ALIFESAVING project which aims to protect vulnerable people from the risk of a fire in their own home is achieving real results.
Renfrewshire Council and Strathclyde Fire & Rescue are working together to target those who are statistically shown to be at greater risk of setting their own home ablaze.
Among those who have benefited from the support on offer are elderly people who live alone and those who have alcohol problems.
Two firefighters have been working directly with the council’s social work and housing services teams to pinpoint those most at risk.
Around 430 cases have been dealt with since the project was launched in November last year.
Referrals have come from housing officers, social workers, the community mental health team and the alcohol service at Dykebar Hospital in Paisley.
And David Bruce, Watch Commander with Strathclyde Fire & Rescue, insists the service is a real lifesaver.
But, tragically, it is already too late to help some people.
To get his message across, David uses the example of an elderly Paisley woman named Jean who died while she was alone at home, sitting comfortably in her favourite armchair.
Jean, 82, had nodded off after a couple of vodkas when the cigarette she was smoking slipped from her hand.
She had been widowed a couple of years earlier and there was no-one around to spot the curl of smoke drifting up from the carpet which eventually set her home ablaze.
Investigators later discovered numerous tell-tale signs dotted around her home, including burn marks on the carpet and furniture, which told the story of close-calls where only luck had saved her.
These marks should have sounded the alarm bells that Jean was in danger – if anyone had known what to look out for.
In the three years between April 2005 and March 2008, there were 131 deaths across the country from fires in the home.
Alcohol played a part in 62 per cent of these fatal fires, while cigarettes were involved in 41 per cent of cases.
Cookers, toasters and chip pans accounted for another 28 per cent.
Stories like Jean’s are by no means unique and are something both Renfrewshire Council and Strathclyde Fire & Rescue aim to prevent by pulling together their resources.
David told the Paisley Daily Express: “When you look at the statistics, a clear picture starts to appear. The people who are most at risk of dying in a fire are older people who live on their own.
“Nearly half of all the victims of fatal house fires were aged 60 or over. Jean was 82 when she died.
“The risk of a fatal fire increases if a person smokes and it rises even more if a person drinks alcohol. Poverty also plays a part, with people in the poorest areas being more likely to die in a house fire than people who live in better off areas.
“Drugs and mental health problems are other factors which contribute to Scotland having a consistently higher rate of fire deaths than the rest of the UK.”
David believes that, with the number of elderly people rising every year, the kind of partnership work being undertaken by Renfrewshire Council and Strathclyde Fire & Rescue is increasingly vital.
He added: “In a lot of cases we deal with, there are warning signs. If we can pick up on them early enough, we can offset the risk.
“These are things like burn marks on clothes, worktops, furniture and bins.
“It can be piles of old newspapers and magazines, clutter or furniture which blocks escape routes.
“We teach people to look at where heaters and fires are placed to make sure they aren’t going to cause nearby furniture or fabrics to catch alight.”
Renfrewshire Council’s addictions co-ordinator Rosemary White revealed that the fire safety checks are now embedded into the full risk assessments carried out by social workers.
She said: “One of the first things we do with clients is a full assessment of all their needs, including a built-in fire safety check.
“Clients are also asked if they want to take up the option of a fire safety home visit.
“This project is just one of the many ways in which we are pro-actively trying to get our clients to understand the risks to themselves.”
Councillor Eileen McCartin, convener of Renfrewshire Council’s Community and Family Care Board, added: “Scotland’s love affair with drink and cigarettes has a direct bearing on the number of people who die in fires.
“Officers from Strathclyde Fire & Rescue already sit on both Renfrewshire’s Child and Adult Protection Committees. Through these committees, firefighters receive training on how to spot child and adult protection issues. This initiative, quite rightly, brings things full circle.”
l Anyone wishing to arrange a free fire safety visit can do so by calling 0800 073 1999, texting CHECK to 61611 or visiting the website at www.strathclydefire.org to fill out a form.