Firefighters rescue 220 obese Scots in five years


FIREFIGHTERS have been called in to rescue at least 220 obese Scots over the past five years who were too overweight to move themselves.

Victims – some weighing up to 50 stone – had to be hauled to safety after falling off beds, chairs and hospital trolleys or getting jammed in baths, toilets and behind doors.

Firefighters were summoned by police, ambulance crews, coastguards, carers – and even undertakers – who were physically unable to move obese people.

In some cases it was necessary for crews to use specialist lifting equipment.

Many of the obese patients were too heavy for ambulance crews to lift


Figures released under Freedom of Information show there have been at least 224 firefighter rescues of obese Scots since 2007.

The total figure is likely to be much higher because Scotland’s second-biggest brigade, Lothian and Borders, refused to provide the information, claiming it was not held.

Glasgow University revealed last week that Scots have become heavier and fatter in the past ten years, with a higher body mass index and waist circumference, especially in older women.

Grampian fire and rescue service revealed it had recorded 11 cases since 2009 where it was called in to move “bariatric casualties” – the formal term for obese patients.

It said one of the victims was aged just 23.

In another case, 12 Grampian firefighters were called in to use brute strength to carry an obese patient from their home to a waiting ambulance.

The brigade also documents a case from 2009 when seven firefighters used an aerial ladder platform, fracture steps and a general purpose line to move an obese casualty “from house to ambulance through window”.

Highlands and Islands, who moved 48 obese people over the five year period, said in one case they were called to help ambulance crews lift someone who had fallen off a hospital trolley.

The same year, fire officers had to use slings to help move a “large lady” who had  “fallen on her front and could not get up”.

In 2008 the brigade was contacted by the coastguard to help lift an obese patient in a stretcher up a hill path.

Last year, they helped move a 44-stone-man who had fallen out of bed and couldn’t move.

In Tayside, fire crews were contacted 61 times in five years to help move overweight people.


Tayside firefighters have helped funeral directors on three occasions in the past five years.

In 2009, the brigade recorded helping to lift one “deceased person to assist undertaker”.

Strathclyde only provided figures from 2007 to 2009 but these show they were called to 65 rescues of obese patients over the two years.

Fife fire brigade were called out 15 times in five years, reporting that in one case the patient was “stuck on the stairs, ambulance staff needed to get patient out to go to hospital”.

Central fire fighters helped rescue 21 overweigh people.

Dumfries and Galloway attended three incidents and provided information on the costs.

In one case, where six firefighters had to “assist” a 50-year-old woman, the cost was put at £465 for 90 minutes’ work. Other rescues were said to cost as little as £60.

These rates, if applied to all the known rescues, suggest a bill to taxpayers over the past five years in the region of £34,000.

A spokesman from Taxpayer Scotland said: “This has become quite common in the last 10 to 15 years in Scotland.

“Perhaps the emergency services will need to start thinking about applying charges for people in non-urgent cases. Otherwise these people will become a burden to everyone.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the Scottish Government should do more to combat obesity.

He said: “This is another stark reminder of the challenge we face with obesity in this country.

“The concept of a fire engine being sent to assist a person in their home is hard to believe, and even more so when you consider it has happened more than 200 times in five years.

“This is not the kind of principle activity our fire service should be tied up with, but clearly in these extreme cases there is no alternative.

“If the Scottish Government wants to reverse the trend of increasing levels of obesity in Scotland, it should at least get moving with introducing two hours of PE a week in schools, years after it promised to do so.”

Mike Cordiner, a station manager with Grampian fire and rescue, said: “A lot of these people have serious underlying health problems.

“If we are asked to attend the incidents then we will consider in each case what is the best thing for the person.

“The crews will have to adapt to every situation.”

A Government spokeswoman added: “The Scottish Government is committed to tackling the problem of obesity.

“Our action plan on obesity prevention sets out actions to make it easier for everyone to make healthy choices, including eating better and becoming more active, and we will be spending more than £7.5m in the next three years on projects to encourage healthy eating.”