Collaborative fire and ambulance service plan in pipeline

August 15, 2016

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) are currently in discussions to ascertain if a trial would be appropriate in Northern Ireland to test emergency medical responses with firefighters assisting ambulance crews. According to Jim Quinn, Executive Council member for the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the aim of any trial will be to discover how best the NIFRS can support and assist the NIAS – and not as a replacement for ambulance crews.

Such a scheme would entail firefighters being dispatched to an emergency medical situation at the same time as an ambulance crew, with a view to administering emergency treatment such as a defibrillator or CPR should the fire crew arrive on the scene first.  The scheme would be particularly beneficial in rural areas without an ambulance station nearby, such as Crossmaglen and its surrounding region.

Speaking to The Examiner about the possibility of such a scheme being implemented, Mr Quinn explained,

“From our point of view, it is focusing on the communities that we serve and live in. We want to see if there is anything we can do to expand that and expand the role of firefighters in something that would be beneficial to the community.

“Over 30 fire services throughout Northern Ireland have already taken up the opportunity to trial emergency medical responses,” he added.

“Most of them are doing out of hospital cardiac arrests, going along with the ambulance service, with a defibrillator and if the fire crew happens to arrive before the ambulance service – in the case of a remote rural location, or somewhere where the ambulance service are unable to access as quickly because they are on another call – then fire service officers will apply the defibrillator if necessary until professionals arrive.  Really the aim is to assist and support – not to replace ambulance cover, and that is the key message we are keen to convey.

“Fire service officers are already trained in the use of defibrillators and obviously if we can offer something to the community to assist with the ambulance service and help to save a life in the community, or to stop the damage being as bad as it could, then we are keen to participate in such a trial.”

The FBU EC Member added that trials of the scheme are underway right throughout the UK and talks are ongoing at the moment with the only trial anticipated to start in Northern Ireland in Lurgan in the coming weeks.

“A trial scheme may be starting in Lurgan first of all and once the results of those trials come back right across the UK then we will be able to evaluate the situation and see if we can spread it out throughout Northern Ireland by ascertaining what sort of impact it will have on our fire crews and our resources,” said Mr Quinn.

“We are running trials first to see if the scheme is appropriate for us and if it is then we will sit down and work out how we can do it and where we can do it.

“My view is that if we are able to assist communities like this – not because the ambulance service have not got enough ambulances – but because we may have fire stations in areas where there aren’t any ambulances, such as Crossmaglen – then a scheme like this could make a vital difference to the local community.  So we are seeking to explore this right across the UK,  to find out if can we do it, if it works and are the resources there to do it? Our key message is however that if such a scheme is implemented the fire service will be there to support the ambulance service and not to replace it.”

Sinn Féin Group Leader Terry Hearty told The Examiner such an initiative would be welcomed in south Armagh.

“Anything that will help save lives is to be welcomed,” he said.

“We actually advocated a similar system in the south Armagh area a number of years ago due to the historic lack of ambulance cover here.

“South Armagh would be the perfect place to roll out such a scheme. Years of under investment by unionist ministers have left us with totally inadequate ambulance cover.  It’s not unusual to hear stories of people in life threatening conditions waiting hours for ambulances to arrive here so anything that would help pick up the slack could only be a good thing.

“However, in the long term a scheme like this should only ever be seen as an additional level of safety and not a replacement for adequate ambulance cover.”

A Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service spokesperson confirmed that it was exploring future opportunities for collaborative working with Health & Social Care Services and Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to deliver an improved service to the community.”