In a move that has drawn concern from the Fire Brigade Union (FBU), Wales’ fire and rescue services could be given a wider role in keeping people safe.

The deputy minister for local government, Hannah Blythn announced the plans last week, which could see Wales’ fire and rescue services take on NHS work.

The Welsh Government said the service “is increasingly under-occupied in many parts of Wales,” a statement the FBU described as "ludicrous".

“Many rural fire stations now respond to only a handful of fires a month. This is making it difficult to recruit and retain the on-call firefighters on which most of Wales relies and risks jeopardising the sustainability of the Service in rural areas" a Welsh government spokesperson said.

“In addition, the Fire Service continues to attend a high number of false alarms – which outnumber actual fires, accounting for around 40per cent of all incidents the service attends, and consume significant resources for no benefit at all.”

Responding to the plans Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said that firefighters are not doctors and there had been no consultation on the plans.

“The minister’s ‘vision’ has been announced without any consultation with firefighters or their union,” he said.

“If the Welsh government have a proposition for firefighters, they should do it via the proper channels, not via press release.

“We are always open to discussing the role of firefighters, subject to negotiation, funding, training and resourcing. But the Welsh government should bear in mind that firefighters are not doctors, nurses, paramedics, or social workers and nor should they be.

“While the last decade has seen huge improvements in fire prevention, fire services in Wales are also working with 300 fewer firefighters than in 2010.

“Welsh firefighters are rescuing more than 200 people every month. Any suggestion that they are ‘under-occupied’ is ludicrous.”

Deputy minister, Hannah Blythyn, thanked the service for their success in reducing the incidence of fire but said there was a potential to supporting the NHS.

“Whether in terms of responding to medical emergencies or helping to prevent accidents like falls at home; and clear evidence that this can secure better outcomes and significant savings.

She added: “I believe we need to go further, and to do so more consistently and strategically. I want to see a Fire and Rescue Service which deals with a range of threats to people’s health and safety, both in terms of prevention and emergency response, complementing not duplicating the work of other professionals.”

Responding to the FBU, a Welsh government spokesperson said the plans had been "discussed extensively over a number of years" and fire prevalence rates have fallen by 30 per cent since 2010.

The minister said the plans would “maximise [the service’s] value to the people of Wales.”

The Welsh Government said three things would be necessary to deliver the vision:

  • An agreement on firefighters’ pay and conditions reflecting their broader role.
  • A strategic agreement between the Fire Service, the NHS and other partners, so that the former’s resources can be deployed where they are most needed.
  • The Welsh Government will work to ensure the necessary funding and governance mechanisms to support this broader role going forward.