On Tuesday 17th November our immediate Past President, Peter Dartford, attended Alcohol Concern’s annual conference to discuss the fire service perspective on alcohol and its misuse.
Peter outlined the strong links between alcohol and fires and fire deaths, in particular relating to cooking/kitchen fires where alcohol was a factor.
Statistics show that the average rate of fatalities per accidental dwelling fire where alcohol or drug usage was a contributory factor was over three (3.2) times higher than where drink and drugs are not involved. He outlined a typical scenario where someone returns home after drinking and decides to cook food but then falls asleep as a consequence of being drunk, allowing a fire to develop. Not only does this sort of behaviour place the person at increased risk, it also endangers firefighters who have to perform a rescue.
Peter’s presentation also considered the impact of alcohol on the fire service through drink driving, which continues to be a disproportionately lethal cause of road traffic collisions (RTCs); 14% of road deaths involve a drink driver despite representing only 4% of incidents. Peter highlighted the significant impact of RTCs on firefighters, as these are often amongst the most devastating and traumatising incidents that a firefighter will have to attend.
CFOA have joined the LGA and other partners in calling on the government to lower the drink drive limit in line with colleagues in Scotland and across the EU, in order to make it clear that no amount of alcohol is safe when driving. England and Wales and Malta are the only countries within the EU to still maintain a drink drive limit of 80mg per 100ml of blood, and research by NICE indicates that dropping this to 50mg could save between 77 and 168 lives each year and as much as £285 million per annum.
Peter also took the opportunity to highlight the work that CFOA and fire services generally are doing to support health colleagues to drive down alcohol abuse and misuse for mutual benefit, as part of wider collaboration between health and fire summed up in the recently published Consensus Statement. We recognise there is an opportunity to use the fire and rescue services’ trusted brand and the hundreds of thousands of home safety visits carried out each year to support a safe and well agenda that improves outcomes for all involved.
The conference comes shortly after a report by the Institute for Alcohol Studies into the impact of alcohol on emergency services. The report found that alcohol plays a major role in fires and fire deaths and that many firefighter had experienced physical or verbal attacks from members of the public under the influence of alcohol.