Weighty problem for Essex firefighters

FIREFIGHTERS in Essex are being called an average of twice a week to lift clinically obese people so heavy they are unable to move themselves, it has emerged.

Roddy Ashworth

FIREFIGHTERS in Essex are being called an average of twice a week to lift clinically obese people so heavy they are unable to move themselves, it has emerged.

In the last four years, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) has raised 390 heavily overweight people - the highest figure for any service in the UK - at a cost to tax payers of �892,710.

Some of the obese people requiring help have included those who have fallen on the floor and cannot get up or those who have got stuck in their own bathtubs.

But yesterday ECFRS Chief Fire Officer David Johnson said that although the organisation was primarily concerned with dealing with fires, accidents and other emergency scenarios, it could not ignore the plight of anyone in need of urgent help.

CFO Johnson said ECFRS was an emergency service with an ethos to assist people in distress or at risk, regardless of their physical health.

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“We are responding to people often with a life risk, a threat to their health and nearly always in severe distress,” he said.

“We cannot legislate for the number of calls we receive, this is an indication of a wider social issue.

“I cannot imagine for a minute that anyone would suggest that we leave people lying on the floor, stuck in their baths or in bed upstairs because of their size.

“Leaving people in our communities in severe distress flies in the face of everything the fire service stands for.”

All 86 calls last year were to assist the Ambulance Service in moving obese patients.

CFO Johnson added: “What this issue does highlight, however, is the broadening of the Fire Service role, on many occasions in line with the expectations of our communities.

“We also, however, have an obligation to our firefighters and, as such, new or changed roles do bring about the requirement for new equipment and skills.

“As ever, our firefighters rise magnificently to the challenge and continue to provide a world class emergency service.

“As a fire service, we cannot tackle the root of the problem of growing obesity, that's a much wider social issue.”