Hampshire firefighters join University Hospital Southampton’s intensive care unit

Firefighters have been deployed to work side-by-side with medics on the frontline.

Ten volunteers from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service have joined doctors and nurses at University Hospital Southampton’s (UHS) intensive care unit (ICU). They have been working long and demanding shifts in the hospital’s busiest department, helping to prone patients suffering from COVID-19. Proning is a vital technique used in the treatment of COVID-19 and involves turning patients onto their front to relieve pressure on their vital organs and assist their breathing.

The firefighters volunteered to lend their specialist skills to help local healthcare colleagues who have come under intense pressure during recent weeks.

Five firefighters from HFRS’s Urban Search and Rescue team (USAR) were the first in – and their work has now paved the way for more volunteers to assist in ICU.

Station Manager Alex Rhodes, Medical Response and Health Lead, said, “We understand the importance of the life-saving work being undertaken in the ICU departments up and down the country and all felt that we would like to support the doctors and nurses carrying out this vital role.

“We are used to working under sustained pressure for long periods of time, in some of the most challenging environments, and that is why I knew our teams would be able to adapt quickly to life in the ICU.

“Our search and rescue and fire fighting roles mean we have all been exposed to traumatic situations before and that’s really important from a wellbeing perspective. Our teams are supported by team leaders and managers who place that wellbeing uppermost in the deployment plans.”

Eastleigh Station Manager Simon Forster is part of the USAR team. He added, “We spend long periods in full ICU PPE, working arm in arm with the regular ICU staff and the whole experience has been really positive.

“Our driving force was to help and put our training to good use. It is a very demanding role but incredibly rewarding.”

David French, interim Chief Executive Officer at UHS, said, “We are immensely grateful for the offer of support from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service at this crucial time.

“It coincides with our trust being asked to step-up our intensive care (ICU) capacity across the region and so extra staff on the ground who are able to assist in looking after our most vulnerable COVID patients will help ease the pressure on our already stretched ICU teams.

“We have always worked closely with our emergency service partners who are highly skilled, used to working under pressure in challenging situations and whose skills are easily transferable to the complex working of an ICU department.”

He added, “The pandemic has brought many challenges to our hospital, however it has also brought us together as a community and with our partner services, such as HFRS. The team will become part of the UHS family. We welcome and thank them as they join our dedicated clinicians working on the frontline.”

Since the start of the pandemic, personnel from across Hampshire and Isle of Wight fire and rescue services have been helping in a variety of ways. This has included driving ambulances, training to become vaccinators, responding to life-threatening medical emergencies as co-responders and performing other tasks to help the community, including grocery shopping and collecting prescriptions.

Area Manager Dan Tasker said, “We are immensely proud of the way personnel from across Hampshire and Isle of Wight fire and rescue services have responded since the very beginning of the pandemic. Our teams are well-placed to cope with the demands of working in the hospital’s ICU department and we know that they have a valuable role to play.”