Last year, there were a total of 7,256 injuries and 187 deaths from dwelling fires across the country. This is a worryingly high number, particularly when you consider that you're four times less likely to die in a fire if you have something as simple as a working smoke alarm installed. Most of these deaths are preventable with low cost interventions, some of which can even be supplied free of charge by the local fire service.
The London Fire Brigade have noted that a significant proportion of people dying in accidental house fires (30% of people between January 2009 and December 2011) have some contact with homecare providers or social services. As homecare providers you can often be the first to notice a situation becoming more risky and may be the only link to the community for an individual. That puts you in a powerful position to reduce the number of unnecessary fire deaths by alerting the fire service when a situation becomes concerning.
Fire safety has always been an important issue and can be found in the Common Induction Standards under standard 8.8: Promoting fire safety in the work setting. The London Fire Brigade have produced an appendix to this standard with Skills for Care, highlighting the signs that it is time for managers and care workers to get in touch with their local fire service for free advice.
The fire service is able to advise individuals, by visiting them at home, about fire safety and the best way to reduce a fire occurring in the first place. The fire service can also advise homecare providers and staff on things to look out for when thinking about fire safety. The message the fire service want to spread is that you should feel free to contact them and indeed contact them more often when you're concerned, you don't need to become experts in fire safety.
A case study
Maisie also didn't have a smoke alarm in her flat and so was unaware of the fire until it had grown too large for her to escape from"
Kathryn Bloomfield from the London Fire Brigade outlines a case study below of how they can work with homecare providers to reduce these fires and deaths.
Maisie was 76 years old and lived alone in her first floor flat which she rarely left due to mobility difficulties and being partially sighted. Due to her difficulty with moving around, Maisie spent most of her time in the living room and usually slept on her sofa.
In April 2012, a fire started which was caused by either a lit cigarette or match accidentally falling on to Maisie's sofa which she was asleep on at the time. The sofa was quite old and pre-dated fire safety regulations relating to furniture which meant it wasn't fire retardant. Maisie also didn't have a smoke alarm in her flat and so was unaware of the fire until it had grown too large for her to escape from.
London Fire Brigade visit people in their homes to provide advice on how to reduce the risk of fire and will supply smoke alarms free of charge to those most at risk. Had a smoke alarm been in place, it's likely that Maisie would have been alerted to the fire in its very early stages giving her vital time to escape.
London Fire Brigade recommendations
The London Fire Brigade also recommend the installation of sprinklers in the homes of vulnerable people who may not be able to escape in the event of a fire. A 'retro-fit' system costs in the region of £1,500 to £2,000 for a two room installation, lowering the risk of fire death and reducing the water and smoke damage to the property. Any such system should always be linked to a careline facility to ensure that the fire service is called in the event of a fire.
Written by Kathryn Bloomfield, Community Safety Development Manager, London Fire Brigade. Joyce Francis, UKHCA Policy Officer, also contributed to this article.
All fire services have a community safety advisor who can help you - find your local fire service here.
You can also view the Skills for Care appendix on Fire safety.