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Staffordshire Fire & Rescue Service - Preventing, Protecting, Responding

Firefighters speak out about shocking situations

15/01/2015

Blue Monday
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Firefighters have revealed some of the most shocking living conditions they have witnessed when attending incidents in the homes of older people.

"I was given a referral for a Home Fire Risk Check (HFRC) and I remember knocking on the door and there was a long delay before it was opened. I wasn’t prepared for what I was met with – the elderly man was on the floor, he greeted me and then asked me to follow him into the living area and he literally dragged himself across the floor using his hands. The man had chronic knee pain and was unable to walk. Obviously this was a big concern for us in relation to fire safety because if there was a fire he would struggle to evacuate safely. However, we don’t just look at fire safety we look at the person’s overall wellbeing and see how we can help them further, in this case we referred him to the NHS Falls Team so he could receive the support he required for his condition." 

Firefighter/Community Safety Officer Phil Mulligan

Crews have spoken out in a bid to encourage residents to look out for some of the most vulnerable members of the community who are often found to be living in situations that put them at risk on a daily basis.

The call comes ahead of ‘Blue Monday’ which takes place on January 19 and is said to be when many people feel depressed in the aftermath of the Christmas and New Year break. Older people, in particular, may become more isolated and lonely when the influx of visitors over the festive season has died down and they find themselves alone.

Shocking statistics show that the majority of people who lose their lives in accidental house fires are over 65, and with almost a quarter of the UK’s population predicted to be within that age range by 2035 this is a growing concern.

Since January 1 2011 a total of 11 people over 65 have died in fires in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. During the same time period, there have been 650 house fires across the county involving people aged 65 and over.

Firefighter/Community Safety Officer Phil Mulligan described one incident in Burton. He said: “I was given a referral for a Home Fire Risk Check (HFRC) and I remember knocking on the door and there was a long delay before it was opened. I wasn’t prepared for what I was met with – the elderly man was on the floor, he greeted me and then asked me to follow him into the living area and he literally dragged himself across the floor using his hands. The man had chronic knee pain and was unable to walk. Obviously this was a big concern for us in relation to fire safety because if there was a fire he would struggle to evacuate safely. However, we don’t just look at fire safety we look at the person’s overall wellbeing and see how we can help them further, in this case we referred him to the NHS Falls Team so he could receive the support he required for his condition.”

Station Manager Andy Kinsman described one incident in the Staffordshire Moorlands. He said: “The worst incident I went to involving an elderly person was a man living in a stone built cottage in Sheen, a very rural area just outside Longnor. His living standards were very basic but that was all he knew and we understand he was content with these conditions. He, and his family, where well known in the area. His only source of heating was an open fire and he cooked using gas cylinders that were stored in the property. Unfortunately it was the leaking of one of these gas cylinders that caused an explosion and led to his death.”

Firefighter/Community Safety Officer Chris Jenkins, based in South Staffordshire, described one incident in Codsall. He said: “I went out to do a six month check up on a man who had been previously rescued from a house fire caused by a candle that had been left to burn unattended. A colleague and I visited to check on him following the incident and we were shocked at the poor living conditions and the deteriorating health of the gentleman involved.

“One big issue from a fire safety perspective was that he was a hoarder and so not only was there a lot of combustible materials in the property, access in and out of it was a nightmare. We ended up tidying up and making a clear pathway through the house before referring the gentlemen to various agencies so that he could get the support he required.”

Head of Risk Reduction at the Service Jim Bywater said: “The fact is that we have a growing population of older people, many of whom still live in their own homes and are generally at a much higher risk than younger people. It is all of our responsibility to help to look after older people who are some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

“We would urge people to visit older friends, relatives or neighbours to check to see if they are safe. This is particularly relevant during January – and with ‘Blue Monday’ coming up on the 19th - when the excitement and visits of Christmas have come and gone and people can feel isolated and lonely. If you have concerns about potential fire risks in the home of someone you know it is absolutely vital that you contact us. We can arrange for firefighters or trained technicians to carry out a free HFRC where thorough investigations take place in the property, smoke alarms can be fitted and any hazards addressed. It doesn’t take long but it could save their life.”

For more information on the fire and rescue service’s Blue Monday campaign visit http://www.staffordshirefire.gov.uk/1327.asp

People can call 0800 0241 999 to book a free HFRC either for themselves or for someone they know.