MOVES by safety regulators to investigate a new breathing apparatus policy branded “dangerous, irresponsible and one of the biggest threats to firefighters’ health and safety in decades” were welcomed by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) today.
Assistant general secretary Ben Selby praised the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for “seeing sense and deciding to investigate this issue properly,” more than a year after the union first raised serious concerns.
The FBU described how, in high-rise blazes, fire crews establish 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 new proposals from the National Fire Chiefs Council, they would be instructed to proceed without activating it.
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,” the union warned.
Fire authorities in London, Birmingham and Manchester have already pledged to ignore the policy, but others seem determined to push ahead.
The FBU said it had first complained to the HSE in May last year, but the public body took more than a year to it give its response, which was to claim that the issue fell outside its remit.
However, safety regulators have now U-turned and announced an investigation. In a letter to the union, the HSE conceded that its approach thus far had been “inadequate” and apologised, according to the FBU.
Mr Selby said: “The delays and buck-passing we have faced while trying to raise an urgent matter of safety were unacceptable and it is positive that [the HSE] have reflected on this.”