It would be difficult to start this editorial with anything other than reference to the Global Coronavirus Pandemic.
As fire professionals we are dedicated to consideration of worst-case scenarios, risk assessments, projections, modelling and mitigation. In 2011, as the country was expecting an imminent pandemic, the nation’s Services were busy developing contingency plans and considering scenarios. As a manager engaged in that planning, there was no doubting the necessity or seriousness of a pandemic, but it did seem a distant risk.
As events unfolded in China only a short while ago, my memories of pandemic modelling instantly came back. I recalled the map of the globe with a growing spider’s web of travel and contact and felt a sense of inevitability that this was not going to be contained to one country. Whilst my fears became reality, our current situation eclipses anything we have experienced before and stretches beyond the scenario I had previously felt prepared for.
There are some beacons of hope through the morbid daily news bulletins, stories of resilience and the ability of people to respond positively in adverse circumstances rise from the darkness.
The respect for NHS staff, carers and others delivering essential front-line services has arguably never been higher. From the highest-ranking politicians to the everyday man and woman, a recognition of the personal sacrifice, particularly by front-line medical staff has been publicly celebrated on a weekly basis on doorsteps across the United Kingdom.
Undoubtedly, all of those treating patients who have either been confirmed of having COVID-19 or are displaying the symptoms associated with the virus are performing a critical role in these unprecedented times.
With many of our readers being emergency responders I’d like to make a special mention to our Ambulance colleagues whose role has changed significantly in recent weeks. The Paramedics, Technicians, Practitioners and Emergency Care Assistants who provide the first line of emergency response to those who call 999 are potentially dealing with Coronavirus patients or carriers at every incident they attend. Ambulance crews have had to adapt their response model to carry out triage on the doorstep before they can even consider the next step in dealing with a medical emergency and their initial findings will in some cases mean a withdrawal to don what is, until recently, unfamiliar PPE. Patient management, the care pathway and handover has had to adapt as new information and alternative care facilities have been made available and at the same time crews have had to continue with their usual high demand of medical and trauma calls. I have singled out our Ambulance crews for a mention because they are the same people our Firefighters already work closely with on a daily basis. Perhaps we can show them even more support than I know you already do as they deal with this on the front line.
On a formal level, the UK Fire and Rescue Service has stepped forward to offer assistance, with the Fire Brigades Union and National Fire Chiefs Council agreeing a protocol that supports Firefighters providing support to Ambulance colleagues as well as in the delivery of urgent medical supplies.
As with all adversity there are positive stories emerging. At a technical level, one such example is the success of the Mercedes Formula 1 team and University College London who worked together to develop a device to aid breathing, which has been inspirational. The device has gained regulatory approval for mass production with the UK government placing an initial order for 10,000 units. Such a story is not unique; globally, manufacturers have realigned to meet the needs of the medical profession in what has understandably been compared to a war effort.
Fire Engineers in all areas of our profession are also playing their part. The rapid development and opening of the Nightingale Hospital is a tribute to the joint efforts of all involved. Whilst the scale and speed of Nightingale becoming operational has captured media attention, there are monumental efforts underway nationally as NHS Trusts develop options to use alternative care facilities in order to create the capacity to deal with anticipated demand.
Along with the logistical challenges of creating a medical facility of such a scale within such a short time is the need to ensure it is fire safe. From the provision of advice and direction to the supply and installation of passive and active protection, fire engineering is a key component in supporting a swift and safe construction, conversion or change of use during this critical time.
Whilst other news has been eclipsed in the past weeks, in March the government announced they have made a further £1 billion available for the removal of ACM cladding from high-rise buildings. This will be a welcome relief for many who have seen their properties become locked in a position of impasse.
Meanwhile, the Grenfell Inquiry has suspended all future hearings at this time. Sir Martin Moore-Bick released a statement after the Prime Minister’s address implementing initial measures to avoid all social gatherings. The statement read: ‘In the light of the Prime Minister’s statement this afternoon the Panel has decided that the Inquiry should hold no further hearings for the time being. To do so, even on the basis of limited attendance, would be to expose those whose presence is essential for that purpose, not to mention those whom we wish to call as witnesses, to an unacceptable risk of infection. It would also send the wrong signal to the world at large at a time when everyone is being urged to co-operate with measures designed to minimise the effect of the virus.’
As we navigate these uncertain times and look forward to a return to some form of new normality, my colleagues and I at MDM would like to say thank you to you all for the role you play in making our lives safer.
Whether you are a fire-engineering practitioner, responder or supplier, if there is any way in which we at UK Fire can support you through sharing information and publicity, please contact us and we will be happy to look at any opportunities open to us.
Stay safe and look after one another.
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