Firefighters may become frontline ‘first responders’ for health emergencies

editorial image

A 90-day public consultation has been launched by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service as it seeks to modernise the manner in which it operates during the 21st Century.

The UK’s largest fire and rescue service is seeking views from the public on proposals that would see the role of firefighters expand to do even more to protect local communities.

The current SFRS operating model has served Scotland well – but is said to have been designed to meet the risks of the 1940s and is no longer adequate for the needs of a modern society - or is it?

As fires have decreased, new and emerging risks have risen such as a growing elderly population needing support to stay safe in their homes, and the threat of terror attacks. But are these roles entirely the domain of a fire service?

A safe and planned transformation will allow the service to better meet these risks and ensure staff are equipped and trained to take on an even greater role.

However, the Fire Brigade Union is not welcoming the proposals with open arms, criticising the dilution of a firefighters’ core task.

The widening emergency medical response role has already seen firefighters saving lives across the country by responding to Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest, a co-responding trial with the Scottish Ambulance Service.

The biggest impact would be through an expanded prevention role – stopping emergencies from happening in the first place to not only improve community safety and well-being, but reduce the demand on Scotland’s other public services.

Chief Officer Hay said: “We exist to save lives and ensure wellbeing, and we can better achieve that by re-aligning our stations, equipment and people to the needs of a modern Scotland.

“We are also proposing a new firefighter role so they can prevent and respond to new risks.

“We can deliver so much more for our communities - the public deserves maximum value from the service it funds – but can nonetheless be assured that the transformation of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will be planned and safe.”

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “Trials with firefighters co-responding with ambulance crews took place last year in select areas of the country and this partnership working has helped save lives.

“We have access to a wide range of responders skilled in CPR and basic life-saving skills, including the police and community first responders, which is intended to complement, not replace, our highly skilled staff across Scotland.”

But it looks like the consultation may not be all plain-sailing with news that the FBU has agreed a motion of ‘no confidence’ in chief officer Hay and his management team.

While this carries no real weight in terms of what happens next with it, what it does show is the complete breakdown of trust between the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and its members via the voice of their union.

Both parties have agreed to further talks.