From this week, firefighters could be first on the scene if someone calls 999 for an ambulance in the Stevenage area.

The Herts Fire and Rescue Service is working with the East of England Ambulance Service to attend 999 calls involving cardiac arrests as part of a pilot scheme.

The six-month pilot has been set up because successfully treating cardiac arrest patients greatly depends on getting help to them as quickly as possible.

When a 999 call is made to the ambulance service about a cardiac arrest in the Stevenage or Watford areas, their control room will now send either paramedics or firefighters to attend, depending on who is nearest.

Chief fire officer Roy Wilsher said: “Firefighters are trained to provide immediate emergency care and we already carry trauma kits and defibrillators on our fire engines. It makes sense for us to use these life-saving skills to support the ambulance service in situations where we can get to a patient more quickly.

“We aren’t trying to turn firefighters into paramedics. It’s about making the best use of the emergency services’ capabilities, regardless of which uniform they wear.”

Rob Ashford, acting director of service delivery for the ambulance service, said: “The ambulance service will continue to send clinicians to cardiac arrest patients as a top priority, but the best thing for the patient is to get someone trained in basic life support to their side as quickly as possible.”

The pilot has been set up to identify the impact, if any, on the fire service’s emergency response. Firefighters will not take casualties to hospital, but offer care at the scene until an ambulance arrives.

Across the country, 20 fire and rescue services have already rolled out the scheme, and a further six are involved in this latest pilot.