A team of firefighters have become the first group in the country to receive special training which will allow them to tackle crime.
Seven firefighters have been trained so they can also act as police officers in what is believed to be a national first.
The Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service on-call firefighters have been trained as special constables in a new role known as a ‘community responder’.
Best of both worlds: Community responders will be able to attend incidents representing both the fire and police service
These new community responders will have the ability to go to both fire and police incidents increasing the police presence and the number of available on-call firefighters in communities.
The project aims to improve response times in rural locations in Devon.
The police and fire collaboration project has been funded by Devon and Cornwall police and its crime commissioner Alison Hernandez hopes it will improve access to the emergency services for communities in Devon.
The seven community responders have been recruited into locations where there is a need based on risk, vulnerability and harm – Cullompton, Crediton, Dartmouth, Honiton, Okehampton, Newton Abbot and Totnes.
Ms Hernandez has committed funding for an initial two years covering recruitment and ongoing training costs with the possibility of extending further. It forms part of her commitment to improving collaboration between the emergency services.
Community responder, Will Britten, shows the variation in uniform needed for his new role. The role was designed to increase the police presence and the number of available on-call firefighters in communities
‘I’m incredibly pleased to be able to support this collaboration. We don’t know what future funding will look like for any of our emergency services and working together on unique projects like this will improve the service both organisations can deliver to people in Devon.’ said Ms Hernandez.
‘I look forward to seeing the benefits that our communities will reap from this innovative work.’
Kevin Pearce the new community responder for Cullompton, said he was motivated to take on the role by a lifelong interest in police work.
He said: ‘I think this pilot will be really beneficial – it will mean I can be more of a presence in the community and a face that people will recognise and can approach about both police and fire related incidents and we can help reach more people.
‘Everyone that I’ve spoken to about the project seems excited about it.
‘It’s great to be able to enhance the presence of emergency services in communities where it’s needed.
‘I’m really looking forward to being at the forefront of this trial..’
Chief Inspector Tom Holmes, the Devon and Cornwall Police lead for emergency services collaboration, said: ‘This project provides an excellent opportunity for both police and fire to add additional officers into our communities who will be able to approach every issue from two points of view.
‘Importantly they will also be able to answer calls for service and maintain fire cover in some of our most isolated communities.
‘This is a national first the potential of which both services share a huge excitement about.’
Group manager Jeff Harding of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said they were ‘really pleased to take part in this initiative as it supports on-call firefighters in areas where we have recruitment challenges’.
‘The service provided to people living in these towns will be enhanced as the community responders will be able to provide visibility and advice to the public across both roles,’ he added.