Firefighters in Dorset were called to 47 medical emergencies in one month to close a vital response-time gap in the most pressing cases.

During May this year, specially trained firefighters from seven stations around Dorset were called to 47 immediately life-threatening emergencies where no traditional firefighting was required.

They are part of the South Western Ambulance Service’s ‘responder’ initiative in which community volunteers, known as community first responders, fire fighters and life guards can all be tasked with attending emergencies before paramedics are able to arrive.

Fire co-responders are a common feature of ambulance services in Britain, however in Dorset they only attend the most serious incidents.

These ‘Code Red 1’ emergencies, which include heart attacks, require a response time of eight minutes.

A spokesman from Dorset Fire and Rescue said: “How it works is South Western Ambulance Service will identify areas where this additional resource would be helpful.

“You have incidents where a call has come in and somebody isn’t breathing and the nearest ambulance or paramedic car is 15 minutes away but the fire service can get there in eight.

“We’re not going instead of paramedics, just ahead of them.

“In locations where there are few ambulance stations or further out areas where there is that gap in available response, that’s where they are used.”

There are seven stations in Dorset that house co-responding firefighters, mostly in West Dorset.

These are Lyme Regis, Charmouth, Beaminster, Maiden Newton, Gillingham, Swanage and Cranborne.

Healthwatch Dorset chairperson, Joyce Guest said: “Community first responders are a great resource for the ambulance service, particularly in rural areas.

“But, while it’s important to develop these community initiatives and links with the fire service, they can’t be a replacement for skilled and qualified paramedics.

“Local people need to be assured that the ambulance service is adequately funded and equipped to deal with medical emergencies, wherever you live across Dorset.”

All firefighters are trained in basic life support procedures, such as the use of a defibrillator, but those who chose to become co-responders undergo further training with the ambulance service.

This training, regularly reviewed, ensures they are able to help patients who are unconscious, suffering with a major haemorrhage or choking.

South Western Ambulance Service’s responder manager, Robert Horton, said: “Just a few seconds can make all the difference when it comes to saving someone’s life so the collaboration between the ambulance service and the fire and rescue service helps deliver better care to patients by arriving in those valuable moments ahead of an ambulance.”