Firefighters in the West Midlands have begun moving the bodies of those who have died of coronavirus from hospitals, care homes, and private properties, as the region feels the pressure of the pandemic.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in the West Midlands has secured training and health and safety arrangements for firefighters undertaking the work after a national agreement was reached between the union, fire chiefs and service employers.
The Body Movement Team is comprised of firefighters from West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) who have the experience and training necessary to move bodies from their work in multi-agency response teams, chemical teams, and urban search-and-rescue teams. All will have volunteered to carry out this work.
All personnel will have appropriate training and PPE, including a face mask with a reusable respirator designed for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) response.
They are working 12-hour day and night shifts moving and handling bodies and placing the deceased into body bags. The agreement also allows firefighters to drive body-movement vehicles if needed in the future.
The team has undergone pre-operation psychological readiness training covering emotional resilience, welfare, compassion fatigue, and burnout. There will be 24/7 support available from West Midlands Fire Service.
It comes after Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures revealed that almost one in four deaths in the West Midlands were attributed to coronavirus in the week ending 3 April; 529 out of a total of 1,812.
Andrew Scattergood, FBU West Midlands regional secretary, said:
“We hoped that it would never come to this, but there are now a considerable number of casualties in the West Midlands and firefighters are ready to step up and assist with the movement of bodies.
“Our members are proud to provide a humanitarian service. They are best placed to assist with this harrowing aspect of the crisis.
“All emergency services are pulling together in this difficult period to help our communities through this outbreak. It’s deeply unpleasant work, but it is, unfortunately, necessary at this time.”
Steve Price-Hunt, FBU West Midlands brigade secretary, said:
“Firefighters join their service to save lives and for most body recovery is a rare task. These teams will likely see more bodies far more frequently than they are used to – and do so under far more hazardous circumstances.
“We know this work will be difficult, but the FBU has worked hard to make sure that firefighters have the proper training and support to carry out this work safely.”