Obesity cost on Wiltshire's fire service

Obesity cost on Wiltshire's fire service

Published by Mike Draper at 5:45am 18th February 2020.

3 minute read

There's a big problem for our firefighters, with crews required to move severely overweight people dozens of times last year.

Public sector union Unison says extreme obesity is a worsening problem for ambulance staff, with calls to Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service for assistance now increasingly common.

Home Office figures show:

    • Our Fire and Rescue Service attended 39 callouts for bariatric assistance (helping ambulance staff to move obese people) in 2018-19
    • That an increase on the 36 incidents recorded the previous year
    • It's more than triple the 11 cases seen in 2012-13, when records began
A Fire Engine from Salisbury Fire Station.
In Dorset and Wiltshire, 56% of bariatric assistances required more than one fire engine or other vehicle in attendance.


Firefighters often need lifting equipment and special slings to transport obese people, and sometimes remove windows, walls and banisters.

Freedom of Information requests to some fire and rescue services have shown the average cost to them of a callout is £400.

That would mean the cost of bariatric assistance in Dorset and Wiltshire last year came to around £15,600.

Firefighter helmet 2 - Fire Fighter (Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue)
Our local fire brigade has seen the number of incidents they're called out to rising in the last seven years
  • In Dorset and Wiltshire, 56% of bariatric assistances required more than one fire engine or other vehicle in attendance, while two required four or more
  • Firefighters most commonly spent between 30 and 45 minutes at the scene
  • On one occasion, they spent four or more hours

For some non-emergency cases, services have been able to recover costs since legislation was put in place in 2004.

Colm Porter, Unison's national ambulance officer, said:

"Going beyond the safe working load for specialist equipment creates dangers for both crews and patients. Staff have to assess each situation to decide whether they need assistance from other emergency services."

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said the failure of successive governments to tackle the country's obesity problem was to blame for the "appalling" figures:

"As the already fat get even fatter expect an even larger number next year. Society's main concern must be that crews engaged hauling the morbidly obese from their houses are unavailable to fulfil their principal duty of hauling people from burning buildings. If one death should occur as a result it would be a calamity and rightly see the Government disgraced."

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