Fire crews ‘super proud’ to join vaccination effort

Mike Bedigan, PA

Fire crews across the south of England have taken a break from tackling blazes to help fight coronavirus instead.

Firefighters who have volunteered to administer jabs said training by staff at Solent NHS Trust had been “reassuringly thorough” and it had been a “privilege” to be part of the programme.

On Monday, Basingstoke fire station became one of four mass vaccination hubs to open across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, which have delivered more than 1,000 jabs daily.

The station has been specially adapted for vaccine rollout, with the fire pole covered up and noise from call-out sirens isolated, so as to not shock patients.

Crews now drive special routes out of the station and have been told not to start sirens until they are clear of the area.

Coronavirus – Thu Feb 4, 2021
Basingstoke fire station (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Only a handful of firefighters have been detached from their regular duties to vaccinate, though around 60 staff from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service have been trained to help on an ad-hoc basis.

Firefighter Steve Holder said he had been “enthusiastic to get involved” when the call went out for volunteers.

“The training was quite reassuringly thorough,” he told the PA news agency.

“I’ve never injected anyone before so I didn’t know whether I was going to faint on my first one, but it all went really well.”

Mr Holder, who is normally stationed in Havant, said the clinical staff had been helpful and instructive and it had been a “rewarding process”.

“It’s probably a concern for everybody that they’re going to get their vaccine done properly but I’m really confident over the past few days, and with the supervision we’ve had, that it’s a good thing,” he said.

Steven Marsden, 67, from Basingstoke prepares to be vaccinated
Steven Marsden, 67, from Basingstoke prepares to be vaccinated (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“I’ve been in the fire service over 20 years now and I never would have envisaged being in this position.

“It feels like a way of fighting back and seeing the joy on the faces of people coming in who probably haven’t been out in a year.

“It’s quite a privilege to be involved in it. It’s so rewarding and I’m so glad I’ve been allowed to do it.”

Watch Commander Kevin Robson, who is usually stationed in Winchester, said being trained to vaccinate had been “a steep learning curve”.

“Usually I am squeamish, I don’t like blood, but I haven’t seen too much,” he said.

“I trained using a false arm and my fist jab was a little nerve-wracking.

Coronavirus – Thu Feb 4, 2021
A member of the NHS vaccine support staff at Basingstoke fire station (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“We’re used to working as a team. I had respect for the NHS before but that’s just gone through the roof.

“I’m super proud to be part of this and helping to make people safe. It really is heartwarming.”

Mr Robson said his mother received her vaccine at the station on Tuesday and although he did not administer the jab the whole process had been “absolutely fine”.

Cherry Brennan, senior matron at the vaccination centre, who has helped train the firefighters, said they had been “ideal” for the job.

“They take an onboard process and policy which is really important for the safety element,” she said.

“They’ve learnt really quickly and really embraced the learning this week. There have been no concerns.

“I think some were nervous in the beginning, it’s one thing doing theory and then applying it, but the public have been really complimentary about them.”

Margaret and Peter Brownsea, who received jabs on Monday, said the experience was “unusual” but they had “no problem” being vaccinated by firefighters.

Coronavirus – Thu Feb 4, 2021
Peter Brownsea, from Southampton, prepares to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“We just trust them to do it competently,” said Mrs Brownsea.

Ms Brennan added that medical staff “really appreciated” the efforts of crew members who had “volunteered outside of their comfort zone”.

“They’ve done brilliantly, we’d love to keep them,” she said.

Asked about working in a fire station she said: “It’s not the norm, it’s definitely one I can tick off the list.

“(For patients) it works well, it’s just a straight line so they can’t get lost.”

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Steve Apter said the crews had had to “think outside the box” to maintain station’s operational capability.

“We’re dealing with a humanitarian crisis, it’s what the fire and rescue service does, we help people, so we adapt accordingly,” he said.

There are now 90 large vaccination centres, 192 sites run by high street pharmacies, more than 1,000 GP-led vaccination services and 250 hospital hubs delivering jabs.

Football stadiums belonging to Crystal Palace and Colchester United have also been confirmed as venues for more vaccinations by NHS England.

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