RETAINED firefighters may soon be taking patients to hospital under a raft of possible changes being looked into by the new combined Wiltshire and Dorset fire service.

The new service was launched in Salisbury at the new Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service Headquarters at Five Rivers Health and Wellbeing Centre.

Chief fire officer Darran Gunter, who is leading the new service, told members it was looking at a range of projects - including a wider role for retained firefighters.

It could mean that the fire and rescue service become involved in ‘non-emergency medical support’.

Explaining a potential scenario, Mr Gunter said if a patient had a fall, an ambulance would turn up and a paramedic would see they had a broken leg.

“It doesn’t take a paramedic and an ambulance to take the patient to hospital,” he said.

“If it does, it ties them up for another two hours. So on agreement, and a cost-recovery basis, some retained firefighters would be paged and they would go and take the patient to hospital.

“This provides a benefit to the community, to our health partners because that paramedic is now available, and with decreasing fire calls, it makes the role of a retained firefighter more attractive.”

Calling the current pay-as-you-go model for retained fighters “wholly unsustainable in this part of the world”, due to dormitory towns and decreasing fire calls, Mr Gunter said: “Do we give them a wider role which gives them more interest and more remuneration? Do we give them a fixed salary scheme?” These are all the questions we need to look at.”

Over the next five years the fire service will need to replace around 32 fire engines.

With fire engines now costing about £240k each, Mr Gunter said the service would be looking at using smaller engines in some instances which would cost half the price and half the running costs.

He said the service had also started a wider review of estates for both Wiltshire and Dorset properties.

Response times are also a priority for the new service and ensuring resources are “proportionate” to the communities it served.

Outlining a new performance management system, from station level up to scrutiny committees, and the full authority, Mr Gunter said: “It is highly likely that in the summer of this year, we will start to see a new inspection regime - you will probably see fire coming under what is currently Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for the constabulary.”

“I think we are well-placed in terms of getting into a business rhythm ahead of our new inspection regime that I have no doubt will be coming our way as a result of the move to the Home Office.”

Wiltshire councillor Christopher Newbury, who sits on the new fire authority, said: “A pretty crunch issue is response times — there is a significant difference between response times in our new merged area and I’m guessing that the new inspection regime is going to take an interest in.

“There will be a big question mark hanging in the air about whether we start moving resources around in order to drive down the better bits and push up the worst bits.”

Mr Gunter said work needed to start quickly on looking at the response times of rural and conurbation areas and the uptake of retained firefighter availability.