image of ambulance and fire engine

Firefighters turn ambulance drivers to support SWASFT

Avon Fire & Rescue Service (AF&RS) have committed over 12,000 hours to the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) since the height of the pandemic, to support emergency service colleagues and ultimately, save lives.

SWASFT is experiencing unprecedented, high level demand and  its colleagues are working incredibly hard with healthcare partners and other agencies including the region’s fire services to manage this significant challenge. 

As a Service, AF&RS recognise the challenges and continue to proactively support SWASFT with 10 firefighters on a full-time basis and four on a part-time as part of a wider response to assist our ambulance service colleagues and continue caring for our communities.

Firefighter Stuart Chee is currently driving ambulances for SWASFT, here’s what he experienced on one of his recent shifts:

12-hour night shift begins, starting at 7pm.

The shift started as normal, with a kit check of the truck, introductions to the paramedic crew mate, and talking to the day crew about their shift. As soon as the allocated time for kit check is up, we’re straight out the doors to a 79 year old lady with chest pains – a “bread and butter” call for the ambulance service.

After assessing her, we advised that she needed to go to the Emergency Department for blood tests to rule out a heart attack. Sadly many hospitals are experiencing very high demand too, so it’s not unusual to be queuing with our patients on the ambulance until a bed is available. Tonight is no different; we wait two hours for a bed to become available for our patient.

As soon as we clear from the hospital, we are straight to the next job, a Category 1 (urgent and life-threatening) call to a lady with ineffective breathing. On arrival this turned out to be hyperventilating due to a panic attack and after some calming and reassurance we were able to leave her in the comfort of her own home.

We’re now 5-hours in to the shift and are sent back to base for a break but as soon as we put our food in the microwave we are sent to another Cat 1 call to a 47 year old man who can’t breathe. This turned out to be a COVID positive patient who was struggling to breathe. His observations were ok and after an hour monitoring and calming him down, we left him at home with advice on what to do if things got worse.

After 7 hours we finally got our break, as soon as the 30 minute break is up, we are sent to another Cat 1 call at a night club after a young woman had multiple seizures after excessive drug use. She was taken to BRI and we monitored her until she got to her bed, luckily she didn’t have any more seizures.

Throughout the evening we hear multiple calls on the radio to outstanding Cat 1 jobs, with limited ambulances available we saw additional ambulances come from out of county to support our residents.

Tiredness starts kicking in around 4am, and while waiting for a bed in the Emergency Department for another patient, I catch up with a fellow Fire Service responder at the hospital.

In the meantime, several other ambulances turn up and join the queue, the fantastic nurses and doctors at the hospital create a makeshift triage area to ensure the patients are treated effectively.

We finish at 8:30am after handing our patients over to another crew.

Time to drive home and get in to my waiting bed for a few hours’ sleep before getting up and doing it all again!

As a Service we are proud of our commitment to SWASFT and continue to support the NHS with volunteer vaccinators and marshals at vaccination centres to help alleviate their pressures.

We are dedicated to keeping our communities safe and supporting our emergency service colleagues where possible.

Derek McCullough, SWASFT EPRR Manager, who was responsible for setting up this scheme for firefighters to crew and drive ambulances, said: 

“Our service has experienced a substantial increase in demand during recent months, placing significant pressures on our resources. In order to continue delivering effective and responsive patient care, we have been working with various partners and agencies to manage this challenge.

“We are extremely grateful for the invaluable support we’ve received during the pandemic from the five fire and rescue services in our region. 

“Avon Fire & Rescue Service has significantly contributed towards ensuring our services to patients are maintained, and we are thankful for the continued assistance their firefighters and support staff provide to us.”