According to the Local Government Association (LGA) since the transfer of public health duties to local government in April 2013, the fire and rescue service has been working with councils to help combat a range of health and well-being issues.
Details of the work being carried out by firefighters across the country are outlined in a new report by the LGA entitled, ‘Beyond Fighting Fires – The role of the fire and rescue service in improving the public’s health’.
The LGA represents all 49 fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) in England and Wales, and more than 370 local councils.
In Bolton, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is helping to reduce the risk of sudden infant death by donating cots and Moses baskets to vulnerable families in the community, as well as giving free fire safety advice.
The programme, ‘Safe Start’, is a joint initiative between Bolton Council, the Bolton arm of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) and the charity Urban Outreach, which works with disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals in the area.
It was developed after an awareness campaign in 2011 revealed a number of families in Bolton were unable to afford to buy a cot or Moses basket and were confused about the practice of safe sleeping.
In the first 18 months of the programme, 140 cots were distributed to families, referred by midwives or health visitors, with babies under a year- and-a half that did not have a safe place to sleep.
At the same time as delivering the cots and Moses baskets, the fire and rescue service’s community safety advisers gives families advice on safe sleeping and carry out a home safety check. They may also make practical changes to reduce the risk of fire and emergencies, such as fitting smoke alarms.
Another case study included in the LGA’s report is that of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, which runs a scheme to encourage adults and children to be active and healthy.
The initiative, ‘Fire Fit’ is aimed at the whole community, but particularly targets children, with firefighters running weekly exercise classes in primary and secondary schools across Merseyside.
Currently 12 schools are taking part in the initiative.
Fire crews in Norfolk and Suffolk are also helping children become more active by working in partnerships with local NHS teams.
The Fire Fighting Fit and Healthy programme offers children aged 13-17 who are overweight weekly healthy lifestyle sessions.
Run by firefighters with specialist gym instruction and nutrition training, the sessions, which run over the course of eight weeks, encourage teenagers to take part in a range of activities based upon what firefighters do in their day-to-day jobs. This can include hose running and climbing towers.
Children who have taken part in the programme report having changed their lifestyles by eating healthier.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA's Community Well-being Board, said, ‘Health is everybody's business and the fire service has really shown how effective it can be while remaining fully committed to providing the highest standard of emergency incident cover.
‘Firefighters are one of the most trusted professions in the eyes of the public, and this makes them uniquely placed to provide critical advice and support to the most vulnerable members of society. The work they are doing to team up with other local support means that life saving measures can be put in place at very short notice.’