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AT the beginning of December a YouTube prankster cemented his head into a microwave. The video has been watched over five million times since it was posted.
After wrapping his head in a bag, sticking it into the oven and pouring in Polyfilla, Jay Swingler realised his head was trapped and he was struggling to breathe.
“I’m going to die” he said, a mouth filled with dust and barely audible.
His friends called 999. In less than five minutes an ambulance appeared, quickly followed by a fire engine. A paramedic and five firefighters spent over an hour saving him from his idiotic stunt.
Shaun Dakin, an officer from West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service (FRS), said: “As funny as this sounds, this young man could quite easily have suffocated or have been seriously injured.”
Fortunately, he wasn’t — although, unfortunately, Swingler and his friends continue their childish pranks.
“All of the group involved were very apologetic,” officer Dakin said, “but this was clearly a call-out which might have prevented us from helping someone else in genuine, accidental need.”
Beyond the dangerous mix of childish egos and video cameras there’s another important lesson here. As the name implies, we should remember that the Fire and Rescue Service does far more than put out fires.
No wonder then that when debating cuts to the FRS — which has lost 11,000 jobs since 2010 – the Fire Brigades Union says we should look at the total number of rescues, not fires.
When hacking away at the our public services — like a firefighter with a chisel to a microwave — the Conservatives are fond of pointing to the falling number of fires. Yet the total number of rescues has increased 6 per cent in the last year.
Taking the prankster’s home turf as an example, the West Midlands has seen an 18 per cent increase in rescues while it continues to face an 11 per cent cut in central government funds.
Let the idiotic story of microwave man serve as a lesson to us all: the Fire and Rescue Service does more than put out fires.
The service rescued 43,000 people last year, that’s 3,600 per month or more than 100 per day, including microwave man.
Less foolish examples of rescues include 11 refugees who were trapped in the back of a lorry carrying expensive chocolate from Belgium, three people stuck in a pub lift and saving several people from a flood caused by an antique water main.
Some of these examples might be worth a laugh, but the consequences wouldn’t be funny without the FRS.
The Labour Party is calling for moratorium on further cuts to the FRS. In government we will recruit 3,000 new firefighters, lift the cap on pay and review staffing levels in order to rebuild the dignified public service that we all deserve.
So, next time you hear the Tories using smoke and mirrors to hide the hatchet they have been wielding on the fire and rescue service, remind them about the fable of microwave man.
Chris Williamson is shadow minister for fire and emergency services.
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