Northern Ireland Fire Service one of busiest in UK for handling obese rescues
Northern Ireland firefighters are among the busiest in the UK involved in the rescue of obese people, according to new figures.
The BBC reports that 166 people were rescued in the past four years, costing the service almost £500,000 in so-called bariatric rescues - when their weight is a factor in the incident.
That figure puts Northern Ireland firefighters at fourth in a list for all the UK fire services.
The Northern Ireland Fire Service said it had a duty to help people in emergency situations, and worked with the Ambulance Service to provide the specialist equipment required to help with the rescue of bariatric patients.
In the last year, however, there has been a 26% reduction in cases compared to 2014.
The service told the BBC: "Decisions are made on the appropriate rescue techniques required, including specialist equipment and manual handling techniques, to ensure the safety of all involved and the dignity of the patient."
Data obtained by BBC Radio 5 shows there were 944 incidents where people needed help in 2015/16, up a third on the 709 in 2012/13.
The figures were collected from all 50 fire and rescue services in the UK.
Rescuers often used lifting equipment, special slings and sometimes had to remove windows, walls and banisters, frequently in people's homes.
The cases included helping the ambulance service with lifting equipment to remove an "extremely large" patient who had been stuck on the sofa for days and carrying a 40-stone man from the upstairs of a pub.
A number of incidents involved moving obese people who had died from their homes to an undertaker's ambulance.
South Wales Fire and Rescue Service had the highest number of incidents in 2015/16 at 77, while Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service had 46.
Humberside Fire and Rescue Service had 45, London Fire Brigade had 38 and Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Service had 37.
Chris Jones, watch manager from South Wales Fire Service, told the BBC some of the rescues were very complicated.
"Some of these incidents have become protracted overnight while we've needed to change certain elements to the building to make that rescue safe before we can bring the patient out," he said.
"If we are doing what we call an external rescue where we're taking the patient out through a window, quite commonly we'll remove the window frame itself and we will actually sometimes drop courses of brickwork down to create that space.
"Internally we might have to take doors off, move furniture - we may even have to put supporting systems into the house to make sure everything's structurally sound, as well."
Dr David Kerrigan, one of the UK's leading bariatric surgeons, said patients who become that big "are prisoners, not just within their own body but within their own home".
He told the BBC: "The bigger and bigger they get, the less confident they feel about engaging with the outside world.
"They are big users of the internet - so they don't even go out to shop any more and do a lot of their socialising using social media, and they just become more and more trapped."
Tam Fry, from the charity National Obesity Forum, told BBC Radio 5 live the figures were on the increase because the obese were getting bigger.
He said: "This is not about more people being obese. This is about those who are already obese now getting to a size where they now need assistance."
Mr Fry said the figure could be a lot higher.
"Senior doctors I speak to say there are many people who don't leave their homes so they don't even put themselves in a position where they may need to be rescued.
"They are scared of being seen in public."
In 2012, a new category was created for the fire and rescue services to report "bariatric rescues" involving obese patients.