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Firefighters now trained to crew ambulances during the COVID-19 pandemic

Firefighters from across Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) are set to provide additional support to South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT) by crewing ambulances to assist paramedics during the coronavirus outbreak.

19 firefighters from Cornwall, who are trained in blue light driving, will be crewing two ambulances supported by SWASFT’s own medics. The crews will be based at Newquay and Launceston.

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The vehicles will be operational 24 hours per day, seven days a week, for an initial period of six weeks, with the aim of helping the ambulance service and relieving the increasing pressure on paramedics as they respond to the coronavirus crisis.

Initially these dual-staffed ambulances will be transferring patients to and from hospital, but they will also provide a first response for some life-threatening calls, backed up by a paramedic when required.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service already works closely with SWASFT providing co-responding at a number of its stations in Cornwall. Co-responding sees fire and rescue personnel respond to certain types of medical trauma alongside SWASFT ambulance crews.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service personnel are also supporting the community by:

  • Helping to fit and train NHS staff in the use of respiratory Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Opening up a training room at Truro to provide additional welfare for SWASFT crews
  • Delivering PPE to care homes and other Cornwall Council departments
  • Providing specialist and technical fire safety knowledge to a range of partners

Cllr Rob Nolan, Cornwall Council cabinet member with responsibility for Public Protection, said: “There can be no stronger and more welcome example of service co-operation than this. Firefighters and ambulance staff getting together to increase capacity in our response to the greatest health emergency of our times. I must thank our fire crews for willingly taking on this extra responsibility, and for training so rapidly to serve Cornwall alongside health colleagues.”

Derek McCullough, South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) Interoperable Capabilities Officer, said: “We are delighted about this partnership with fire service colleagues across the South West to support our frontline care of patients. We have invested in 15 additional ambulance vehicles, which have now been allocated to this important partnership initiative. The partnership will enable us to make more efficient use of our resources and help us deal with the expected increase in demand over the upcoming weeks. This will mean we are better equipped to reach those patients most in need of our care, and ultimately to save more lives.”

Mark Hewitt, Cornwall Chief Fire Officer said “We are proud to be supporting our colleagues in the ambulance service at this challenging time. We have been co-responding to medical emergencies for over 21 years at a number of our community fire stations across Cornwall. As the demand on our NHS colleagues increases as a result of COVID-19, we will work even more closely to protect the communities we serve and save lives”.

Group Manager and Project Lead Sacha Wheatman said: “Following the request for the Fire Service to assist the Ambulance Service nationally, today sees Cornwall Fire and Rescue and South West Ambulance Trust join forces in the fight against Covid 19. CFRS firefighters begin jointly crewing front-line ambulances with SWAST for the first time in both their long histories. Seeing firefighters receiving their familiarisation from SWAST Officers at Fire Service HQ was a culmination of some great joined-up working in the purpose of the common good during these unprecedented times.”

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