Highland’s most senior fire officer has said that people will die in fires which could be prevented unless friends, relatives and neighbours help the most vulnerable in our communities get the support they need to stay safe in their homes.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s (SFRS) Local Senior Officer for Highland Scott Hay issued the stark warning at today’s local scrutiny committee meeting at Highland Council headquarters in Inverness.
The message was delivered alongside his Highland Local Plan performance report for reporting year 2014/15 to members of the Community Safety, Public Engagement and Equalities Committee.
LSO Hay’s report highlighted that five fire related fatalities had been reported in Highland area for the year 2014/15. However, since publication and following the outcome of a post incident multi-agency fire investigation, this figure has been revised and updated. The result of which is that four people died as a result of dwelling house fires in Highland during 2014/15. Nevertheless, this is four too many for the communities of Highland.
He said that firefighters across the region need the public to put them in touch with those who are at the greatest risk from fire.
There have been 28 fire related deaths across Scotland this year so far and SFRS wants to ensure that figure doesn’t rise further.
Among the factors identified as having contributed to the fatalities were age, living alone, physical and mental health conditions, chaotic lifestyles, smoking, alcohol and drugs use.
LSO Hay said: “To lose a life as a result of fire is absolutely devastating and it always leaves a lasting impact on the families, friends and communities touched by the tragedy.
“The reality is that fatal fires are preventable and it’s often very simple steps that can mean the difference between life and death.”
He added: “We all have the power to make a difference, just by talking to people we know who might be vulnerable and putting them in touch with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service can make that difference.
“Fire threatens every home – we all need to understand it can happen to us and the people around us, consider the risks and live up to our responsibility to do what we can to save lives.”
Older people, those with physical or mental health issues and others with issues involving the misuse of alcohol or drugs are all at increased risk of experiencing a fire in their homes and suffering injury or death as a result.
Firefighters across Highland actively work to help individual householders stay safe but many of those most at risk can be reluctant to contact SFRS for support.
As part of the Join Scotland’s Fight Against Fire campaign, the service is calling on anyone who looks out for the well-being of a friend, family member, co-worker or neighbour to discuss fire safety with them.
LSO Hay said: “Our crews always do everything they can but unfortunately their bravery, training and professionalism in responding to a fire won’t always be enough.
“Even where a fire has remained small, the smoke and heat produced can very quickly spread through a home and threaten the life of anyone inside.
“We would much rather take the time to do a free home fire safety visit (HFSV) and help someone prevent a fire than respond to a blaze where they may have already suffered life-changing, or even life-ending, injuries.”
He added: “Protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities isn’t something we can do alone. Reaching people who need some help to stay safe is always a challenge and we need the public’s help to meet it.”
Free home fire safety visits are available from SFRS by calling the freephone number 0800 073 1999, by texting ‘FIRE’ to 80800 or by filling in an online form at www.firescotland.gov.uk
The figures for accidental house fires in Highland for the reporting year 2014/15 are 156, a slight rise from the previous reporting year 2013/14 with a figure of 144.
LSO Hay’s appeal to the public can help reduce that figure, if done in tandem with the excellent work being done by firefighters and community safety advocates across Highland in delivering free home fire safety visits.
The final quarter including year-end figures for 2014/15 highlight that firefighters in Highland have achieved a 100% delivery of home fire safety visits to the most vulnerable in our communities and 94% of its total target number of visits for the year.
LSO Hay said: “SFRS staff continue to support and target the more vulnerable within our communities and this further contributes to ensuring our communities are safer through reducing risk from fire and other emergencies.
“The service is working closely with other agencies and partners in identifying those most at risk in our communities and routinely share risk identification skills and information to support the wider Community Planning Partnership risk reduction strategies, e.g. fire safety and falls prevention, however as a community safety partnership we know we must do better”
Highland has also seen a reduction in the number of deliberate fires with 161 reported for the year 2014/15 when compared to the 2013/14 figure of 219.
LSO Hay commented: “We continue to work hard to reduce the number of deliberate fires and will not become complacent on this matter.
“Our operational staff and community safety advocates are constantly engaging within schools and young people, particularly ahead of school holiday periods and this work is linked directly to our seasonal Thematic Action Plans (TAP).
“We work with our partners to identify those most likely to become involved in fire related anti-social behaviour and work with them to change their attitudes towards fire and encourage them to become more responsible citizens by promoting pro-social behaviour.”
He added: “We also continue to work closely with partner agencies and land managers in relation to wildfire risk reduction and with support from the Scottish Wildfire Forum we have taken steps to enhance public communication in relation to how we can prevent wildfires.”
The number of non-fatal accidental house fire casualties was also down in Highland from 41 in 2013/14 to 32 for 2014/15
In addition, during quarter four Fire Safety Enforcement officers (FSEOs) completed 108 Fire Safety Enforcement Audits, which equates to 120% of the target for the quarter. Throughout the year a total of 427 audits were completed, which equates to 117% of the annual target of 365.
LSO Hay said: “These visits are vital for SFRS and include audits within premises such as care homes, school care accommodation and secure accommodation services registered with the Care inspectorate.
“Hospitals, houses in multiple occupation (HMO) and all premises previously assessed as high risk are audited, which further enhances fire safety in these premises, which house or accommodate large numbers of vulnerable people.”