THE BLOG

Fire Brigades Union Stalling Potentially Life-saving Pilot With Petty Eleventh-hour Demands

17/11/2015 11:30 GMT | Updated 17/11/2016 10:12 GMT

London is on the verge of embracing a potentially life-saving scheme that would see trained firefighters responding to emergencies such as heart attacks, alongside the London Ambulance Service (LAS).

However, the final push for a pilot, which if successful could see the idea rolled out across the capital, has been blocked by union bosses drawing red lines in the 11th hour of negotiations.

Proposals for 'co-responding' between London's Fire and Ambulance services, put forward in a GLA Conservatives report in August, would enable medically-trained firefighters to respond to the most critical emergencies when an ambulance was unable to get there in time. The fire crews would then administer life support, such as CPR and defibrillation, until the LAS arrives and takes over.

The speed of response to what the Ambulance Service refers to as 'RED1' emergency calls can often mean the difference between life and death, as for example, every minute a person in cardiac arrest does not receive basic life support their chance of survival decreases by 10%.

In 2014/15, the LAS were only able to attend 67% of the RED 1 emergency calls within the target time of eight minutes following a surge in emergency calls since 2003.

Figures suggest firefighters could significantly ease the burden on the London Ambulance Service by responding to a maximum of 10,000 emergency calls a year, 87% of which could be reached within the crucial eight-minute target time.

Calls for the pilot come on the back of increasing pressure on the London Ambulance Service and a drop in the number of London Fire Brigade call outs. In the 10 years leading up to 2013 the number of incidents attended by the Brigade had dropped 44%, whilst the London Ambulance Service had seen a 42% increase.

London's ambulances are now facing a utilisation rate of over 80%, whereas the average fire engine spends less than 7% of its time responding to emergencies.

As pressure on the Ambulance Service continues to grow, events such as the tragedy in Paris this weekend show that the need for London's Emergency services to work more closely together has never been more essential.

Sadly, despite having their initial concerns satisfied, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) bosses are refusing to sign up to the pilot because of a petty squabble with another trade union.

They are demanding a seat on an industrial relations board of the Brigade's call centre staff, known as Control, despite having only 11 members out of the 103 employees, and their request being strongly objected to by the largest existing union that represents the overwhelming majority of the workforce.

The FBU justify their position as one born from the need to protect their 11 members from the increased work load this pilot scheme would generate, neglecting the fact that in reality the modest trial would likely only see an average increase of less than 4 calls a day for the entirety of Control.

The majority of firefighters I speak to recognise the benefits of co-responding to the Fire Service, to the Ambulance Service and to those suffering the most serious medical emergencies. I strongly urge the FBU to drop their unreasonable demands and agree to a pilot that could save lives, protect firefighter jobs and provide a vital bridge to help London's emergency services work more closely together.