UK fire and rescue services have spent an estimated £6.75m responding to more than 2,700 calls to assist severely obese people over the past five years.

A BBC FOI request found that the 58 FRSs responded to an average of more than 10 calls a year to incidents where severely overeweight people require medical attention.

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service attended the most calls between 2007 and 2012, a total of 189, with the most expensive single rescue costing Northern Ireland FRS £11,000.

During that period NIFRS responded to 119 'bariatric calls' at a cost of £313,000, the highest figure reported in the FOI data.

The Chief Fire Officers Association have responded by saying "the fire services' ethos is to assist people in distress or at risk". But some FRSs say they will now only respond when a person needs urgent medical attention.

In April 2012 a new category relating to obese people was created for the Incident Reporting System used by fire and rescue services in England. The rescue of a "bariatric person" was added at the request of fire officers.

However, it is not just medical emergencies which fire services are having to respond to on a regular basis. Fife Fire and Rescue Service in east Scotland told BBC 5Live that it has been called to help obese members of the public who have fallen out of bed.

The increase in the number of calls has prompted some fire services to reconsider their approach to responding to calls from severely obese people.

Alan Kernohan, area manager for County Durham & Darlington FRS said "This year three of our firefighters received muscle strain while attempting to remove a bariatric patient from a home.

"So, we are reviewing our procedures and equipment for dealing with this kind of rescue. We will respond immediately if anyone is in need of urgent medical attention - but in a non-emergency situation, then we will make a risk assessment and discuss the outcomes with the ambulance service or any other agency who has requested our help."

Posted 12/11/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com