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April 5, 2011

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HSE pledges not to prosecute Fire-Service "heroes"

Fire-fighters in the middle of an emergency situation who take it upon themselves to risk their own lives to save others should be viewed as “truly heroic”, says the HSE.
In new guidance, entitled Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Fire and Rescue Service, the regulator attempts to define heroism, and address the recommendation by Lord Young, in Common sense, common safety, that individual fire-fighters should not fear investigation, or prosecution under health and safety law if they have put themselves at risk as a result of a heroic act.
While making it clear that fire and rescue services must manage all foreseeable risk effectively, the guidance emphasises the importance of recognising that “fire-fighters should not be expected to put themselves at unreasonable risk, even in the face of sometimes unrealistic public expectations”.
The regulator is also adamant that it will view the actions of fire-fighters as “truly heroic when it is clear that they have decided to act entirely of their own volition in putting themselves at risk to protect the public, or colleagues, and there have been no orders, or other direction from senior officers to do so, and when their actions have not put other fire-fighters at similar high risk”.
Above all, it says, individual fire-fighters “should not act recklessly” but “sensibly and responsibly within the command and control of their employer”.
The guidance comes just a month after it was announced that three fire-service managers are to face manslaughter charges over the deaths of four fire-fighters in Warwickshire in 2007.
The Fire Brigades Union is currently formulating its position on the guidance and could not offer a comment in the meantime.
The Chief Fire Officer of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue, Brian Sweeney, who has previously called for health and safety laws to be amended to release fire-service staff from “a culture of fear”, was also unavailable for comment.

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13 years ago

I’m sure fire-fighters will be very relieved to learn they will not be prosecuted for taking risks of their own volition. I feel a certain ambivalance towards this latest HSE offering, possibly some mixed messages between the HSE, CPS and fire authorities.