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LGA - Firefighters tackle dementia, cot deaths and childhood obesity as local authorities embrace public health responsibilities

Firefighters across England are going above and beyond their fire prevention work and are now supporting vulnerable people with issues relating to dementia, mental health, domestic abuse, social isolation, childhood obesity and youth unemployment.

Following the transfer of public health duties to local government, the fire and rescue service is now working in partnership with councils to help combat a range of health and wellbeing issues including cot deaths, drug and alcohol abuse, fuel poverty and housing problems.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents all 49 fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) in England and Wales and more than 370 local councils, has produced a report called ‘Beyond Fighting Fires – The role of the fire and rescue service in improving the public's health'.

The report catalogues work by a number of fire services across England, covering both rural and urban environments and with varying levels of deprivation and affluence. It highlights the impact FRAs are having in tackling health inequalities in collaboration with other public services.

In Bolton, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service has helped keep babies and toddlers safe by distributing cots and Moses baskets to vulnerable families to try to reduce the risk of sudden infant death. In Norfolk and Suffolk fire crews have helped overweight teenagers become more active by taking part in eight-week activity and nutrition courses. And throughout the country more than half of the fire authorities have now signed up to the Dementia Friends initiative, with a view to all FRAs joining the scheme over the coming years.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chair of the LGA's Community Wellbeing 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."

Cllr Jeremy Hilton, Chair of the LGA's Fire Services Management Committee, said:

"Fire and rescue services have proven just how effective they can be by halving the instances of fire over the last decade through both their responses to emergencies and their extensive programme of prevention work.

"They are now exploring how they can use their expertise in further prevention work to improve the public's health by providing critical interventions, promoting health messages and referring to appropriate services. 

"Over half of all fire related deaths and injuries in the home happen to people over 60 and we know that impairment and disability increase the risk of harm from fires and other hazards too. This work means that not only can we prevent fires and other emergencies, but action can be taken to help people who may not even realise that they need extra help."

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