Home Secretary Priti Patel paid tribute to the work of firefighters throughout the coronavirus pandemic as she visited Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service (MFRS) on Thursday 6th August.
She met with firefighters who have been on the frontlines during the pandemic and heard how their roles have adapted to deal with the challenges posed by coronavirus.
Throughout the pandemic, fire and rescue staff staff have taken on a range of additional duties to support the national effort to fight coronavirus.
This has included delivering essential items to over 80,000 vulnerable people, fitting over 4,000 face masks for frontline NHS and care staff, and transporting over 3,000 non-Covid-19 patients to and from hospital, according to statistics collected by the National Fire Chiefs’ Council.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Our brave firefighters have played a crucial part in our fight against coronavirus.
"They have provided invaluable support to other emergency services – assisting vulnerable people and NHS staff – in addition to their usual life-saving duties.
“I am extremely grateful to them for their selfless service of our country.”
During her visit, the home secretary was briefed on MFRS’ role in coordinating national resilience capabilities for fire and rescue services across England and Wales.
Merseyside FRS provides specialist training to other fire authorities and maintains specialist vehicles and kit required to protect people and property in local and national emergencies. The Home Office is providing over £11m in total funding for Merseyside’s role in national resilience work.
Her visit included a demonstration of how firefighters use high-volume pumps – which can pump 7,000 litres of water per minute – to respond to major flooding incidents, such as the Whaley Bridge dam breach in August 2019.
She also met with the urban search and rescue team to see how fire dogs are used to locate missing people following natural disasters and building collapses.
Merseyside FRS Chief Fire Officer Phil Garrigan said: “It is fantastic to have the opportunity to show the Home Secretary some of the work we do here at Merseyside - both in our own right as a local fire & rescue service but also as part of our National role in relation to the coordination and deployment of National Fire and Rescue Service assets. Throughout the morning we have demonstrated the extensive equipment and operational capabilities we hold nationally and the methods through which we would deploy them.
"We have also been able to show how we have maintained our operational responsibilities despite the current pandemic and despite concurrent events taking place elsewhere, the Home Secretary was able to see first-hand how we are currently preparing our teams should they be needed to aid in the response to the terrible events in Beirut this week as part of the UK International Search and Rescue Team.
"We also used the visit to tell her more about the incredible work the fire & rescue community has been doing throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Fire & Rescue Services up and down the country have gone above and beyond the call of duty, helping to support our NHS and blue light colleagues wherever possible. The way in which operational and non-operational staff have stepped up during this crisis is incredible but not in the least bit surprising. Locally, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Staff have delivered thousands of prescription medications and hundreds of food parcels to those most in need. We have worked with our local authority partners, housing associations, charities and sports teams to ensure that those most at risk have not been forgotten.
"In addition to taking on these extra roles, we have of course continued our day-to-day operations, responding to emergencies and sharing vital fire safety information with our communities. Like all emergency services, we plan and train for all scenarios, including flu pandemics, so we knew what to do in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. But we would not have been able to continue to do what we do so well without our incredible staff – I cannot stress enough how proud I am of them and every single frontline worker who has acted with such professionalism and compassion.
"This has been a difficult year for everyone and the challenge is not over yet, but we will continue to do everything we can to support our frontline workers and our amazing colleagues in the NHS.”
To support the fire and rescue service during the pandemic, the Home Office recently launched a £6 million Fire Covid-19 Contingency Fund. This fund will provide financial support to fire and rescue authorities who incur significant costs as a result of taking on additional duties during the pandemic.
The Government has also provided £3.7 billion to local government to support their response to the outbreak. This included around £35 million for standalone fire and rescue authorities. County councils and unitary authorities with responsibilities for fire also received a share of the funding as part of a wider allocation that reflects the totality of their local government responsibilities.