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Wednesday 23 April 2002

 
Preparations for a potential Fire Fighters strike
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has announced that there will be strikes within the Fire Service. This guidance provides advice on the practical implications for schools and their staff. The information contained in this letter should be read in conjunction with guidance currently being sent to schools by the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade.
Places of work such as schools are already subject to a range of duties under fire safety and health and safety legislation. The absence of a local fire service does not increase the danger of a fire occurring and should not prevent the overwhelming majority of schools continuing to operate safely during the dispute. The principal of a school (not the fire brigade) is responsible for safety on site and emergency evacuation arrangements. Principals should therefore check their preparedness and review their contingency arrangements accordingly.
 

During any strikes, the Ministry of Defence will provide emergency fire and rescue cover as part of national contingency arrangements. The 999 system will continue to operate with calls being diverted on a temporary basis to alternative operations centres. From there, emergency fire crews and other specialised teams will be mobilised from temporary fire stations. Military fire crews are trained and equipped to carry out basic fire-fighting and rescue operations. They will not have the same capability as local fire brigades and they are more widely dispersed. Schools therefore should consider what additional measures they can put in place to prevent fire and limit damage.

From a health and safety perspective, it is anticipated that all schools shall be able to continue normal activities unaffected by the dispute. However, during periods when the Fire Service is on strike, it is foreseeable that:-· Attendance times to some incidents will be increased.

· The emergency services attending will have fewer specialised capabilities.
· The emergency services attending may be unfamiliar with the incident site and the local geography.Accordingly, schools should consider the implications of, and risks associated with, the potentially reduced emergency services response and where appropriate institute supplementary measures and arrangements to prevent incidents and minimise the consequences of reduced emergency response cover.

GuidanceStaff and pupils are encouraged to visit the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's fire prevention website - http://www.firekills.gov.uk

The Fire Industry Confederation has produced information on what to do in preparation for possible industrial action by fire fighters - http://www.the-fic.org.uk, under 'news'.

The Department for Education and Skills Fire Safety Guide is at http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/fire.

It includes a checklist of hazards that can be dealt with by the school (page 44). It may be worth paying particular attention to science labs, kitchens etc.

The Department for Education and Skills Safe Keeping: A Good Practice Guide to Health and Safety in Study Support (http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/studysupport) includes advice on evacuation procedures and the need for an accurate record of who is in the building outside normal lesson time.

A Fire Action Plan support pack for schools, for use in e.g. PSHE lessons, can be downloaded from http://www.safety.odpm.gov.uk/fire/fepd/cfs/index2000.htm.

What schools will need to be aware of· In the event of a strike the emergency fire crews will provide fire cover using "green goddess" fire appliances, supplemented by specialist breathing apparatus teams.

· The military fire fighters will be thinly spread and will give priority to saving life. They are less likely to arrive at a fire quickly and are less likely to know their way around school premises. The risk of a small fire becoming a major conflagration may be more likely because of this, particularly at night.· The military fire crews are unlikely to handle other fire brigade jobs, such as broken down lifts, unless someone is physically trapped in the mechanism.What schools can do· If there is a fire, schools should ring 999 as usual. Automatic alarms won't necessarily bring a response.
· Check now that evacuation procedures work and that fire precautions are in place.
· If you have not had a fire drill since September, hold one now.
· Schools with a history of arson attacks might want to consider whether further measures are needed (eg night watches).
· Consider the risk of losing irreplaceable paperwork, computer files etc. Consider, for example, keeping duplicate copies of GCSE and A Level coursework, back-up disks etc elsewhere or in a secure fire resistant store.
· Consider whether additional arrangements will be needed in boarding schools, special schools and mainstream schools that have pupils with disabilities or special educational needs, who would need help in an evacuation:
· For some pupils the emergency evacuation plan may need to be at individual pupil level - e.g. where a pupil has specific medical needs or where complex lifting and handling or behaviour management is required.

In summary, a fire-fighters' strike would not in itself make fires any more likely and schools should open normally. This letter focuses on the possible differences in the service that schools are likely to find in the event of a fire during a strike.

Enquiries resulting from this should be addressed to Mr David Orr, Health and Safety Officer at 028 3751 2429..

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