By Debbie le Quesne

Are these respected men in uniform our new first-line carers?

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Fire officers seem unlikely care workers, but it appears their role has changed so much they now could be.

I never knew until reading the story online in The Guardian newspaper that hospital discharge teams can make a referral for a fire service call to patient whom is deemed vulnerable.

“Since 2003, the number of fire incidents in Great Britain that firefighters respond to has halved, from 572,000 to 287,000.

“Deaths and serious injuries have fallen commensurately, but, of the 388 fire-related fatalities in 2010-11, half involve people over 60,” the article said.

With fewer ‘shouts’, fire services have turned increasingly to preventive work, visiting older and vulnerable people in their homes to check and advise on fire safety.

“If you compare the cost of replacing a pair of sloppy slippers with the cost of caring for somebody who has fractured their hip, you can start to see why it’s so important,” Peter Dartford, Staffordshire’s chief fire officer and chair of the national prevention committee of the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) told a dementia conference recently.

Dartford was making the point that fire fatalities account for less than three per cent of accidental deaths of our older people.

Some 43 per cent, however, are attributed to slips, trips and falls. He sees it just as much a part of the job of a visiting fire officer to look for trip hazards in the home, or for signs of vulnerability on the part of the householder, as for dodgy wiring.

“We are often in these homes before other agencies because we are actively seeking to get into households to promote fire safety,” Mr Dartford is reported as saying.

“I am a passionate advocate of the idea that prevention is better than cure and because we engage with people, because we can capture their imagination and because fire services staff have a very positive standing within local communities local we can use that to influence a range of things beyond fire.”

The work of the Fire Service has won the backing of Elaine Jones, director of operations at Age Concern Birmingham, which works closely with the crews.

“In our experience, it is trusted by older people. Firefighters’ reputation for saving lives, often in dangerous circumstances, generates tremendous goodwill,” she is reported as saying.

Fire service community teams take referrals from concerned agencies, such as the NHS, council adult social care and voluntary groups.

While checking on the safety of appliances, or fitting a smoke alarm, officers will assess whether the householder has any mobility problems, or whether there are any signs of drug or alcohol misuse or mental illness. They may even carry out basic and subtle tests for sensory deprivation.

The role of these particular ‘blue light’ workers as part of a social intervention network is excellent news at a time when so many at-home services are being cut back.

I’m encouraged too, that the firefighters stress they are not pretending to be health and welfare experts.

Steve Vincent, head of community safety and partnerships for West Midlands fire service, was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “We are not professionals, but we will notice some of these issues in the home. We will talk to the individual in a sympathetic way and then bring in partner agencies from among health and social care providers in the area.”

This cultural change has been developing over a number of years and as the eyes and ears of the community I applaud it. It’s good news, but there are problems looming.

“Two obstacles stand in the way of fire services’ growing role in the community,” The Guardian said.

 One is over-zealous interpretation of data protection law, thwarting exchange of information with other agencies and the other is funding.

Given the potential savings this work can make within the NHS, should the Fire Service foot the bill?

Its budgets are to be slashed by a whacking £207m in England by 2015.

So where will the axe fall? My experience tells me it’s always the easy target that take the hits, so I reckon the fire engines will get the edge over care on the final budget sheet.



Written by debbielq

October 8, 2012 at 8:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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