A SCOTLAND-WIDE trial begins today which will see firefighters respond to some out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. The trial will run at seven stations, including Musselburgh, Bathgate and Linlithgow.
Every year in Scotland 3500 people have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, yet the current survival rate in Scotland is 4 per cent (17 per cent for Edinburgh). In the US city of Seattle, an incredible 40 per cent of people who suffer a cardiac arrest in public are saved, partly thanks to fire teams responding to such incidents.
We know that time is vital in saving lives and improving the quality of life for those who do survive. By giving firefighters enhanced training in life-support, the number of people who can respond quickly is increased.
There are more than 350 fire stations across Scotland, many in rural and remote communities where a paramedic could be a considerable distance away.
And in urban areas – where stations have 24-hour staffing – these crews could be sent to respond at times when ambulances are busy with other calls.
In effect this is another army of First Responders.
The idea, which follows talks between the Fire Service, the Scottish Ambulance Service, the NHS, the Scottish Government and the Fire Brigades Union, makes a lot of sense and has been widely welcomed. However, a pilot is the right way forward and we must be sure that survival rates for victims are improving.
If there are complications with a patient, what additional skills will a firefighter have to tackle this?
And will the time it takes for an ambulance to reach a patient lengthen as a result of the knowledge that a firefighter is on the scene?
Only time will give us the complete picture, but now we must welcome this initiative which only underlines the vital work which our firefighters are able to carry out in the community.