Unlike America, the fire service and the ambulance service are two completely different things – all I know about fighting fire is to throw water on it, and all the firebods know about medicine is that they need to call us out. There is a bit of trouble in Tower Hamlets at the moment, as the government wants the fire service to start responding to medical emergency calls. They will provide a whole two days worth of training so that a fire engine can be dispatched to “Cat A” medical calls (Cardiac Arrests, Difficulty in Breathing, “Serious” bleeding). This is in part due to the Bain report that recognised that the fire service spend too much time sitting on station, and is looking for new roles for them.
The following Press release pretty much says it all
The Fire Brigades Union balloted for industrial action yesterday over what it claims is an attempt to force members to work as surrogate ambulance crews.
The FBU is angry about plans to run a “coresponder” project in Tower Hamlets in east London, which would see fire crews trained to make an initial response to medical emergencies. Both services would receive emergency calls and fire crews would be dispatched to emergency medical cases where they were judged most likely to reach the patient quickly. They would carry a defibrillator, first aid kits and oxygen to keep patients stable until the ambulance arrived.
The FBU says its members are being forced to undertake the training, unlike some of their colleagues in rural areas who have volunteered to train. They say there has been too little consultation on the training and no clarity about the legal liabilities of those who become involved.
The union is asking its 260 members in Tower Hamlets for permission to take any industrial action short of a strike. This would mean fire crews refusing to train for coresponding duties, declining to use the equipment and refusing to attend any coresponse calls.
Mick Shaw, a member of the London FBU executive, said: “If we are out dealing with ambulance calls we will not be dealing with fire calls and that will worsen the fire service. We also don't believe our members will be properly trained to deal with the sort of situations they are likely to encounter. What we need is a properly staffed ambulance service able to meet its response times.”
But Brian Coleman, the deputy chairman of the London Fire Authority, criticised the union. He said: “How can anyone have a dispute over the introduction of life-saving mechanisms? It is absurd that as things stand, a fire engine can pass someone having a heart attack and cannot do anything about it.”
A spokesman for the Fire Authority said they were trying to negotiate terms with the FBU. There are similar arrangements in Devon, Cornwall, Lincolnshire, mid and south Wales and in Berkshire, where the management and the local FBU are in dispute.
There are a number of problems with this idea as I see it so far…
Would you like a pump and eight firemen turn up to your first heart attack?
Learning Basic CPR and some advanced skills takes two days, they may be able to deal with a cardiac arrest (but not to the same degree the LAS can) but won't be able to deal with anything else.
They may find themselves sitting around looking at you while you are dying, waiting for the LAS to turn up.
Most of our Cat A calls are complete rubbish – the firebods aren't going to be happy running on some of the calls we run on…
Why not throw the money at the ambulance service, so that people properly trained to be medic responders can get on with the job?
Ambulances aren't equipped to put out fires, fire engines aren't equipped to transport patients…
I suspect that it will put more of a strain on our inter-service professional relationship.
So good luck with the industrial action lads – I suspect a lot of the LAS are behind you.