As part of the Government’s commitment to help prevent fatalities and injuries from accidental fire, the Home Office has relaunched their communications campaign to keep people safe in their homes via their Fire Kills initiative.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of everyday fire risks that are present in the home and encourage all householders in England to test their smoke alarms regularly.

Whilst deaths from fire have halved in the last 40 years there remains a steep socio-economic factor to children’s deaths from fires from poorer backgrounds. A child from the poorest background - whose parents have never worked or are long-term unemployed - is 38 times more likely to die in a house fire than children from the most affluent background.

Children under five are at greatest risk, making up almost 50% of fire deaths among children aged 16 and under. Pre-school children may play with matches or lighters without understanding the danger that fire presents, are less likely to understand the significance of a smoke alarm, and may hide from fire, rather than understanding the need to escape as quickly as possible. So their parents and carers are a key target audience for fire safety messages.

The national fire statistics also show that the most common identified cause of death from a fire incident is being overcome by gas or smoke.

This is particularly important in terms of fire safety campaigns. Many house fires start at night. Parents may assume they will smell the smoke and wake up. In fact, the smoke generated in house fires often contains poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide, that swiftly render people unconscious. This is why working smoke alarms are so important – they give people vital minutes to get out before their home is filled with smoke.

Causes of fires

Families where someone smokes are at greatest risk with cigarettes, matches and lighters being the biggest single cause of fatal house fires. Yet smokers are less likely to own a smoke alarm than non-smokers.

There is also a link with inequalities, as poorer parents are more likely to smoke.

There is much scope therefore to promote fire safety messages by integrating these with existing smoking cessation campaigns or smoke alarm testing initiatives in your local area.

Prevention programmes

A range of prevention programmes are available to prevent injuries and deaths from house fires. The fire and rescue service, working with partners deliver the following effective programmes.

  • The correct fitting and maintenance of smoke alarms: many fire and rescue services offer free smoke alarm fitting for vulnerable families. Families need a smoke alarm on every level of their home, upstairs and downstairs. Smoke alarms should be tested once a week to make sure they are working properly.
  • Home safety awareness: storing matches and lighters away from children, fitting fireguards to all fires and heaters, using a spark guard for a coal or wood fire.
  • The development and practising by families of fire escape plans: so that they know what to do if a fire breaks out in their home.
  • Home safety visits: members of the local fire and rescue service may be able to make a ‘home fire risk assessment’ visit to people’s homes. The home visit focuses on three areas:
    1. identification and awareness of the potential fire risks within the home eg electrical safety, smoking safety and the use of electric blankets
    2. knowledge of what to do to reduce or prevent these risks eg overloaded electrical sockets, wires trapped under carpets, ensuring that doors shut correctly
    3. putting together an escape plan in case a fire does break out.

Partnership working

Much effective fire safety work is carried out in partnership with a number of local agencies. Whether it’s through children’s centres delivering key messages on smoke alarm testing or work with schools to integrate fire safety into cooking lessons, there are lots of opportunities to promote fire safety through successful partnership programmes.

The NICE guidance recommends focussing on the following families:

  • households with children under 5
  • families living in rented or overcrowded conditions
  • families living on a low income
  • families who lack properly installed safety equipment
  • households identified through the Housing Health and Safety Ratings System as living in non-decent properties where hazards have been identified.

In addition to the fire and rescue service, key organisations that can play a role in promoting fire safety include:

  • community and voluntary organisations
  • road safety professionals
  • children’s centres
  • schools
  • NHS stop smoking teams
  • housing associations and local authority housing departments
  • environmental health.

More information