressure Laminate (HPL), has failed its safety test, in which flames ripped through the test rig in just seven minutes and 45 seconds, with temperatures exceeding 700 degrees centigrade.
This High Pressure Laminate material is on literally thousands of buildings across the UK. With millions locked down at home, the risk of house fires has greatly increased, as one of the biggest causes of fires are cookers and ovens.
It was Tory PM Johnson, while he was London Mayor, who closed ten fire stations, axed 552 firefighters’ jobs, and withdrew 14 fire engines from service, and that was in London alone. All over the country there have been savage cuts.
Rather than demand that firefighters are given all the resources that they need to fight fires, their own leaders have agreed that their members are put frontline into direct contact with the coronavirus.
During fitting PPE to NHS staff, the ‘fitter’ must ensure that the PPE is clean and functioning and that the seal with the wearer’s face is tight to prevent hazardous substances getting into an individual’s airways. The fitters themselves are prone to infection. Similarly, in moving dead bodies infected with Covid-19, the risk of infection is high.
Many NHS porters have already tested positive for the virus as a result of moving the dead. Testing is particularly dangerous as there is a high risk for the testers to be infected themselves. The union leaderships, along with the Labour Party, during this coronavirus crisis have gone along with the Tory government’s cries that ‘we are all in this together’.
And the union leaders are now happily toeing the Tory line that during this coronavirus crisis there is no difference between bosses, the capitalist state, their government representatives, the trade union bureaucracy and the working class – that everyone has to now put aside their class differences and fight the common enemy together.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Firefighters must get this decision reversed. Their first duty is to see that another Grenfell never happens.
In fact, the entire working class must unite against the common enemy, and that is the Tory government and the capitalist class, and bring both down through mass strike action to go forward to a workers government and socialism.