Lateral flow testing keeps fire service ahead of the game

Area commander Stuart Smith

Area commander Stuart Smith on a volunteering shift with fire service colleagues supporting the mass vaccination centre at Peterborough. - Credit: Stuart Smith

More than 200 fire service staff across Cambridgeshire are using lateral flow testing to help keep all 28 stations fully operational during the pandemic.   

The service introduced the LFDs, which enable a rapid test of infectiousness for Covid-19 to be carried out, in December 2020.  

Those taking the tests access their own kits twice weekly and since December, over 1200 tests have been conducted.  

Of these, eight have come back positive – six of these were from asymptomatic individuals.  

“If it wasn’t for the tests, this outbreak could have spread among the team and left us without a particular watch or more for 10 days,” said area commander Stuart Smith. 

“Luckily all have since recovered, but it had the potential to infect many more individuals.”  

He said the tests produce results within 30 and “has enabled us to quickly adapt shift patterns and isolate positive individuals.  

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“Despite Covid, the service hasn’t seen a great drop in demand for call-outs, in fact we have been slightly busier than usual at times.  

“We’ve got 120 staff also volunteering across the county supporting with the vaccine rollout, staff working in hospitals support the fitting of personal protective equipment and helping supporting ambulance crews.”  

The service is rolling out two testing regimes among staff. Those who regularly mix with others – from cleaning staff and those in fire control rooms, to full time firefighters and training centre staff – all receive kits which allow them to test at home twice a week, in line with healthcare workers.    

And secondly, ad-hoc tests on a weekly basis, for those who don’t interact regularly – such as on-call fighters, senior leaders and support staff who can test when they need it – rolled out across 17 station testing sites.  

Mr Smith said: “There’s definitely an analogy between fighting Covid and fighting fires.  

“The sooner you can get to a call out, the greater chance you have for extinguishing the fire and saving lives. It’s the same for the pandemic too.  

“The Innova tests are like our fire alarms. They provide a real benefit as they give us near-immediate warning within 30 minutes, rather than a PCR test which can take a day –or more to give results.  

“The sooner we know people have Covid, the faster we can intervene, isolate and lessen the impact.”