NEWS: How firefighters are being used to help support care services
The West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) has agreed contracts with local councils to help deliver care to older people across the region. Going above and beyond the traditional ‘Safe and Well’ home visits, which all fire services across the UK offer, WMFS is being commissioned to deliver health and wellbeing interventions. This includes slips, trips and falls at home, which are real risks for older people living alone. It also includes getting involved in the safe discharge of patients from A&E and hospital stays.
WMFS is the second largest metropolitan brigade in the UK, operating from 38 stations across the West Midlands. Care contracts have been agreed with a number of city councils including Coventry City Council, Wolverhampton City Council and Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, as well as other organisations.
There has been some controversy regarding the move, with firefighters concerned that it is taking them away from their main job of responding to fire emergencies and that they are not trained for working with vulnerable elderly people, as reported by homecare.co.uk. In order to fulfil these care contracts, it is reported that volunteer staff are being paid to fill the roles and new firefighters are being put on flexible contracts to include this non-emergency work alongside frontline responsibilities. Over 10,000 people have so far signed a petition set up by the West Midlands Fire Brigades Union against flexible contracts for firefighters that include non-emergency work.
However, there are some benefits to this kind of health and social care intervention. There is a shortage of homecare services and staff to help deal with these at-home incidents and patient discharge from hospital, which is why the fire service has been engaged to help deliver these services. The fire service has also been a victim of budget cuts, so taking on these care contracts is a money-raising solution to pour more funding into the service as a whole.
Safe and Well visits
Fire services across England have long been involving in Safe and Well visits, where firefighters and support staff visit people at home to assess their living environment, their health and their safety. While this initially focused on fire safety, it has expanded to cover other aspects of health and crime prevention. Depending on the regional service, this can include things like general health and wellbeing, staying warm at home, social isolation and the risk of falling.
For example, the Great Manchester Fire and Rescue Service says that its aim is to ‘empower and motivate people to make positive changes to their health, wellbeing and fire safety. By doing this the process should not be limited to merely directing people to other agencies, but will also look to reduce risks during the initial visit where appropriate’.
These services are offered for free and are particularly aimed at the more vulnerable members of society, including older people. It is easy to request a visit for yourself or your loved ones by visiting the website of the relevant service and searching for the Safe and Well section. Those aged over 70 with mobility problems are at a greater risk if a fire breaks out at home, which is why these visits are so important. Addressing the larger issues of health and wellbeing can help to reduce this risk. The visits do also include aspects of fire safety and routine fire alarm checks, as well as discussions about escape routes and potential fire hazards.