Service users ignite a new passion working at local fire station

Posted: 05/04/24

cartoon image of a red fire engine

NHS mental health service users have ignited a new passion after working at a local fire station.

Two service users in Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW), a provider of mental health and learning disability services, have been doing weekly shifts at Pegswood Fire Station in Northumberland.

The initiative is part of a vocational pathways programme, which sees service users take on job roles to prepare them for life in the community.

The idea for the pair to assist lifesaving crews came about thanks to Occupational Therapist Doug McQuillin. Doug is an ex-firefighter who used to work at Pegswood Fire Station.

He approached Northumberland Fire & Rescue Service (NRFS) to see if it would be possible for service users to volunteer with the team.

The organisations worked together to do a risk assessment on things like using equipment, what to do if the alarm goes off and wearing PPE (personal protective equipment).

A job role was developed and service users were given a contract outlining what would be expected of them. They were also required to be well presented with their boots polished and uniforms cleaned.

The shifts involve cleaning fire vehicles, organising equipment, gritting the drill yard in winter, and taking part in operational drills with the crews, including live fire exercises. Staff say the vehicles at the station have never been so clean!

Doug said: “This has been a really positive partnership between CNTW and Northumberland Fire & Rescue Service. The crews have been so accommodating and we’re grateful to everyone involved for their time and effort. Crew manager Cory Whitworth has been instrumental in the process, welcoming the lads onto the station, and watch manager Jon Alder has allowed the lads to take part in live training exercises.”

Rob Stewart, Watch Manager at the fire station, added: “We are proud to be working in collaboration with CNTW. It has helped us build relationships while working for better awareness of mental health.”

Specialist Nurse Abbey Wardman said: “Since introducing the vocational roles on the ward, such as at the fire station, we have noticed a huge difference in the general health and wellbeing of our patients. The lads have had a boost of self-esteem and have begun to take pride in their appearance, making sure they look their best for their jobs. It has also improved their mental health greatly as they are sleeping better, they have lost weight and are able to feel a sense of belonging in a team outside of the ward.”

Being able to spend time at the fire station has given service users a sense of purpose and motivation.

“They have really enjoyed it and it has become part of their weekly timetable,” Doug added. “It has given them skills and confidence as well as helping with their independence and overall wellbeing.

“Getting to know the crew has also been invaluable. To be part of a disciplined uniformed service and learning the trusting relationships that are fundamental in being part of a lifesaving team has been so important.”

The experience is added to the service user’s CVs, which will help when they go back into the community and gives them the best possible chance when moving on from hospital.

Thanks to the project’s success, Doug is also working with County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service to establish the same there.

The vocational pathways programme has seen others doing roles such as working with the porters and as canteen assistants. There are future plans to assist in the site’s recycling in collaboration with CNTW’s subsidiary company, NTW Solutions. Doug says Site Manager Lottie Haylock has been pivotal in this process.