15 July 2016
To: ALL MEMBERS
CONCERNS RELATING TO OFFICERS IN CHARGE (OICS) DRIVING FIRE APPLIANCES TO INCIDENTS ON BLUE LIGHTS
The following resolution raising concerns in relation to OICs driving fire appliances to incidents on blue light was supported by FBU delegates to 2016 conference:
This Conference condemns the unsafe practice adopted by some Fire and Rescue Services in the UK which allows Watch and Crew Managers to drive fire appliances to incidents on blue lights whilst being Officer in Charge of that appliance.
Driving fire appliances to incidents on blue lights whilst in charge is not included in a Watch or Crew Managers role map.
This practice allows Fire and Rescue Services to reduce numbers on stations ultimately cutting front line posts and puts our Members in situations where there is not enough resources to deal with incidents safely.
Conference agrees that this dangerous practice has the potential to cause serious injury or worse to our Members and members of the public because of wrong decisions which may be made due to the complexity of carrying out two separate roles simultaneously.
Therefore this Conference instructs the Executive Council to;
Send out a Fire Brigades Union circular to all Members explaining the dangers involved in adopting this practice.
Commission the Fire Brigades Union Health and Safety Committee to draft a Safety Critical notice which can be used by Brigade Committees to challenge this practice where it is happening.
Raise this issue at the National Joint Council with a view to stopping this unsafe and dangerous way of working.
This work to be completed by the end of January 2017.
It required a number of actions that are being progressed:
A circular to all members outlining the dangers associated with this practice.
A safety critical notice to enable brigade committees to challenge this.
Raise this issue at the NJC with a view to stopping this unsafe and dangerous way of working.
Work is ongoing elsewhere in relation to issues 2 and 3 but the sole purpose of this circular is to outline to members some of the dangers associated with this practice, all of which are self-explanatory. It is intended to assist members if a situation arises where a fire authority asks an individual to volunteer to undertake this combination of roles. The safety critical notice will follow a different route and will be designed to assist officials in cases where a fire authority require an individual to act as both OIC and driver on route to and at emergency incidents.
The full extent of the problem is not yet clear so a blanket approach is being adopted to ensure that all members are aware of the situation and the potential dangers associated with this. If you have any further questions or concerns in relation to this please raise them with your local FBU official.
Why is it a concern?
We should all be concerned when a fire authority requests or requires that an FBU member carry out two very distinct and important roles whilst travelling to an incident, and in its early stages. This indicates that they have not planned sufficiently to ensure appliances are crewed properly or considered all the health and safety implications. Members should not be pressurised into volunteering to undertake this combination of roles simply because of insufficient pre-planning around crewing requirements. Where this is happening FBU officials will be raising this with management to ascertain why this is necessary. In the meantime it is worth noting a few of the dangers associated with volunteering to do this.
Both of these roles are vitally important to ensure that crews can attend and operate at incidents safely and the FBU do not accept that this practice of combining in this way should be allowed to continue. Members will recognise that this requirement places additional responsibilities at a time when conditions are often at their most hazardous.
Local and national procedures, road traffic laws and health & safety legislation and common sense outline a number of completely different separate specific tasks that must be undertaken by the OIC and the appliance driver.
For example the driver will be primarily focusing on safely driving, manoeuvring and siting the appliance. In addition the driver will be ensuring he/she takes the optimum route to the incident taking account of the ever changing environment, road and traffic conditions.
The agreed rolemap specifies that while undertaking this task the appliance driver must continually assess the situation and work within his/ her and the vehicles limitations while adhering to road traffic law including the Highway Code, health and safety law and other legal requirements.
Upon arrival at the incident the appliance driver must site the vehicle so as to maximise its usefulness while avoiding risk of harm to people or damage to the appliance itself or other property.
The appliance driver will then be responsible for disengaging any unnecessary systems or devices before being allotted a further operational role at the incident.
The role(s) of the OIC are quite different but equally as important. He/she will be familiarising himself/herself with the risk involved and planning how the incident can be resolved as safely and effectively as possible. This may include taking part in radio communications en route to the incident and receiving vital information about the risk/scenario involved.
The OIC will be preoccupied with undertaking or refreshing himself/herself and the crew involved with the risk assessments and/ or safe systems of work to the relevant type of incident and in certain circumstances may have to undertake a dynamic risk assessment.
All of these considerations require a deal of thought and concentration in an environment that is likely to be changing rapidly. Then, on arrival, the OIC has to put all this planning into operation and ensure that the crew effectively and efficiently deals with the incident while prioritising the health and safety of the crew and the public.
The FBU already deals with a significant amount of disciplines and grievances related with driving and supervisory issues when they are performed separately. This can only increase if members are subjecting themselves to this practice members and associated risk when they are combined in this way.
It is absolutely obvious from the above that the two roles are distinctly different and incompatible. It is equally clear that seeking to combine the two roles and asking one of our members to act as both OIC and driver on route to and at emergency incidents compromises the safety of the crews and the public.
Where it is a requirement to undertake a combination of these roles we will contacting management and requesting that this is removed immediately and that all staff are immediately notified of this. Members will not be instructed not to perform this combination of roles at this time but we will be placing it on the agenda for the next joint health and safety committee and looking at all the options available to us.
Where it is not a requirement we are pointing out some of the potential pitfalls and dangers associated with this practice which members may wish to consider before they decide to voluntarily undertake this role combination.
If you are placed in this situation please contact your local FBU official as soon as possible.
Yours in Unity,