FIREFIGHTERS may deliver food and medicine, drive ambulances and retrieve bodies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Under plans agreed by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and fire chiefs, firefighters will continue with their essential work such as attending fires and road traffic accidents - as well as supporting other emergency services through the crisis.

At a meeting on Tuesday, chief fire officer for North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service Andrew Brodie said firefighters were preparing to help North Yorkshire Ambulance Service, if they should ask for support.

He said: "We're identifying which staff we can free up whilst maintaining our ability to deliver our services - particularly response - so that we can share some staff, share some resources where we're able to do so and where it's sensible to do so."

Under the national plans, firefighters will help other public bodies, and the scheme will run for two months but could be extended if necessary.

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said:"The fire service by its very nature wants to be able to help people and this agreement will make it possible for us to provide greater help to communities and support those who need it most.

"We’ll now be working with our colleagues and their representative bodies (NYFBU), the Local Resilience Forum and partner agencies to look at how we can best deliver this locally, in a safe and effective way.

"This will ensure we’re able to respond to all emergency calls for fire and rescue services, as well as protecting our staff, making sure they remain fit, healthy and available for their core duties to North Yorkshire’s communities.

"It’s helpful that we’ve been given this guidance from the National Fire Chiefs Council, National Employers Group and the FBU about the agreed additional activities that can be undertaken by firefighters."

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: "The coronavirus outbreak is now a humanitarian emergency and firefighters rightly want help their communities.

"Many fear the loss of life in this outbreak could be overwhelming - and firefighters, who often handle terrible situations and incidents, are ready to step in to assist with body retrieval."

"Firefighters are fantastic at teamwork, are experienced in driving emergency vehicles and, as a service rooted in the community, may be best placed to deliver essential items to the most vulnerable."