Don’t let neighbours be lonely this Christmas….

Following the news story about an 89 year old man seeking work to escape boredom, he is now due to start work at a cafe after the owners of a family-run business spotted his request.

This is a timely reminder that isolation and loneliness can have huge impacts on people’s health – especially older people.

War veteran Joe Bartley,  placed an advert in a local paper: “Senior citizen, 89, seeks employment in Paignton area. 20hrs+ per week. Still able to clean, light gardening, DIY and anything. I have references. Old soldier, airborne forces. Save me from dying of boredom!”

Joe said he had lived alone since his wife died two years ago, and had been lonely. According the Guardian interview “When you live on your own there is no one to speak to. Since she died I’ve moved into a flat and it’s a big block. Once you walk into that flat it’s like solitary confinement.”

This time last year, John Lewis’s Christmas campaign focussed on loneliness ‘Show someone they’re loved this Christmas”, and this story serves as a timely reminder to check on friends, relatives and neighbours.

The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) works closely with the NHS to identify vulnerable people aged 65 and over. One of the aspects firefighters look for when carrying out home safety checks is isolation and loneliness.

As well as fitting handrails, or fixing hazards, firefighters also looking for issues such as loneliness and fuel poverty. This could lead to people being signposted to services and organisations which could offer help and support, and ensuring the relevant organisations are informed about people who may be struggling.

Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has previously praised the work of fire and rescue services and the partnership work with NHS, helping to reduce pressure on services in the future.

NHS England, Public Health England, the Fire and Rescue Service, Age UK and the Local Government Association have a consensus statement which sets out how the organisations will work together to encourage local action and minimise service demand, while improving the quality of life of people with long-term conditions.

It means fire services across the country will aim to carry out more ‘Safe and Well’ checks in people’s homes when they visit. By extending the 670,000 home safety checks carried out each year into a ‘Safe and Well visits’, this will help vulnerable people and those with complex conditions.

When the consensus statement was launched, Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive officer said: “By preventing issues such as falls and broken hips we are also reducing A&E visits, isolation and depression and by spotting social issues earlier we can help people to stay in their own homes for longer.”

In Greater Manchester for example, firefighters form a Community Risk Intervention Team to provide a multifaceted response to keep people safe in their homes, reducing demand on ambulance services and facilitate early discharge from hospital.

Blue Light Infoline Awareness

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This week is CFOA is supporting Blue Light Infoline Awareness Week. The campaign aims to promote the infoline service which is available to those that volunteer and work for the emergency service. The service is part of the Blue Light Programme which was launched by Mind in March 2015. The infoline is able to offer advice and signpost people to help if they need it.

In the first year evaluation of the Blue Light Programme it was apparent that although there was a high awareness of mental health problems among blue light personnel, less than a third were aware of the Blue Light Infoline and this was the single greatest reason for people not having accessed it.

CFOA are actively encouraging fire services to continue to promote the infoline in their workforce. Something as simple as displaying the artwork available on staff notice boards, providing information in internal newsletters or making sure new starters have the information can be useful. Mind found that 79% or respondents to the Blue Light evaluation said they would ‘never’ seek help from HR if they experienced a mental health problem.

Mind’s research shows that nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of emergency service staff and volunteers had contemplated leaving their job or voluntary role because of stress or poor mental health. Those numbers can be changed and just one way of making that change can be accessing this confidential support.

If you work in the emergency services (paid or voluntary) visit Mind’s website and make sure your organisation is supporting the six easy steps to raise awareness.

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Working together to make all safe and well

A new video highlighting how firefighting has changed across the decades has now been launched, with an emphasis on ‘safe and well’ visits.

The video – produced by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service – shows how firefighting has changed in recent years. Fighting more fires and carrying out more rescues in the 1980s; fitting smoke alarms in the 1990s, developing education and home visits in 2000s; recognising older people were at higher risk in 2010; to developing Safe and Well visits in recent years.

This video is now being rolled out nationally to other fire services and partners, and is being supported by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) and NHS England. It is hoped the video will raise awareness of Safe and Well visits and encourage more people who would benefit such a visit to contact their local fire and rescue service.

Research has shown that people deemed to be more vulnerable are at a higher risk of injury and death from fire-related incidents.

