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Suffolk firefighters rise to medical 999 challenges

PUBLISHED: 17:13 18 January 2017 | UPDATED: 17:13 18 January 2017

The launch of the trial at Sudbury fire station

The launch of the trial at Sudbury fire station

Lives have been saved as a result of a pilot scheme which has seen cardiac arrest emergencies in parts of the county dealt with by firefighters.

Dan Fearn, Suffolk's deputy chief fire officerDan Fearn, Suffolk's deputy chief fire officer

During the past three months, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has attended 67 ‘Red 1’ cardiac arrest incidents with fire crews either attending before or alongside community first responders or paramedics to administer crucial treatment such as CPR and oxygen.

Five fire stations across Suffolk – Felixstowe, Sudbury, Long Melford, Haverhill and Lowestoft – are involved with the trial which is part of a regional project in conjunction with the East of England Ambulance Service.

The results of the life-saving partnership – which has seen fire crews deployed at the same time as first responders and paramedics to 999 medical emergencies such as choking, severe chest pains or cardiac arrest – will also be fed into a national project looking at the future role of co-responding for firefighters.

All firefighters already receive trauma training to deal with the traditional incidents the fire service attends, but around 100 Suffolk firefighters at the five trial stations have been given additional training by the ambulance service to enhance their skills for dealing with cardiac arrests. Equipment carried on fire appliances has also been extended and refined so they have the same “trauma pack” on board as ambulances and community first responders.

The start of the pilot project at Lowestoft South fire stationThe start of the pilot project at Lowestoft South fire station

Dan Fearn, Deputy Chief Fire Officer for SFRS said the trial, which will be reviewed at the end of February, has been embraced by the crews involved and has been a “big success”.

“Every station has been really positive about turning out for co-responding calls and crews are relishing the chance to add value to the community,” he said.

“In fact we already have a number of other stations asking if they can get involved in the scheme.

“Initial feedback from all of the trial services across the UK shows that on around 40% of the occasions where we have been called out and attended, the fire service is able to get to a patient first – and whilst it remains early days for our trial in Suffolk, we would anticipate being in line with the national statistics.

“Our crews have been able to get there quickly, assess the casualty, administer CPR and most importantly get the defibrillator working which is the bit that saves lives if the patient is receptive to that.”

Mr Fearn said blue light collaboration work already underway in the county which includes sharing stations with ambulance personnel had helped enormously. He said the ambulance service’s help with providing training and safeguarding checks had been “vital” to getting the trial off the ground.

Matthew Hicks, the county council’s cabinet member for public protection said the trial further demonstrated the fire service’s commitment to collaboration and improving the service it provides to the communities of Suffolk.

“The multi-agency project team, comprising of blue light responders, representative bodies and service specialists have engaged fully with the concept of co-responding, and it is great to see Suffolk continuing with its track record of improvement, innovation and collaboration,” he added.

Will the pilot scheme be rolled out wider across the service?

That will in part be dependent on the results of the national trial and funding options available, according to Mr Fearn.

He added: “Every time we turn out an on-call fire engine, it costs in the region of £100, although there are a number of other factors that can affect this figure. So clearly we have to be thinking and planning around how we sustain this in the future, given that there isn’t any new funding for co-responding at the moment.

“Last year we identified a small under-spend from another budget to account for the trial costs. The funding issue will be key nationally and that’s the direction we are hoping will come from the national report when it is produced.”

He summed up the key to the project’s success so far.

“We are able to put a number of people who already have the necessary skills and equipment out into the local community within minutes. Our crews are dedicated to providing the best possible service to the communities of Suffolk and this trial is another example of how we can really make a difference.”

Matthew Hicks, the county council’s cabinet member for public protection said the trial further demonstrated the fire service’s commitment to collaboration and improving the service it provides to the communities of Suffolk.

“The multi-agency project team, comprising of blue light responders, representative bodies and service specialists have engaged fully with the concept of co-responding, and it is great to see Suffolk continuing with its track record of improvement, innovation and collaboration,” he added.

What kind of incidents has the fire service dealt with during the trial?

One of the stations that has seen the most call-outs during the pilot scheme is Lowestoft south. So far they have received 25 co-responding calls, 10 of which were ‘returned on route’ but 15 that crews played an active role in.

Steve Mullen is watch commander for ‘green watch’ at Lowestoft, which has been the busiest, attending 10 of the 25 calls.

These have ranged from two drug overdose cases and three prolonged cardiac arrests where crews assisted with full CPR and life support. On occasions where they have not been first on the scene, they have helped to move casualties or fetch equipment for paramedics.

Mr Mullen said: “Out of the 10 cases we have been involved in, which is only a snapshot of the national picture, we have turned up first on three occasions.

“Often it’s the sheer weight of numbers we can bring that helps the most.

“For example, we had a case where a man had collapsed in a multi-storey car park and it took five or six people to move him down three levels to the ambulance.

“We would deal with these sorts of trauma incidents on the roadside if there was a car crash so it’s not out of our environment, and from the ambulance point of view, it gives them a resource that can get there quickly. The sooner you can get there, the greater the chance of reversing the initial cause of the cardiac arrest.

“In terms of the resources we bring by being on the scene quickly and the amount of quick work we have done for the patients, it has been a success and has undoubtedly saved lives.”


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