A YouTube prankster recently cemented his head into a microwave and four and a half million people have watched it so far.
After wrapping his head in a bag, sticking it into the oven and pouring in Pollyfiller, 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, 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” fire 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 do far more than put out fires.
No wonder then that when debating cuts to the Service – which has lost 11,000 jobs since 2010 – the Fire Brigades Union say 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 six per cent in the last year.
Taking the prankster’s home turf as an example, the West Midlands has seen an 18% increase in rescues while it continues to face an 11% cut in central government funds. In Derbyshire, last year alone, the Fire and Rescue Service rescued 1153 people. The number rescued from fires was 139, but 1014 were rescued from none fire incidents such as road traffic collisions.
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.
43,000 people were rescued by the Service last year, that’s 3,600 per month or more than 100 per day, including microwave man.
Less foolish examples of rescues include eleven 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 Fire and Rescue Service.
As the Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services, I am proud to say that Labour calls for a moratorium on further cuts to the Service. 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 the Tories try to use smoke and mirrors to hide the hatchet they wield, remember the fable of microwave man.
This article first appeared in the Derby Telegraph