Essex County | 6 Feb 2012
Essex County Fire and Rescue is working to do more at less cost, proactively embracinge the Big Society ethos and, most importantly, making sure that the protection offered to the people of Essex continues to grow despite dwindling budgets.
Two new life saving schemes see ECFRS continuing in its relentless aim to improve the way it interacts and gets out into the community to help those most in need.
The Southend Volunteer Scheme is a partnership between ECFRS and the Southend Association of Voluntary Services (SAVS) to deliver increased fire safety to the town. Supporting the work of ECFRS’ own home fire safety technicians, volunteers are carrying out home fire safety visits to the most vulnerable people in the town.
Meanwhile, retained firefighters in Newport and Coggeshall have taken on the role of First Responders, providing on the spot emergency first aid in support of the East of England Ambulance Service.
In a medical emergency, the first few minutes are vital and thanks to a newly-trained team of firefighters, Newport and Coggeshall now has a new emergency response team on hand to provide immediate cover. Initial reaction has been so positive that ECFRS is to encourage more stations and crews to participate County-wide, particularly in rural areas.
Six firefighters from Coggeshall have been trained as First Responders, ready to deliver medical care to anyone in the village who finds themselves in crisis.
First Responders are alerted at the same time as the Ambulance Service. Each of them has received special training and equipment from the Ambulance Service and because they live and work in the community, the likelihood is that they will reach a casualty quicker than a team sent from outside.
Working in pairs the teams rush to help at a moments notice often arriving before an ambulance has time to get to the scene and provide the early medical care which could mean the difference between life and death. While awaiting the arrival of the Ambulance and its highly trained medical team.
The First Responder team will respond to emergency calls in a specially marked and equipped car wearing the red jump suit that is the uniform of first responders.
In the first month of 2012 the team have already been called out 15 times and in one case their help helped to prevent a desperately sick man from suffering a heart attack.
Sub Officer Trevor Disley, officer in charge at Coggeshall Fire Station, is one of the six taking part in the scheme.
He said: “It is something which all of us are pleased and proud to be doing. It is another way we can help our community and thanks to the training we have had we are all very confident in what we are doing and how we can help.
“We are alerted at the same time as an ambulance and our attendance does not affect the speed the ambulance arrives at, we are simply here to be an extra resource to help people while awaiting the arrival of the Ambulance Service.
“Our colleagues in the Ambulance Service told us that in the first minutes of an emergency every single minute delay can affect the patients’ chance of survival by 10% and because we are all here in the village we can be on scene in no time at all, we have even arrived to help before the person calling has put the phone down!.
“We can give oxygen therapy, have been trained in CPR and are equipped with a defibrillator to resuscitate anyone who needs it. We also reassure the patients and can talk to them about what is wrong and any medicine they have been taking so that as soon as the paramedic arrives we can handover that information and they can get to work straight away.
“Often just knowing that someone is there to help and offer reassurance can make a real difference to patients, it calms them down and means that they are often in a far better way when ambulance crews do arrive a few minutes later.”
In one case the First Responders helped a man who looked like he very easily could go into cardiac arrest right in front of them.
Firefighter Justin Knopp who was on duty as a First Responder that day said: “We had a call to a man in his 40s suffering chest pains. When we got there the man was slumped in his bed and had difficulty breathing. He had fluid on his chest and suffered with pneumonia.
“We sat him up and gave him oxygen therapy to get his breathing back under control.
“When the paramedic arrived he feared that the man might go into cardiac arrest and he briefed us on just what we should all do if that happens, but in the event he was able to stabilise him and get him to the hospital.
“I am sure that what we did helped get the patient stabalised and to hospital without suffering a heart attack.
“What we are there to do is help patients get through the first few minutes of their emergency, we are there to help in the first five or 10 minutes to give them the chance to survive long enough to get expert help from paramedics or at the hospital.
“The experience we get as First Responders helps us as firefighters. We already had the training to deal with incidents and now we have improved skills, knowledge and confidence to improve how we deal with casualties at our incidents as well.”
In Southend, the expanding and successful volunteer scheme has just trained its second group of volunteers so there are now 18 on the books.
Since its inception volunteers have carried out 129 Home Fire Safety visits and taken 177 referrals.
ECFRS Project Manager, Divisional Officer Stuart McMillan said: “The scheme is proving to be very successful, with many more vulnerable people being made safer in their own homes thanks to these volunteers.
“The scheme is providing extra capacity to deliver home fire safety visits building upon the excellent work our own technicians are already doing.”
The partnership sees the local charity managing a team of volunteers on ECFRS’ behalf, adding to the existing work carried out by ECFRS by fitting life saving smoke alarms in the homes of elderly and vulnerable people.
Alison Semmence, SAVS Chief Executive, said: “We are pleased to see the volunteers are not only gaining great satisfaction from providing fire safety advice to the most vulnerable residents, but they are also enjoying the whole experience of meeting and talking to them and being able to put something back into the community.”
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Gordon Hunter said: “The Volunteer Scheme is progressing well, it has already carried out dozens of home fire safety visits to the elderly and vulnerable people we need to target.
“This scheme sees us aligning our expertise in Fire Safety with SAVS’ expertise in accessing and managing volunteers and the vulnerable people who need home fire safety visits.
“And First Responders are already out there providing first aid in the first vital minutes of a crisis
“These schemes are the Big Society in action and I believe we will see more and more schemes like this in the future.
“Despite the fact that we are facing financial constraints, as a Service with the support of the highly dedicated people who work for us, we are doing all we can to deliver more with less, by collaborating with partners such as the Ambulance Service and SAVs and also working smarter.
“For example instead of our fire crews being detained attending known false alarms from AFAs in offices and fatories they are available to do more such as First Responding. It is important to add that our First Responders do not in any way affect the availability of or Fire Engines. Coggeshall and Newport fire stations are still there when you need them for fire and rescue. I would not allow any of our new initiatives to detrimentally affect our core function of fire and rescue.”