Appeal Court Rules Firefighters Cannot Be Forced To Attend Medical Emergencies

FBU Press Release
28 February 2007
An appeal brought by two fire authorities seeking to force firefighters to answer 999 medical emergencies on behalf of the ambulance service has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal in London today.

The Fire Brigades Union welcomed the decision and were awarded their legal costs.The legal case focused on whether firefighters could be required under their contracts of employment to participate in so-called “co-responder” calls. It follows the attempted introduction of co-responder schemes at Retford Fire Station in Nottinghamshire and Grantham Fire Station in Lincolnshire.

Fire crews at Retford had 10% of their pay cut for over a year by local managers trying to force them to attend very serious medical emergencies on behalf of the ambulance service. Local managers had never tried to reach an agreement on the changes.In both areas fire crews are sent to the highest category of medical emergencies on behalf of the local ambulance service. The arrival of fire crews ‘stops the clock’ and counts in the official NHS ambulance response statistics as if a proper ambulance paramedic has arrived.

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack: “We welcome the ruling but are dismayed that senior fire service managers have thrown council tax money away on legal fees and court costs. These two fire authorities tried to impose these schemes without agreement, with no national discussions, with no proper procedures and with no UK wide standards. Our repeated calls for dialogue and discussion at national level have been constantly ignored.

Fire crews are not going to give away their employment rights. And they’re not going to let anyone take them away either.

Large numbers of firefighters do not even have their basic first aid certificates up to date. Fire crews know nothing of diagnosis, medical protocols or how to ensure there is no cross-infection with bugs such as MRSA.

Against a background of cuts and increased responsibilities fire and rescue services are struggling to provide time and resources maintain our members’ fire service skills never mind being forced into providing an ambulance service. Enthusiastic firefighters with basic first aid skills are not the sort of response the public expect when they dial 999 and ask for an emergency ambulance.

NHS targets for ambulance arrival times allow the very basic first aid provided under these schemes to count as if an ambulance paramedic has arrived. There is no target for the ambulance to arrive which can mean a worse service is covered up by misleading response statistics suggesting the opposite.


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