THERE are 226 people walking around Oxfordshire today who should not be here.

They should be dead, killed in a house blaze or a mangled car.

But thanks to Oxfordshire firefighters, they survived.

In 2006, the Oxford Mail backed the county’s fire and rescue service bid to save an extra 365 lives across the county over 10 years.

It is now half way through its hard-hitting educational campaign and is ahead of target, having cut road and fire deaths by 226.

The service has also saved £76m against its 10-year target of £100m, based on the response and treatment costs from the serious accidents that have been avoided.

One of the firefighters involved in talking to youngsters about accident prevention is station manager Bob Paterson.

He lost his 13-year-old son Dale in a car accident in 2005 and has praised the campaign’s approach.

Mr Paterson said: “People don’t think it will happen to them, but I say ‘it could, it happened to me’.

“Every time I talk about Dale it hurts me.

“But I don’t want other people to go through it. That is why I do it.”

The campaign was devised by current Chief Fire Officer Dave Etheridge.

He said the ethos of the service was changing and the campaign has shifted it further towards prevention and education.

He explained: “Twenty five years ago we would sit, wait for a call and go and do something about it – we were a risk mitigation service. Now it is a risk management service.

“We understand the risks and do something about them. A 999 call is the end of the process, not the beginning.”

Campaign successes include work with youngsters convicted of car crime, through the probation service in Witney.

Mr Etheridge said: “As part of the rehabilitation, they come to a fire station, meet the crews and have a look at the kit.

“Then we take them into the yard and they sit in an old car, in protective gear, and we then use the hydraulic cutting gear to cut them free.

“We show them a hard-hitting DVD and talk to them about how they feel.”

Mr Etheridge admits the tone of the chats vary, but the reoffending rate of those who attend the sessions is zero.

Another success has been cutting arson in the county by around 40 per cent, from 957 incidents in 2006/07 to 586 last year.

Oxfordshire, with Buckingham and Berkshire fire services, jointly fund a Thames Valley Police officer. Using a new arson database, the officer can look for any emerging patterns.

But the chief fire officer readily acknowledges the service will always be judged on its 999 response.

Mr Etheridge said: “In that moment of desperation, we have to be there, efficiently and quickly.”