Firefighters in Humberside are providing the first response to reports of falls in the home in a pilot that is helping to reinvent the role of the fire service.
Every year, several thousand call-outs to deal with falls are received by the emergency services in the area. Official figures show that, last year 1,016 people aged 65 or over were admitted to hospital in Hull with injuries due to falls.
The frequency of this kind of incident makes significant demands on the time and resources of the ambulance service.
Now a partnership between the clinical commissioning group (CCG), Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) and Humberside Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS), means that whole-time firefighters in a dedicated vehicle are often the first port of call when reports of falls are triaged.
The six month trial, which began in September 2015, has already had a major impact, freeing up capacity for YAS to deal with more serious call-outs, providing a quicker service to those that have fallen and putting in place prevention measures to minimise the chances of reoccurrence.
Dene Sanders, Humberside’s Chief Fire Officer (CFO), explains: “Before we set up the team, people who had taken a tumble at home were being routinely shipped off to Accident and Emergency departments, often blocking up a bed when they generally didn’t need to be there and then struggling to get out again because social care packages might not be in place in time.
“What we realised quite quickly with this pilot is that often what the faller needed was somebody to go and check them over, see that they were not seriously injured, literally stand them back up and give them a cup of tea.”
Ambulance services are brought on if necessary but the use of technology is being explored that would give firefighters on-scene access to clinical advice via a video link.
Firefighters are not only providing a medical response, they can also implement preventative measures and equipment fitting at the same time.
“If the individual can suggest a reason, or we can readily identify why they have fallen over and we can fix it, we do it at source,” said CFO Sanders.
“We have gear on the vehicle so that we can fix a loose stair carpet or put in a hand rail, for instance. It gets sorted there and then.”
HFRS is now dealing with a significant volume of calls – 530 to 550 a month – which is approaching two thirds of the emergency fire and rescue calls that the service receives in the same period.
Firefighters involved in the trial are not required to perform their normal duties so fire cover for Hull is unaffected by the initiative. If the trial proves successful and the service is subsequently commissioned by the CCG, a more permanent staffing model would be agreed with the potential to enhance the role and service still further. Early indications are that there would be no shortage of applicants from the firefighter cadre to carry out the new role. It would also provide an opportunity for firefighters to rotate in and out of this specialist area enhancing their skills.
Councillor Helena Spencer, Portfolio Holder for public health and adult services at Hull City Council, said: “This ground breaking scheme means that people can be helped quickly, and can remain in their own environment. A win-win, not just for the individual and their family, but also for the public purse.
“The public sector, working together, is a force to be reckoned with. We can be innovative and challenge stereotypes. Humberside Fire and Rescue have proved that through this one scheme alone and we are proud to be working with them.”
HFRS is exploring other ways of widening its remit, against a backdrop of falling demand which has seen a 50 per cent decrease in fire calls over the last decade.
Consideration is being given to HFRS Control Room delivering out of hours Telecare services, using firefighters to deliver fitness packages for the public, and giving support to end-of-life care where a package includes physically moving the person to a better location within their own home.
One major development will see a new fire station co-located in an Integrated Care Centre in the east of the city. The centre will be a ‘half-way house’ between hospital and returning to independent living.
“What I want is staff in the fire station to be completely integrated with what health teams are trying to achieve in the rest of the building,” said CFO Sanders. “For instance, a patient in post-operative recuperation that may be doing 20 minutes on a treadmill could easily be supervised by a firefighter.”
CFO Sanders envisages “a new breed of firefighter” that has a much wider social health and wellbeing remit to their job.