Firefighting health inequalities

Sophie Taysom, Policy Lead for Making Every Contact Count, Department of Health

We know that making every contact count is a way of working that can make a real difference to people’s lives. The focus might be on individuals losing weight, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, or helping to reduce social isolation – it’s about living well for longer.

For those at the West Midlands Fire Service  it can mean:

  • getting an elderly woman’s carpet replaced because there’s a real risk of her tripping;
  • looking out for new squats on the way to and from work to have conversations with the homeless about fire safety, and giving information on local services;
  • climbing through someone’s window to have a chat about alcohol harm reduction because that was the only way they would let you in; and,
  • working with a 15 year old with 30 or so arrests with the outcome that they stay in education, are now living independently and don’t do the sorts of things anymore that got them arrested in the first place.

Last week I was fortunate to go along to the West Midlands Fire Service Health Inequalities Conference where I heard from those delivering these services.  While some of these interventions are delivered over a couple of visits and through a few phone calls, for others, a successful outcome means working closely with someone over a number of years.

So at this point you might be asking what’s public health got to do with the fire service? We know that alcohol and drugs are present in about 50% of fires; about 40% of those who die in fires are known to mental health and/or social care providers; and smoking materials are a contributory factor in about 50% of fatal fires. So preventing ill-health and supporting behaviour change is linked to preventing fires.

Some of the stories I heard are truly remarkable and inspiring. They demonstrate the importance of local action and working across organisations to improve health and wellbeing.

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