Firefighters to continue driving ambulances to help service in Somerset

Written by on October 28, 2020

SOMERSET firefighters will be driving ambulances across the county until at least March 2021 in a bid to take the pressure off paramedics.

At the start of the coronavirus crisis, the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service teamed up with the South Western Ambulance Service (SWAST), seconding several of its staff to help with rising demand.

Firefighters have since driven ambulances in response to more than 2,500 calls.

As the second wave of the virus intensifies and the winter approaches, the two services will continue to work together – with up to 40 firefighters from across the two counties being committed at any one time.

The fire authority has said new ambulances had been purchased – and has promised no one will need to be transported to hospital by fire engine.

Details of the collaboration between the fire and ambulance services were published ahead of a virtual fire authority meeting on Friday morning (October 23).

Chief fire officer Lee Howell said in his written report that 15 “combined crew” ambulances (with one firefighter and one paramedic or “emergency care assistant”) had been deployed as part of a wider collaboration with emergency services across the south west.

He said: “In the first phase of the pandemic, we provided staff to drive ambulances to 2,648 calls and saved countless lives in the process.

“We are currently gearing up to provide support to the ambulance trust for the second phase of the pandemic. This will commence on November 1, 2020 and run until the beginning of March 2021.”

Of the more than 6,000 incidents attended by ambulance crews since the pandemic began (both with and without firefighters), around 40 per cent were “blue-light runs” for the most urgent or seriously ill patients, as opposed to more minor injuries.

The first phase of the collaboration officially came to an end on August 31 – but the two forces will team up in the same way over the winter to combat both the usual rise in demand for services during the colder months and the rise in coronavirus cases.

A spokeswoman said: “A pool of 40 firefighters were used originally, but crewing five ambulances 24/7 meant 10 firefighters per day.

“The bulk of these firefighters are also co-responders and have a higher level of medical training through SWAST, as well as a blue light driving qualification.

“We have received a further mutual aid request from SWAST to support them with ambulance driving for a four-month period from November 1, under similar terms to the previous phase.

“All the costs of this are being met by SWAST using funding from central government.”

Jack Charles, one of the firefighters involved, said he and his colleagues had undertaken “additional training in infection control” to prevent the virus from spreading.

He said: “Since the collaboration began, I’ve attended a cardiac arrest and a drug overdose, as well as helping to transfer critically-ill patients to hospitals.

“This partnership means the ambulance services has more resources so it can attend incidents quicker and ultimately save more lives.”

Mr Howell added: “Our firefighters supported the ambulance service with ambulance driving earlier this year. This was a fantastic example of blue light collaboration and helping the public at a time of need.

“We are very much here to help each other, our teams and partner organisations when they need it the most. We’re now making provisions to work together again during the challenging winter months.”

The fire authority said no fire appliances had yet been used to transport people to hospital in the event that an ambulance was not readily available.

A spokeswoman said: “This scenario is highly unlikely. SWAST has purchased additional ambulances to increase their vehicle capacity.”


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