The Health Minister Robin Swann made the announcement today (Friday) after meeting with the family of five-year old Maggie Black who sadly passed away in December 2021.
In memory of Maggie, the Black family from Glenarm, launched a petition to ensure that the fire and rescue service would be automatically dispatched to emergency medical calls in rural areas.
The initiative, which is a collaboration between the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, will see a phased roll-out of on-call firefighters being trained to co-respond to incidents in rural areas where someone has had a cardiac arrest.
In the event of a medical emergency, members of the public should still contact the ambulance service via 999. Northern Ireland Ambulance Service crews will still be dispatched to all call outs, but local firefighters may respond to the emergency before the arrival of paramedics.
Speaking outside Carnlough Fire Station, Mr Swann said: “I want to pay tribute to the Black family following the tragic death of their daughter and sister Maggie. They have shown remarkable fortitude in the midst of unspeakable grief and it has been my privilege to share these plans with the family today.
“Undoubtedly there is an overlap between the skills and capability of firefighters and the needs of the health bodies in Northern Ireland, including the ambulance service. Any potential for firefighters to utilise existing capacity and the skills they hold to secure better health outcomes is worthy of consideration.
“Today is a first step. The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service is planning to roll the scheme out further and has planned engagement sessions in fire stations across Northern Ireland. On-call firefighters will be asked to take part in training and invited to volunteer to allow similar schemes to launch in their home towns and local areas. I would encourage firefighters across Northern Ireland to engage with the service.”
The ‘Maggie’s Call’ petition gathered almost 30,000 signatures and the family’s appeal was supported at the Northern Ireland Assembly and by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
Maggie’s mum, Sheenagh Black said: “This announcement today, having Maggie’s Call accepted and having agreed plans in place for implementation in Maggie’s memory means so much to us all as a family and community. We have successfully put our pain to purpose and made a change that can only save lives and help support the ambulance service. Two amazing services working together.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped make this happen. To everyone who signed and shared our petition, to all the clubs who held vigils for Maggie and promoted our petition, to the multiple media platforms who raised awareness of the petition, to all councillors and MLAs who supported and helped drive our petition forward.
“We would also like to thank Peter O’Reilly, Chief Fire and Rescue Officer at NIFRS and Michael Bloomfield, Chief Executive at NIAS, for their commitment to Maggie’s Call. I would finally like to thank our Health Minister Robin Swann for accepting our petition and putting policies in place to ensure more people will benefit from the service that we received on the morning of the 1 December.”
Chief Fire & Rescue Officer Peter O’Reilly said: “Firstly I want to send my condolences to Sheenagh, Brian and Maggie’s wider family on behalf of myself and the entire Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service. Their strength and determination through this heart-breaking time is truly admirable.
“As an organisation, we are committed to working in collaboration with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to co-respond to Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest (OHCA) Calls with a specific focus on response in rural communities at this stage. Our firefighters will be supported and trained to deliver the best possible response in what are the worst possible scenarios. We know that by ensuring the fastest response possible we can give patients the best possible chance of survival.
“Maggie’s Call has expedited our plans to enhance how we deliver our service to the people of Northern Ireland and we look forward to working closely with our partner agencies are we progress.”
Northern Ireland Ambulance Service chief executive, Michael Bloomfield said: “On behalf of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service I would like to acknowledge the work of the family of Maggie Black who, following the tragic loss of their young daughter, have displayed great courage and generosity of spirit in setting about securing the support of the local community who have made their voice clearly heard in the petition which has been handed in today. I hope that today’s news will bring them some comfort in the months and years to come.
“Today I am pleased that the efforts of NIAS staff and those of our colleagues in NIFRS have brought us to the point whereby NIAS can now call upon NIFRS staff, who will have been provided with the requisite training, to respond to certain categories of calls within their local communities where lives are at risk. It is fitting that Carnlough Fire Station is one of the first fire stations to be included in this new initiative, which will be rolled out to include other areas in the coming months.
“I have no doubt that this collaboration has the potential to save lives and will bring great benefits to those rural communities where ambulance response times remain challenged.
“I also want to thank Minister Swann and the Department of Health for their ongoing support and their assistance in the delivery of this initiative.”