FIRE stations could for the first time hire on-call staff who will not respond to fires, the Oxford Mail can reveal.

It it just one idea being considered by Oxfordshire's new chief fire officer, Simon Furlong, who said 'community safety advocates' could carry out social care home visits, help with NHS patient transport and promote safety campaigns.

He stressed the proposal was at a 'very early' stage but said it could be part of wider changes to broaden the role of the county's fire service.

Mr Furlong also revealed:

  • Firefighters could be asked to recover bodies for the coroner and remove fallen trees from county roads
  • Crews in all 24 of the county's fire stations will from next month be expected to respond to medical emergencies such as cardiac arrests alongside paramedics
  • Work is being done with the police and ambulance services to see if all three emergency services need to attend incidents that could be dealt with by just one, including road crashes

In an interview with the Oxford Mail, Mr Furlong said one of his key aims over the next few years would be to make sure Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service was 'embedded in people's lives even more'.

He said modern firefighters no longer just fought fires and ongoing pressure on public finances meant 'blue light' services needed to work together more than ever.

But the changes were described as a 'cause for concern' by the Fire Brigades Union, which said central government should provide more funding for the extra work.

Mr Furlong said: "We need to keep driving this forward because we have a duty to collaborate with the ambulance and police services.

"But we are also part of Oxfordshire County Council and so there are a lot of conversations happening across the organisation. I want firefighters thinking about what they can do to improve the lives of their community."

The fire service co-responded to more than 1,500 calls last year with South Central Ambulance Service, he added.

He said: "Co-responding is a fifth of our calls now and we have just signed a contract for all of our stations to be part of that – we are really saving lives.

"All our engines have defibrillators and we have the infrastructure across the county to help."

In addition to a growing role promoting community safety and healthy living, part of its 365Alive campaign, Mr Furlong said the service could also recruit on-call staff who would not fight fires.

Stressing it was at 'the very early thinking stage', he said: "It would open it up to a massive group of other people, because you do not have the fitness and strength elements of being a firefighter.

"We can task them because we have got the infrastructure, the location and the mobilising system. If the phone call comes in, we can say 'look there is a job here and can you pick them up'.

"They could be retained to stay on every year and we could give them a uniform. But they won't do the firefighting element."

The fire chief is also leading a piece of work to see if all three emergency services need to each respond to every incident together.

Mr Furlong said: "We are coming at it by looking at what tasks need to be undertaken. If you take road traffic collisions, you need to do the coning out and put a sign up up, possibly cut people out of vehicles, get them to hospital and investigate the scene afterwards.

"Do we all need to be there and do all of that? It could be a minor crash and maybe the police are happy for us to investigate, because we have investigative skills.

"We need to find the best possible way to work together."

Last night Fire Brigades Union Oxfordshire spokesman Mark Ames said the organisation supported 'new ways of working' for firefighters but raised concerns about funding.

He said: "We are working nationally and locally on this and are fully committed to working with the service.

"But they need to fund these new responsibilities properly, because they are currently trying to do it all on a shoestring.

"The Government needs to invest more in fire and rescue services. We will be writing to the Oxfordshire service next week to say we do not think any more responsibilities should be added without proper negotiations, because it is a cause for concern."