Firefighters attended 185 medical emergencies in March

Tue 1 Apr, 2014

Above: Jason Thelwell, left, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service's Chief Operating Officer, and Steve West, South Central Ambulance Service's Operations Director, whose organisations are working together.

Below: Co-responder Jon Franklin, a Watch Manager at High Wycombe Fire Station, with the ambulance co-responder car.


A quarter of the incidents attended by firefighters from Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service in March were medical emergencies. It follows the start of a three-month pilot scheme with South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) of an initiative called co-responding.

Co-responders are specially-trained firefighters who are dispatched by the SCAS Emergency Operations Centre to a range of medical emergencies to provide life-saving treatment and care to patients before an ambulance arrives on scene. There is clear clinical evidence that rapid basic life-saving skills, with the use of semi-automatic defibrillators and oxygen administration, save lives.

Co-responders are mobilised to certain incidents within specific fire station areas if they are able to provide a faster initial response than SCAS and start vital care and treatment to patients in a life-threatening condition. The co-responders do not replace emergency ambulances, but can give early medical treatment until an ambulance arrives.

Co-responding has been running in the area served by Great Missenden Fire Station since June 2011, and is now being trialled at Amersham/Chesham, High Wycombe and Marlow, initially until 31 May.

Co-responders went out to 185 medical calls during the month. In the same period, crews attended 541 other incidents. This is an average of six co-responder calls a day, with the peak coming during a 14-hour period on Thursday 6 March, when there were 12 calls.

Jason Thelwell, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “We are committed to making Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes the safest places in England. This scheme is a further step towards achieving that aim.

“Our job is to save lives in our community. We do this by preventing and responding to fires and road traffic collisions, and now by responding to medical emergencies. We will always put the needs of the community first, and we will continue to embrace new ways of working to reduce deaths and injuries.”

All the co-responders are firefighters who are trained to an agreed set standard in basic life-saving skills, and assessed by suitably qualified SCAS instructors.

The co-responders are only sent to agreed types of call, and are backed up by an ambulance service response in accordance with national ambulance performance criteria.

During March, High Wycombe co-responders went out to 91 emergencies, including people with chest pains, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, suspected strokes, burns from scalding and injuries from falls, and people who had suffered fits or seizures or who had fainted. Amersham/Chesham co-responders attended 65 calls, Marlow 19 and Great Missenden 10.

Steve West, SCAS’s Operations Director, said: “We are really pleased to be working in partnership with Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service to deliver the co-responder scheme, which will be of clear benefit to our patients in the area.

“South Central Ambulance Service works to provide excellent patient service, saving more lives and improving health. The co-responder initiative is an efficient and effective way of delivering this aim. This agreement is designed to make best use of available resources of both organisations for the benefit of the patients.”

The schemes at Amersham/Chesham, Great Missenden and Marlow aim to provide round-the clock on-call availability. The availability period at High Wycombe runs from 8am to 10pm, seven days a week.

The availability of fire engines is not affected, as firefighters use a purpose-built co-responder car supplied by SCAS.

SCAS are responsible for all costs associated with the operation of the scheme. The pilot scheme will be reviewed at the end of the trial period.