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Firefighters (Insurance Cover)

Volume 451: debated on Tuesday 7 November 2006

16. Whether the conditions in the 2003 pay agreement in respect of insurance cover for firefighters attending a terrorist incident have been implemented; and if she will make a statement. (99685)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
(Angela E. Smith)

The 2003 pay agreement did not contain any conditions for insurance cover for firefighters attending a terrorist incident. However, the dependants of a firefighter who dies from duty-related injury are entitled to a lump sum payment of up to seven times pensionable pay and enhancements to pensions for widows, widowers and civil partners. A firefighter injured on duty receives an ill-health pension and injury benefits of up to 85 per cent. of salary.

Have there been any outcomes of the inter-departmental discussions on emergency service issues about terrorism exclusions in some personal insurance policies?

Personal insurance policies are a matter for individuals. Discussions took place between Departments and information on the arrangements that we have established was communicated to all fire and rescue service personnel, including all firefighters. There has been no negative feedback and there are therefore currently no plans to take the matter further.

Given that firefighters, other emergency service workers and, indeed, members of the armed forces in support of the civil power may often work side by side in the same dangerous situations caused by terrorism, what contacts has the Department had with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that there is equity in the benefits that any of those brave people get if they are injured or—heaven forbid—killed?

Regular and frequent discussions take place, but there is no equity between the arrangements. Indeed, the benefits paid to firefighters compare well with those for any other service.

I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that it is a time of considerable change for firefighters. Co-responding was one change that we believed was being introduced, whereby firefighters who reach a terrorist incident or an accident first can give some emergency medical treatment before the arrival of the ambulance or paramedics. Given the recent court case in Nottinghamshire, in which the judge effectively ruled that that was not part of firefighters’ conditions of service, what are the Government doing to examine the matter, bearing in mind the importance of ensuring that the people involved in incidents receive emergency treatment from the first qualified people to arrive on the scene?

My hon. Friend highlights one specific case, but I can think of two or three authorities that are already involved in co-responding schemes. It is a matter for continuing discussion with the fire and rescue service. We perceive tremendous benefits to co-responding. Fire authorities that are currently engaged in it report back to us the benefits to the public of good engagement with other services.

Fire and rescue personnel are often the first to enter a disaster scene, which makes them particularly vulnerable to secondary devices. Do not those special circumstances make them a special case?

I am not sure what the hon. Lady is making a special case for. My hope is that we shall never have to use the compensation arrangements that we have in place for our firefighters. We have the best trainers and equipment in the world to ensure that their safety is as great as we can possibly make it. However, in those tragic incidents when firefighters are injured or lose their lives, compensation arrangements are in place for their families.