(27 June 2023) Over forty firefighters from fourteen countries met in Stockholm on June 20th and 21st for the 2023 EPSU firefighters’ network meeting. The gathering happened in the midst of very busy weeks for the EPSU firefighters’ network with an upcoming oral question in Parliament and the final moments of the negotiations between European Parliament and the European Council on the asbestos legislation in which EPSU has lobbied to include mandatory decontamination, more funds for training and upskilling and a set of fully accessible national registries of asbestos in building. This is essential for firefighters to be prepared when they intervene in a building but also to track their exposure to asbestos.
The meeting was opened by Barbo Andersson, vice President of Kommunal, that welcomed the participants of the meeting hosted by the municipal Swedish trade union kommunal. Peter Arneval, chief fire officer in Stockholm spoke about the challenges ahead for fire services and the upcoming increase in civil protection. Also Kommunal legal advisor Olov Östensson made a presentation about the recent agreement on on-call and stand-by time for firefighters, to comply with the working time directive.
A presentation of an upcoming report on staffing demands and working conditions was also made. Also Raffaele Cozzolino (FP CGIL) reported from the European Parliament hearing and about their work to introduce decontamination in Italy, inspired by the FBU (UK) project “Decon”.
The issues debated and raised were the need for more protection for firefighters, mandatory decontamination, the need for the EU and other international organisations to recognise the profession as carcinogenic and also the risk of many toxic substances in the smoke and fire (pfas, mutagens, asbestos…). The network urged the EU to transpose the classification by IARC – WHO, declaring the profession as carcinogenic, into EU law. Pensions and the ageing workforce as well as the need for a more diverse workforce were also issues discussed. The misuse of volunteer firefighters to undermine public services and compliance with working time regulation was also addressed. Last but not least, everyone agreed that more professional firefighters are needed to adapt and mitigate climate change and that more material is necessary but is paramount to increase the workforce.
On the second day, a field visit to Kungsholmen fire station took place, there a presentation of the local procedure for decontamination was made and a very interesting exchange with the local firemen and trade unions members took place.