Fire service calls for greater role in keeping Lancashire healthy

Lancashire firefighters could expand their role to keep residents healthy as well as safe
Lancashire firefighters could expand their role to keep residents healthy as well as safe

Lancashire needs to get better at recognising the link between poor health and a person’s risk of being involved in a house fire.

That was the message from the county’s assistant chief fire officer, David Russell, to a committee of health and social care experts.

“Every time I’m noted of a fire-related death in Lancashire, I could pretty much write the profile of the individual,” Mr Russell told the Lancashire Health and Wellbeing Board.

“The one sad reflection is that, very often, that individual will be known to [social] services - but not the fire and rescue service,” he said.

Board members heard that closer co-operation between health, social and fire services could benefit all of the organisations involved - and the people who rely on them.

The role of fire services across the country has changed dramatically over the past decade - with the focus now firmly on fire prevention. And the policy seems to working - in Lancashire, firefighters now attend 50 per cent fewer incidents annually than they did in 2008.

That reduction in demand enables them to make 25,000 home visits each year, when they would previously have been fighting fires. Traditionally, those calls were to assess a household’s fire safety - but now the service wants to check not just on properties, but the people living in them.

And board members were told that firefighters could help lessen the pressure on the NHS frontline, with officers already involved in schemes such as distributing bowel cancer screening kits. Every £1 invested in prevention by the fire service saves health services a minimum of £2.52, the meeting was told.

“Health and social care services are facing the same challenge as the fire service did 10 years ago - moving from chasing demand to getting serious about prevention,” Mr Russell said.

“While firefighters are in people’s homes, what opportunities exist to talk to owners about other [subjects], not just fire? How can we ensure that there is a flow of referrals, so that we know, before we even step over the threshold of the property, what risks are faced by the resident?” he asked.

LFRS also revealed that it could open up its 39 fire stations for use as “community assets”.

“Our stations have gymnasiums and fitness instructors. Are there opportunities to support the delivery of classes being run in the community? The answer to that is most definitely yes,” Mr Russell said.