Mid and West Wales (MAWW) Fire Service covers an enormous area: almost two thirds of Wales. From the service headquarters in Carmarthen, it takes two and a half hours to reach their most Northerly Fire Station, and two hours to reach the most Easterly. There are 57 stations in all, and the Service employs around 1,400 staff. Providing a consistent, timely, local and personal service to its widespread communities is a constant challenge.


MAWW Fire Service set out its reasoning for working with other public and private organisations, partners and communities to ensure that citizens most at risk receive help and support. One area of collaboration, which required cross-team attention, was identified as the increased susceptibility of those with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or early-onset dementia to the risk of fires in their homes.


This more vulnerable section of the community was being supported frequently by mental health practitioners, the social services, and the NHS, but there was no formal procedure, or training available to help them introduce fire safety into the care network. MAWW Fire Service saw this as a significant risk area and approached the Welsh Government for support on a possible collaborative project.


With Welsh Government funding, Hywel Dda Health Board seconded Mental Health Nurse, Alison Evans, to MAWW Fire and Rescue Service. In her new role as Fire Service and Mental Health Liaison Officer, Alison quickly looked to establish how best to execute a collaborative fire safety working project and establish a more digitally connected approach to caring for mentally vulnerable community members.


Alison explains, “We could see the ideal solution straight away – closer connections between the Fire Service personnel and their systems with mental health practitioners to enable them to perform and record the results of Home Fire Safety Checks themselves. We realised that the Fire Service personnel could train the mental health practitioners to carry out the checks, sharing responsibilities efficiently.”


“However, the challenges we faced meant that a lot of preparation, research and training needed to be undertaken before we could go live. We knew the size of our geographical area and the differing standards of technical knowledge in our practitioners would influence the path we chose. We also knew that we needed to ensure compliance with several data protection standards and protocols.”


“Our due diligence and suitability research led us to Stone Group as a possible hardware supplier that could help us surmount the challenges we had with relative ease.”


An information sharing protocol between MAWW Fire Service and the Health Board involved was established, according to the governance laid out by the Welsh Accord for Sharing Personal Information (WASPI). This then allowed the project to seek a supplier that could provide custom built hardware that could be flexible, durable and secure enough for the needs of their team.


Previous to the possibility of being supplied with a mobile device for recording information, mental health practitioners were making paper notes and uploading them back at their office. Being able to upload notes directly onto relevant systems was crucial, both centrally, and into separate systems.


The Welsh NHS is using electronic medical records, so there were efficiencies to be made in enabling the devices to capture relevant details direct. Health records could be accessed and updated using a ‘check box’ system to confirm that a patient had been visited for a HFSC and it had taken place. The project also wanted the system to record why the HFSC hadn’t been passed if there were problems.


Training the mental health teams to perform the HFSCs themselves meant that everybody in the MAWW catchment area who comes through secondary care routes would have access to being assessed professionally for fire risk and would see evasive action taken quickly if required. This process could be expedited using notebook computers and a secure wireless 3G connection to the relevant public sector systems.


As the incumbent hardware supplier of notebooks, desktop PCs, monitors and keyboards to MAWW Fire Service, Stone were asked to devise some solutions that would work for the mental health project. Stone provided several notebooks for review and testing to the project team. Alison looked a number of devices in the market but Stone’s N109 was the most suitable to their needs. It supported Windows 7, which was essential and was 3G compatible.


“Personally, I favoured its robust, clamshell design too, because I knew how much use and transportation it would see in the next two years,” commented Alison.


The Stone notebooks have been designed and built-to-order in their manufacturing facility in Staffordshire. The machines took approximately two weeks to prepare, and were fitted with precise factory settings supplied by MWAW Fire Service and installed using disk imaging on site.


As well as providing 24/7 technical support for the whole of MAWW Fire Service’s hardware fleet, Stone will be doing the same for the Mental Health Project’s N109 additions. The machines are on an 18 month refresh cycle and under a five-year warranty, which is ideal for the duration of the project – set to last for three years.


Alison Evans worked with Stone to ensure that the last of the notebooks were shipped to her mental health practitioners in late November 2012.


The project team knows the improvement in available householder information will make a marked difference to fire service personnel attending emergency situations. The staff manning the fire engines will be able to access precise details via their on-board MOT units, such as the current health of the householder or whether there may be problems that will affect their mobility in rescue, such as amputation or agoraphobia. They will be able to see what the HFSC had identified as a risk issue, from an elderly smoker, to a householder with bi-polar disorder and a history of aggression.


“We’re right on time as far as the project objectives go,” explained Alison. “We’ve handpicked the team who will be receiving the N109s and ensured they have had all the training they need to kick off the project with confidence. I’m hoping we’ll have 18 months of data to evaluate before we know it, and that we’ll be demonstrating some really positive results that show that fire risks have reduced to our mentally vulnerable residents because they have been carefully supported. We would like all 3,500 secondary care receivers in the region to have a ‘yes’ mark in their HFSC box on their electronic records.”

Stone’s technology and most of all, its support team, have been invaluable so far. We’re looking forward to the next stages of the project.

— Alison Evans, Fire Service and Mental Health Liaison Officer