Moving obese people placing increasingly heavy burden on North Yorkshire’s firefighters

Obesity is an increasingly big problem for North Yorkshire’s firefighters, with crews required to move severely overweight people on more than a dozen occasions last year.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 18th February 2020, 6:28 pm
The North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service attended 15 callouts for bariatric assistance.

Public sector union Unison says extreme obesity is a worsening problem for ambulance staff, with calls to the fire brigade for assistance increasingly common.

Home Office figures show crews from the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service attended 15 callouts for bariatric assistance – helping ambulance staff to move obese people – in 2018-19.

Firefighters often need lifting equipment and special slings to transport obese people, and sometimes remove windows, walls and banisters.

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Freedom of Information requests to some fire and rescue services have shown the average cost to them of a callout is £400. That would mean the cost of bariatric assistance in North Yorkshire last year came to around £6,000.

In North Yorkshire, 40% of bariatric assistances required more than one fire engine or other vehicle in attendance.

Firefighters most commonly spent between 15 and 30 minutes at the scene.

For some non-emergency cases, services have been able to recover costs since legislation was put in place in 2004.

Colm Porter, Unison’s national ambulance officer, said: “Going beyond the safe working load for specialist equipment creates dangers for both crews and patients.

“Staff have to assess each situation to decide whether they need assistance from other emergency services.”

Across England, crews recorded more than 1,200 incidents last year, a 17% rise on 2017-18, and almost triple the 429 recorded in 2012-13.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Tackling obesity is a priority for this government, and we are committed to halving childhood obesity rates by 2030.

“Robust government action has decreased the sugar content in soft drinks by almost a third and we’ve invested millions promoting physical activity in schools.”