A senior member of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in Derbyshire has said the extension of a pilot programme which sees firefighters respond to life-threatening medical emergencies should not be a “sticking plaster” for the region’s under-pressure ambulance service.
Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS) joined a UK-wide pilot scheme in May 2015 which has seen retained firefighters respond to 1,356 medical emergencies in the role of Emergency First Responders (EFR), providing lifesaving care to patients suffering cardiac arrest and other serious conditions.
The trial, in partnership with East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS), is now being extended to include wholetime firefighters for the first time, with Ilkeston and Long Eaton stations the first to adopt the new role. Firefighters at Buxton, Dronfield, Matlock and Staveley are set to join following the completion of training this month.
Chris Tapp, Derbyshire FBU Brigade Secretary, said firefighters’ primary duty remained fire and rescue, and that any cuts to this service could not be allowed to fund problems within EMAS.
“It is clear that EMAS are struggling and do not have the resources to cope with demand - this goes all across the NHS. So it is imperative that central government recognise this issue and begin to deal with it by properly resourcing the NHS and associated ambulance trusts,” he said.
“If the fire service is going to engage with this work and take on extra responsibilities then this must be recognised in the wages of firefighters. What also needs to be in place is the correct training, protection and equipment.
“Our primary duty to the public of Derbyshire is for fire and rescue and this is what the taxpayers of the country expect their taxes to be spent on. We cannot see cuts to the fire service to fund the problems contained within EMAS.
“If its work that the fire service and FBU agree that we should do then it needs correctly resourcing at all levels and adequate models need to be developed to provide the best service. We cannot be an EMAS sticking plaster.”
EFR firefighters are mobilised at the same time as ambulance crews, and are able to provide a rapid response to people in life-threatening emergencies such as a cardiac arrest, chest pains and unconsciousness.
DFRS area manager Bob Curry said: “While our colleagues in the ambulance service have seen an approximate six per cent year-on-year rise in demand for their services, through proactive prevention activity and education, the fire and rescue service has seen a 50 per cent drop in calls for an emergency response.
“By building on the existing skills our firefighters are already equipped with allowing them to respond to a diverse range of emergency incidents, we were able to create a dedicated and effective team of EFRs, who are already making a difference supporting the work of EMAS.”
Peter Ripley, EMAS Associate director of operations, added: “Having someone there who can provide basic life support, including defibrillation and CPR, within minutes of the collapse happening, will improve the patient’s chance of survival.”