Scottish firefighters set to join UK-wide health screening trials

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Scottish government’s funding initiative

The Scottish Government has provided funding of £56,000 to enable firefighters based in Scotland to join a UK-wide health screening programme.

This initiative is facilitated by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the University of Central Lancashire.

Approximately 1,000 UK firefighters are expected to participate in these trials, which will focus on blood tests aiming to detect early signs of illness and cancer.

These trials will contribute to the decision-making process surrounding potential annual health screening in the future.

Endorsement from officials

Siobhian Brown, Minister for Victims and Community Safety, expressed her support: “I am delighted that we have been able to provide funding to ensure that Scottish firefighters are part of this important research.

“We will continue to work closely with the FBU and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to ensure the safety and wellbeing of firefighters who tirelessly serve our communities.”

Importance of health screening for firefighters

Research reveals that firefighters report higher incidences of diseases, including cancers, compared to the general population.

These findings stem from a study titled, “Minimising firefighters’ exposure to toxic fire effluents,” commissioned by the FBU and conducted by Professor Anna Stec of the University of Central Lancashire, published in January 2020.

A subsequent study on Scottish firefighters was released in January 2023.

This research spurred an FBU campaign advocating for enhanced health monitoring and the establishment of the FBU DECON Campaign.

Comments from FBU and SFRS officials

John McKenzie, the Regional Secretary for the FBU in Scotland, said: “The FBU welcomes these health monitoring trials: they are essential for the continued safety and health of our members.

“We also appreciate the additional funding from the Scottish Government for this research.”

Efforts to protect firefighter health have been a collaborative endeavour between the SFRS and FBU.

The SFRS has formed a dedicated Contaminants Group, aiming to reduce firefighters’ exposure to harmful substances.

This initiative encompasses the creation of operational policies, ongoing training, and station audits.

Andy Watt, SFRS Assistant Chief Officer, expressed the service’s commitment: “This initiative showcases our unwavering commitment to firefighter safety.

“We have already undertaken measures to minimise risk from contaminants, and our partnership with the FBU and Professor Stec will spearhead further advancements.

“Our staff’s safety is of utmost importance.”

John McKenzie reaffirmed this sentiment, highlighting the need for ongoing vigilance: “The FBU continues its collaborative efforts with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to address fire contaminants risks.

“The Contaminants Group’s endeavours are pivotal, and we anticipate seeing their positive impact in the near future.”

IFSJ Comment

The decision by the Scottish Government to fund and support health screening trials for firefighters, especially within the context of the evident risks they face daily, is a significant step forward.

This initiative not only underscores the value placed on firefighter health and safety but also propels a broader discussion about best practices across the profession.

By actively monitoring and understanding potential health risks, agencies can implement strategies that protect those on the frontline.

It’s a commendable move that other firefighting entities globally should closely observe.

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