This is part of a much wider partnership; Fire and Rescue Services across the country have joined forces with NHS England and other organisations to help tackle health and social issues, while working towards reducing winter pressures.

As a result, fire services will be carrying out more ‘Safe and Well checks in people’s homes, in particular those deemed to be more vulnerable.

Currently firefighters carry out 670,000 home safety checks each year – equivalent to visiting everyone who lives in Iceland twice – and are hoping to increase this number. It is hoped the ‘Safe and Well’ visits will particularly help people who are vulnerable and those with complex conditions.

As well as reducing the risks of a fire, the visits aim to reduce health risks such as falls, loneliness and isolation which will also reduce visits to A&E, broken hips and depression.

In addition, evidence shows that a high percentage of people will allow firefighters into their home due to the high level of trust they have; making it easier for them to give simple advice which could save or change a life.

The video also coincides with the recent NHS England, Local Government Association and CFOA document ‘Working Together’. This sets out how Fire and Rescue Services, health and social care organisations are at the heart of their communities and seek to help people stay safe and well in their homes, with particular emphasis on early intervention.

‘Working Together’ outlines the commitment of NHS England, social care, health providers and Fire and Rescue Service to work together and reduce future demand.

CFOA Lead for Health, Peter O’Reilly, said: “We know that joint working is having a major impact on the prevention agenda; specifically targeting people who are more vulnerable who are at a higher risk from death and injury from fire in their homes.”

Fire and rescue services and health and social care organisations are at the heart of
their communities; seeking to help people stay safe and well in their homes and in
their neighbourhoods.”

NHS England’s Head of Long Term Conditions, End of Life Care and Older People, Jacquie White said, “working better together just makes sense, we all need to maximise opportunities to ensure people stay safe and well in their home. The Fire and Rescue Service are reaching out to many of the same people and families who find themselves at risk of ill health.”

Neil Odin, Deputy Chief Fire Officer at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Services, commented: ‘We are delighted to get the chance to share this video through CFOA as the important messages about the positive ways in which the fire service is changing to help make people not only safe, but also well, resonate beyond Hampshire out across the nation.’
The Fire and Rescue Service has a long and successful history of prevention and early
intervention. By working in partnership with other organisations including health and social care, all organisations involved in the partnership are seeing results.

Dying for a smoke?

The chances are if you are a smoker you are fully aware of the health implications of smoking. Maybe now is not the right time for you to give up or, dare you even admit it, you don’t want to. Whatever the reason for you lighting up is, take some time to make sure your habit doesn’t cause a fire.

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CFOA and many UK fire and rescue services are supporting the national Fire Kills campaign and asking people to ‘Put it out. Right out’.

One third of households have a smoker living in them and these households are one and a half times more likely to suffer a fire than a non-smoking household.

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Figures for 2013-2014 show 38% of all deaths in fires in the home were caused by smokers’ materials. To reduce the number of people dying in accidental house fires, fire and rescue services need smokers to take additional precautions to protect their homes and families.

Advice to reduce the risk of smoking related fires

  • Consider smoking outside or restricting the areas of the house you smoke in
  • Make sure you have working smoke alarms. Test them once a week and make sure you have enough alarms for your home
  • Make sure you use a proper ashtray. It should be solid and not easily knocked over
  • Empty ashtrays regularly.  Make sure any butts and ashes are cold – pop a bit of water in and empty into a suitable bin
  • A small amount of water in the bottom of a clean ashtray is a simple way of helping to make sure cigarettes are properly out
  • Never leave a cigarette or cigar burning whilst you see to something else, they can easily fall and set fire to something
  • Avoid smoking in bed. If you fall asleep with a lit cigarette the proximity of the fire makes escape difficult
  • Be careful if you have been taking drugs – recreational or prescription – or drinking alcohol. Not always easy to make sure your cigarette is stubbed out and you are less likely to hear your smoke alarm
  • Keep lighters and matches safe and away from children

Fire and rescue services throughout the UK will be asking smokers to heed this advice throughout April and make some small changes to their smoking behaviour to reduce the risk of fire.

Unfortunately for some services this has been in response to an upward trend in such incidents. West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) is one such service.  11 deaths in 2015 in West Yorkshire were caused by fires started by smoking related materials.

