FIRE crews in West Yorkshire have been called in to help lift dozens of people who were too heavy for ambulance workers.
Since 2005, West Yorkshire crews has completed 86 so-called ‘bariatric assists’, usually involving people weighing more than 20 stone. Bariatric is the medical term for obesity.
Cleckheaton, Batley, Elland and Marsden firefighters have all been involved assisting Yorkshire Ambulance Service this year.
Now some of the Huddersfield area incidents have now been revealed in a Freedom of Information request by the Examiner.
It shows that firefighters from Huddersfield station have been called in to aid rescuing obese patients seven times in the past seven years.
Incident logs from the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) provided to The Examiner reveal a range of circumstances for firefighters to be needed.
In April this year five firefighters from Cleckheaton were flagged down by a 58-year-old woman whose mobility scooter had become stranded in the middle of the road.
The woman had been sitting in the cold for more than half-an-hour after the road legal scooter ran out of power as she manoeuvred round a parked car.
Firefighters pushed the scooter to the kerb and assisted lifting her into an ambulance after the woman claimed she had no money for a taxi or relatives to help her.
Also in April this year, Cleckheaton firefighters, covering for Elland, used cutting equipment, timber and nail guns to rescue an overweight Halifax pensioner.
The incident to assist the 64-year-old woman required two fire engines and 10 firefighters and lasted almost two hours.
Last August volunteer firefighters from Marsden were called to help lift a 50-year-old woman who had collapsed in her home.
Firefighters from Batley were also required to lift a collapsed male from the upper floors of a flat complex last April.
In January 2010, Huddersfield firefighters were called to lift a patient from his flat to an ambulance and in March that year, two engines from the Castlegate station and one from Elland were required to lower a 63-year-old male with serious injuries from an upper floor of his home using rescue lines and a spinal board.
In June 2009 firefighters from Huddersfield were involved rescuing a 45-year-old woman who could not get out of her bath.
The five-strong crew lifted her from the bath using a spinal board.
Cleckheaton Station Commander, Mark Hitchcock, said his technical rescue crew were now responsible for any difficult rescues – including all requests for assistance from the Yorkshire Ambulance Service.
He said officers there were specially trained in techniques such as strengthening floors, building platforms, and removing windows to rescue people from upper floors.
A spokeswoman for WYFRS said following the level of bariatric rescues they had changed their attendance policy.
She said: “WYFRS updated its Bariatric Patient Policy in August 2011 regarding the role firefighters carry out at related incidents.
“WYFRS will only attend when structural intervention and/or specialist techniques are required and at the request of Yorkshire Ambulance Service or the police.
“In the case of a life-threatening incident, a Technical Rescue Officer and the Technical Rescue Team would be mobilised and crews assist with structural intervention in order to rescue the casualty.
“At non-life threatening incidents a Technical Rescue Officer would be mobilised to assess if WYFRS resources are required.”
Commenting on such incidents, WYFRS Occupational Health and Safety Manager, Mark Dixon, said no firefighters had been injured performing heavy lifting duties.
He said: “The management of bariatric casualties presents significant challenges to WYFRS.
“However incident commanders are trained to assess the risk to firefighter safety against the benefits which are achievable and taking appropriate actions based on the outcome of this assessment, and in this respect bariatric incidents are no different to any other emergency.
“All firefighters are trained in correct manual handling techniques and equipment is carried on all appliances to reduce the risk of injury.”
Nationwide, UK fire and rescue services have responded to over 2,700 calls over the past five years to assist severely obese people.
South Wales Fire and Rescue responded to the most calls during that period – a total of 189.
South Yorkshire was the fifth highest region with 140 calls.
It is thought each assist costs several thousand pounds.