Firefighters and police to join forces for missing persons searches

A pioneering partnership between firefighters and police has just been launched which will see both blue light services join forces to search for high-risk missing people – and it is already helping to save lives.

The ground-breaking six-month pilot, between Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and Hampshire Constabulary, will involve St Mary’s Fire Station and cover the police operations across the whole of Southampton.

The collaborative project is a UK first and if successful could be extended to include medium-risk missing persons and get rolled out across the county and beyond.

Through the two control rooms police will be able to deploy the services of firefighters to help find people who are at risk themselves or considered a possible risk to others.

As the details of this Memorandum of Understanding were being put together two high-risk missing people were found by firefighters and police within minutes of a search being launched including an elderly woman with dementia who had fallen into a ditch.

The other was a semi-conscious woman in her 30s who was considered a suicide risk.

St Mary’s Station Manager Paul Parry said: “This is an exciting project for both emergency services and is set to be a great example of what blue light collaboration can achieve.

“By bringing together our combined skills, training and equipment we can better protect the people of Hampshire.”

Hampshire police Sergeant Nick Mills said: “The benefits of being able to call upon extra people and resources to help in these circumstances could be crucial.

“As well as extra manpower firefighters bring an array of skills and equipment that make them ideally suited to the task.

“For both services this partnership is win, win – and it will save lives.”

He went on to say having firefighters available to search specific areas would free up officers to pursue other elements of the search operation.

In addition to supplying extra trained people to a missing person search firefighters have skills in rescuing from height and well as water and rope rescue.

They also have equipment such as thermal imaging cameras and ladders as well as positive links into the community and Immediate Emergency Care training.

In addition there are plans to use shared drone facilities for such searches in the future.

HFRS Director of Blue Light Collaboration Stew Adamson said: “The partnership work that is going on between the fire service and police in Hampshire is setting the bar for the rest of the country.

“Projects like these pool skills and resources to keep the people of the county safer and ensure the public gets the best possible value for money.”

This is just the latest in a raft of collaborative work HFRS, Hampshire Constabulary and South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) are involved in.

Recently a pilot scheme was launched which has seen HFRS take on the responsibility for gaining entry to properties on behalf of the ambulance service – previously under the remit of the police.

HFRS was also the first to invite police to move into its headquarters which they did in November 2015.

They have also been opening their stations to police officers who now have a presence in several of the organisation’s facilities helping the two emergency services establish closer working relationships and providing the public with exceptional value for money.

The close links between the two services is also represented in other ways such as having a police officer on the fire service-run Arson Task Force, cross-service training to upskill firefighters and police officers and even sharing a corporate photographer.

Fire, police and the ambulance service also take part in regular emergency training scenarios to ensure they each thoroughly understand one another’s roles and have close relationships which could prove vital in a disaster situation.

The importance of the relationship between the fire service and the police is reflected by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority which was among the first to invite the Police and Crime Commissioner to attend meetings.

Co responder practices his skills

The county’s fire service has also run a co-responding service in partnership with the South Central Ambulance Service for more than 10 years – many other counties are now rolling this out.

HFRS responds to more than 10,000 of these calls a year – more than any other fire service.

In addition to this all fire engines are now equipped with Immediate Emergency Care packs and firefighters have received additional medical training.

This enables firefighters, often the first on the scene, to deliver potentially life-saving care in the vital minutes following an incident and help stabilise a casualty before the ambulance crews arrive and are able to take over.

A scheme to provide medical bags, containing defibrillators, to all fire officers for use on and off duty, has also been rolled out.