Cornwall’s tri-service officer project, which has now been picked up by Durham and Darlington Fire And Rescue Service, is a forerunner of the closer working relationship that is likely to develop between fire and police.
In a typical week, Andy Hitchens could be one of the crew attending a house fire or car crash, dealing with troublesome neighbours or giving vital lifesaving attention to someone suffering a heart attack.
Andy is Cornwall’s first tri-service community safety officer, working out of a new station in Hayle, occupied by fire, police and ambulance services.
He has been seconded from the fire service to take on the new role for a two-year pilot, paid for by government transformation funding.To prepare Andy for the role, in addition to the skills he has as an on-call firefighter, he has completed police basic driver training, ambulance co-responders training, supported through shadowing a paramedic over eight shifts and a nineweek community neighbourhood policing residential course. He has also received training in identifying child sexual exploitation, the Prevent anti-terrorism agenda, dealing with anti-social behaviour and vulnerability screening.
On a day-to-day basis Andy’s role is focussed on reducing community risk through activities that help people live safe and well. He is involved in youth engagement and local policing, home and business safety visits and gathering information on community risk. In support of the ambulance service, he can be mobilised to medical emergencies as a first responder. At the same time, he is one of 12 retained firefighters who can be called on to form part of a five person crew in fire and rescue call-outs.
Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Paul Walker, of Cornwall Fire, Rescue and Community Safety Service, said: “The view of senior police officers and myself is that it creates a face of community safety. It’s a great role and we are looking to expand it to other rural communities in Cornwall.
“As is the case across the country, incidents of fire have reduced. The fire service has developed a prevention role and this is taking it a step further. Although Andy does not have powers of arrest this has not proven to be an issue – much of what the Police deal with can be classed as social welfare rather than crime. That is where Andy’s role is important, particularly in a smaller rural community.”
Cornwall’s tri-service officer project, which has now been picked up by Durham and Darlington Fire And Rescue Service, is a forerunner of the closer working relationship that is likely to develop between fire and police as the fire and rescue service moves from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to the Home Office.
CFO Walker is in discussion with colleagues to look at how the tri-service can be funded when the pilot ends. He said that a split of the salary would make financial sense for all three services and from a fire service view, could also assist in resolving the problems of recruiting retained firefighters in rural areas.
The tri-service officer role builds on work that the fire service has undertaken in the area of health and social care.
Working with South West Ambulance Service Foundation Trust, five co-responder units, trained in basic life support, the use of external defibrillators and oxygen therapy, have been long established in the county and a sixth is about to come on stream.
Providing medical care in advance of an ambulance attendance has been particularly important in isolated parts of the county. Over the past three years firefighter co-responders have made a total of 1,848 lifesaving interventions.
One family is particularly grateful for the speedy intervention the fire service can provide.
When a Mullion resident suffered a heart attack in November 2015, co-responders from Cornwall fire and rescue service delivered CPR until paramedics got there.
The family said: “Barry had the very best chance possible from these wonderful people and I am glad to say he is making a good recovery…how lucky we are to have the support of the Mullion fire crew who respond so quickly and professionally when needed for medical emergencies”.
Councillor Geoff Brown, Cabinet Member for communities, said: “Cornwall has embraced the concept of closer interoperability between the emergency services and is leading nationally on a number of initiatives. As a fully integrated service of Cornwall Council unitary authority, our fire fighters do so much more than fire and rescue. They play a key role in the health and wellbeing of the community which reduces the pressures on the NHS.”