Co-Responder Duties – 28 January 2015

Important notice to all personnel undertaking Co-Responding duties

This is in reply to any potential industrial action that might take place in the NHS.

We have been made aware that another union has called for their members to:

‘…not carry out any instruction from their Fire and Rescue Service to carry out co-responding duties.’

The union then goes on to claim that FRS are:

‘…potentially leaving FRS and personnel and Fire and Rescue Authorities liable in the event of legal action by a patient or their dependents should they believe that the actions of the Fire and Rescue Service was causal or contributory to a poor recovery by the patient or worse.’

Our position on the matter of our members undertaking Co-Responding duties is very different.

The basic position in respect of vicarious liability is as follows:

  • Where the relationship of employer and employee exists, the employer is liable for the negligent actions of the employee so long as they are committed in the course of employee’s employment.
  • All those undertaking Co-Responder duties are employees of the relative Fire and Rescue Services; vicarious liability will not apply if the task being undertaken is an unjustified service given in a context quite different from the usually understood terms of employment.
  • An employer will not be vicariously liable for the actions if his/her employee steps completely outside the terms of his/her contract of employment. Whilst those undertaking Co-Responding are not contractually obliged to do so (they can withdraw from this activity at any time) the law regarding vicarious liability is, however, quite wide in attributing employees’ acts to the employer. One exception may be if an RFU member expressly and deliberately attempts a course of action which s/he has been prohibited from doing by the FRS.  The rules under which co-responder duties are implicit with the training received.
  • It would be fairly unusual to name an individual employee in respect of any proceedings brought about as a result of their negligence unless there was some doubt as to whether or not the employer was vicariously liable.
  • Members should therefore not be under any misapprehension that undertaking Co-Responder duties in any way places them at risk provided they follow their own employing service’s operating procedures.

If you are a member of the RFU you are guaranteed representation and protection whilst undertaking Co-Responding duties. The RFU has championed Co-Responding schemes in the Fire Service for almost 20 years and we are fully aware that our members wish to perform this role as it has proven to save hundreds of lives over recent years.

If you are not a member of the RFU but Co-Respond, you could be faced with a difficult decision.

Our view is that as an organisation, we exist to help our members support their communities in the safest way they can, we are not here to put barriers in the way of saving and protecting the lives of the public.

The simple answer is to join the RFU, be assured of protection and continue to fulfil your role as both a firefighter and co-responder.