Concern as Hampshire fire crews called to 'record-breaking' number of suicide attempts

FIREFIGHTERS in Hampshire were called to a record number of suicide attempts last year, figures show.

By Tom Cotterill
Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 2:19 pm
Updated Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 3:12 pm

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service responded to 56 suicides or attempted suicides in the 12 months to September last year, Home Office statistics have revealed.

​It is the highest number for any year to September since records began in 2011, and 22 more than the year before.

The news has been branded worrying by the leader of the Hampshire Fire Brigades Union, Mark Chapman, who warned such calls can traumatise firefighters.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue fire engine, Winston Churchill Avenue, Portsmouth. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (240119-9)

He said: ‘The Fire Brigades Union is concerned at the growing rise in suicide attempts made by members of the public and the long term affects it has on all emergency services that respond.

‘It is critical that the government identifies and addresses the issues that have contributed to such a significant rise in suicide and address this matter with urgency.

‘Firefighters amongst other emergency services face trauma on a day to day basis as part of their work, but attending a suicide can be very disturbing.’

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Mark Chapman of the Fire Brigades Union

Across England, fire and rescue services responded to a record 1,969 suicides – the sixth successive yearly increase nationwide.

They make up part of a growing number of ‘collaborating incidents’ that fire stations have to respond to alongside other emergency services, since the Policing and Crime Act became law in 2017.

In the 12-month period to September 2016, Hampshire firefighters responded to 28 suicide callouts.

Mental health charity Mind said the effects of dealing with such traumatic situations could be ‘severe and long-lasting’ for crews.

Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at Mind, said: ‘Although those working within fire and rescue services are trained to attend these kinds of events, the effects of witnessing trauma can, in some cases, be severe and long-lasting. So it’s crucial staff are able to access support for their mental health from their employer.’

​The most recent figures show crews dealt with a total of 1,533 ‘collaborating incidents’ in Hampshire in the year to September 2019 – 11 per cent more than the equivalent period in 2016.

Almost all fire services across England have seen an increase in situations where they must work alongside the police and ambulance services, which coincided with the imposed statutory duty on all ‘blue light’ services to work together.

Nationwide, fire crews recorded 43,796 of those incidents last year – a 47 per cent rise since the Policing and Crime Act.

A spokeswoman for the National Fire Chiefs Council said the duty to collaborate means emergency services can decide the best way to work together for the benefit of their own communities.

She said: ‘These statistics show the broad range of incidents firefighters attend on a daily basis and the vital work they undertake. It is vital that the right support mechanisms are readily available and accessible as required.’

A Home Office spokesman said they are grateful for the continued tireless efforts of firefighters across the country.

Mr Chapman added any firefighters who attend distressing incidents would be supported.