Yorkshire firefighters could be told to hand out health advice

Picture: PA
Picture: PA

Firefighters in rural areas of Yorkshire could be asked to treat heart attack victims and give advice on on how to stop smoking as part of plans to reduce demand on the region’s over-stretched health services.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has today published details of three possible areas where it could collaborate with local health workers in the county.

If we are to even look at this work we need guarantees that it is coming with additional investment to improve current frontline services.

Steve Howley, FBU

These include promoting health and wellbeing advice, sharing buildings and staff with health providers and responding to emergencies such as heart attacks and falls.

The proposals have been criticised by the Fire Brigades Union, which says the service in North Yorkshire does not have the capacity to carry out its existing duties, let alone take on any new ones.

Details of the ‘health consultation’, which includes three main areas for future development, were published on the fire service’s website.

It said: “North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service already delivers a number of initiatives which are aimed at improving the wellbeing of people within our community and protecting them from the risk of fire and other emergencies.

“This includes work such as home fire safety visits and an emergency first responder scheme whereby fire service staff in some of the more rural areas, are sent to medical emergencies at the same time as an ambulance (when there is enough staff on duty to also crew the fire engine).

“We are now looking to increase our work with partners such as Clinical Commissioning Groups, local authorities, Yorkshire Ambulance Service, Public Health England and North Yorkshire Police to further assist in promoting health and wellbeing across North Yorkshire and the City of York.

“We also have a statutory duty under the Policing and Crime Act to seek collaboration opportunities with the other emergency services for the improvement of public safety or improving the efficiency and effectiveness of all the emergency services.

One possibility is an ‘early intervention’ scheme to reduce longer term demands on health services and the fire brigade itself by getting firefighters to promote health and wellbeing advice, such as smoking cessation, reducing alcohol intake and keeping homes warm.

The service also wants to make savings by sharing buildings, staff and facilities with local health services.

Examples of this include fire crews carrying out work such as fitting hand rails so people can safely stay in their homes, or allowing ambulances to use fire stations as a base for emergency responses.

Another possibility is using the fire service’s skills and assets to respond to what it describes as “health emergencies, outside of the traditional role of the fire service”.

It said: “This could include training our staff to respond to heart attacks, falls and other home emergencies in a medical role or forcing entry into buildings for medical emergencies.”

The website added: “Our aim is to contribute to the health and wellbeing of citizens in York and North Yorkshire, working to the principle of ‘make every contact count’.”

Steve Howley, North Yorkshire FBU secretary, described the proposed health plans as “absolutely crazy” and said firefighters had ‘zero training’ to carry out tasks such as assessments and giving out health advice.

He said: “If we are to even look at this work we need guarantees that it is coming with additional investment to improve current frontline services.

“We are not getting that, we are getting the opposite and being told there will be further reductions in frontline numbers.

“We believe the capacity for firefighters to carry out these roles is not there. We are failing as a service and the chief fire officer needs to concentrate on the core services and meeting his statutory obligations to the tax-payer before he takes on additional responsibilities.”

In recent years, ‘blue light’ services in Yorkshire and nationwide have been encouraged to work together as their budgets are squeezed by a combination of increased demand and reduced government funding.

A scheme is already operating in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, where on-call Humberside firefighters act as emergency first responders in rural areas in a bid to boost cardiac arrest survival rates.

There are plans to roll this system out into North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire, with a regional working group set up to ensure consistency.

Comments on the consultation can be made until 6pm on April 30. The outcomes of the consultation will be presented to the North Yorkshire Fire Authority at its meeting in June.