Firefighters from across the five south west fire and rescue services are to continue to provide vital life-saving support alongside the ambulance service.
Since the early stages of the pandemic, firefighters have been working with ambulance crews from South Western Ambulance Service (SWASFT) to assist during medical emergencies.
The partnership has led to countless lives being saved and received praise from government and royalty.
The shared crews have so far attended in excess of 30,000 calls, more than half of which are within the highest two priority calls, which are to people in life threatening or serious conditions.
With the current winter pressures on the NHS and surge in Omicron cases, this arrangement has been extended and will now continue until April 2022.
Prince Charles visited firefighters and ambulance crews supporting Devon and Somerset in July 2020. The Duke of Kent visited firefighters from Avon Fire and Rescue earlier this month. The Duchess of Cornwall visited Swindon fire station in July 2020 where she met firefighters, paramedics and hospital staff supporting the Dorset and Wiltshire area.
Strong partnerships between fire and ambulance services aren’t new. Fire crews are often called upon to gain entry to houses so that paramedics can see to patients and some fire stations have staff who are trained to give basic life support to people until the arrival of an emergency ambulance.
Will Warrender, Chief Executive of South Western Ambulance Service, said:
“We are delighted that Chief Fire Officers have agreed an extension to the very successful collaboration involving the fire service working alongside SWASFT staff on ambulances, providing driving and support skills. This helps us ensure the most effective care possible to communities right across the south west to boost our Covid-19 emergency response this winter.
“This partnership is even more vital as another wave of coronavirus affects the country and our service continues to experience increased demand alongside winter pressure placing significant pressures on our resources.
“In order to continue with effective and responsive patient care, we have been working with various partners and agencies, to manage this challenge and are extremely grateful for the invaluable support we have received during the pandemic, from the region’s five fire and rescue services.’’
Under the agreement, fire officers will continue to work alongside ambulance staff by driving vehicles and assisting clinicians to provide patient-focused care.
He said the strategic partnership will continue to significantly benefit SWASFT’s response to Covid-19, to save lives and support overall care to patients throughout the South West during anticipated surges in demand.
SWASFT was the only ambulance trust in England to approve and train fire personnel to drive on blue lights for the first phase of the partnership. Typical tasks include driving urgent care vehicles, administering immediate aid, the safe movement of patients and supporting SWASFT crews in ensuring patients receive the care they need at home or on the way to hospital.
Paul Kimberley, Specialist Paramedic (Emergency and Urgent Care), said:
“Ambulance crews and firefighters are already used to working together when responding to incidents. But what we have seen in the past year has required a new approach to working with our blue light responding partners. This has further enhanced the professional ties, mutual respect and understanding for each other’s work.
“Although we are different services, we have one aim and that is to keep the public as safe as possible. The impact of the pandemic has made it even more important that we support each other and stand together in the service of our communities at a time of great need.
“During this national health emergency we are more grateful than ever for the support of our fire services colleagues for offering to step in and assist our staff and our patients.’’
Lee Howell, Chief Fire Officer of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, said:
“It’s crucial that in times of crisis, people come together to help those in need. This partnership does just that and has helped thousands of people since the beginning of the pandemic. We will continue to support for as long as we’re needed.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the firefighters who when the call came, put their hands up to step outside of their normal duties and come to aid of our partners and our communities. Their dedication, selflessness, and resolve has been, and continues to be, exceptional.”