Fatfighters Fight Frustration

Oops, sorry, we meant firefighters… in the United Kingdom, where one of the most expensive manifestations of globesity is the amount of time and energy spent moving morbidly obese people from place to place.

In Cumbria, a county in northwest England whose population was close to half a million at the time, by 2016 the fire crews were being called on an average of 10 times per year. People who weigh as much as 560 pounds have been rescued from falls they can’t get up from, or even just from their upstairs rooms. These particular missions are called “bariatric rescues.”

The necessary equipment includes lifting straps and harnesses, and the tools to remove windows and widen doors if necessary. Sometimes the workers need to remodel even more extensively, eliminating stairway banisters and other architectural features.

Reporters Pam McClounie and Nick Griffiths, who interviewed the public servants involved, wrote,

They say they try to make the situation as dignified as possible when being called to help, with crews often being dispatched to assist medics.

In Britain overall, by 2018, there were 1,026 bariatric rescues for the year. Firefighters everywhere had invested in customized equipment, and instituted training with 560 pound dummies “filled with stone and ball bearings.” At the end of 2019, a report said that fire crews had been called upon “to lift obese patients into ambulances over 2,000 times in three years.”

The county of Kent, with about a million and a half population, accounted for 560 of those, while Shropshire (about half a million people) had only 10. Differences between the different areas of the United Kingdom are partly accounted for by what the local authorities are willing and/or able to do. Matt Coyle reported,

Gloucestershire and Suffolk fire and rescue services said they do not “transport” patients on behalf of the ambulance service and declined to answer if they “helped” transport such patients.

In Lancashire, a northwestern county with about a million and a half people, the most recent year included 43 such rescues, and the numbers multiply alarmingly each year. In Dorset and Wiltshire, counties in the southwest part of England, more than half of the bariatric rescues required more than one fire engine or other official vehicle, while two incidents necessitated four or more municipal vehicles. On one occasion, firefighting personnel spend more than four hours extracting someone from their home.

One of the most egregious and widely publicized bariatric rescues occurred in 2012, in South Wales, when a dozen emergency crews converged to remove 22-year-old Georgia Davis from her specially-adapted living quarters and take her to the hospital. Surrounding roads were closed and the young woman was lifted from the building with a crane.

Local authorities in the United Kingdom regularly refer hundreds of people to such groups as Weight Watchers, and the government is trying everything from legislation about calorie counts on packaging to taxing soft drinks. Each bariatric rescue costs the taxpayers around £400 (more than $500), which multiplies out to about £8,000 (more than $10,000) per week nationwide.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Cumbria’s firefighters regularly called to rescue obese people from their homes,” NewsAndStar.com, 06/20/16
Source: “HEAVY BURDEN Fire brigade called to lift 2,000 obese patients out of their homes…,” TheSun.co.uk, 12/27/19
Source: “Thousands of Brits too fat to leave the HOUSE as obesity crisis deepens,” DailyStar.co.uk, 02/02/19
Source: “Lancashire’s firefighters regularly being called to move overweight people,” BurnleyExpress.net, 02/12/20
Image by Karen Roe/Flickr

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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