West Yorkshire’s area manager for fire safety, Ian Bitcon said: “Last year we saw a tragic and concerning spike in the number of fatal fires caused by smoking materials so we are very eager to make sure the national Fire Kills campaign hits home within West Yorkshire.”

Local fire and rescue services can offer ‘Safe and Well’ visits which can help identify risks and signpost people to smoking cessation services, if they wish.  It is worth speaking to older friends or relatives about the safety messages and help fire services can give particularly if they do not easily have access to the internet.

Look out for the #FireKills and #PutItOut.Right out on twitter and pass the safety messages on. Take a look at your own fire and rescue services webpages for useful advice.

Behind closed doors

For 16 years Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) have reduced the number of fires, injuries and deaths with prevention visits to home owners. They now deliver about 670,000 free home checks across the UK annually.

It’s not always obvious to people when they are putting themselves at risk. What some people consider acceptable may send shivers down a firefighters’ spine.

On a recent home safety check South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service came across an oven which was being used to store ‘bags for life’ and biscuits. The image was posted on Twitter by firefighters and attracted a huge amount of attention. Even if the home owner was not a fan of cooking,  the oven could have been inadvertently turned on. The risk of fire would have been very high.

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Image courtesy of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service who came across this oven filled with bags and biscuits.

How not to heat your home

Sometimes age or culture may mean people are just not aware of the risks.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service  visited the home of a Polish man who was using a home made radiator despite having a gas central heating system installed in his home.  The illegal and dangerous device was made from metal can filled with water. Two cables powered from a telephone socket were wrapped around a home made heating element. This would heat the water in the can and in turn heat the room.

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Image courtesy of Merseyside FRS

The voltage which was passing through from the phone socket was 20-50 milliamps, this kind of shock can cause breathing difficulties, paralysis of the chest muscles and can be fatal.

Gary Oakford Prevention Group Manager said; “The Incident Investigation Team had never come across a device like this before and obviously the risk of electrocution was a significant. The gentleman informed us that this type of device was common practice in Eastern European countries.”

In Chelmsford, a man had a very lucky escape when a Home Safety Check identified very high levels of carbon monoxide in his home. The CO monitors gave a reading of 100 parts per million (ppm) – the safe level is 30 ppm.

The elderly gentleman had been using his grill to keep warm not realising that this was leading to a build up of carbon monoxide.  More details of this visit can be found on the Essex FRS website

It is estimated that one person dies every seven minutes in winter due to the cold, some useful advice on how to keep warm and well can be found on this link from the NHS.

Safe and Well

What was clear from the home checks was there were common risk factors between people. Those that benefit most from advice from fire and rescue services often needed to access health services. For example, people with an addiction or dependency, loneliness or cold homes were at increased risk of fire and an increased likelihood to need to access NHS services.

FRSs  in some case can even deliver some basic health checks – for example sight or hearing checks and offer advice on a range of subjects from cooking safely to heating the home safely and avoiding trips and falls. This is additional advice is particularly useful for elderly and vulnerable people.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue have some useful information a  Safe and Well flyer with some case studies of how people have benefitted from their help.

CFOA would like people to take the time to spread the word about these visits and consider arranging one for older or vulnerable friends or relatives – with their permission of course.

A visit from your local fire and rescue service might just make sure that what goes on behind closed doors is not a disaster waiting to happen.

If you can’t stand the heat …..

There are plenty of reasons in February to get into the kitchen and have a go at rustling up some food for friends and family. So whether it’s a Chinese banquet, some flipping fun or trying to impress a date, this month is a good time to think about kitchen and cooking safety.

Children and cooking

Children love helping out in the kitchen, especially if you are making things like pancakes, but according to RoSPA 67,000 children get injured in kitchen accidents every year. Of these 43,000 are aged between 0-4 years.

  • Try not to hurry and don’t get distracted – this is how most kitchen fires start
  • Use the rear hotplates on the hob and turn pan handles away from the front of the cooker, this reduces the chance of child pulling something hot off the cooker
  • If you are using the oven keep children away. Children can get injured from hot oven doors or from steam and heat as the door is opened
  • Make sure the oven door is closed firmly after you have finished using it
  • Keep hot liquids clear of children and never hold a child while you have a hot drink in your hand. What seems lukewarm to adult can be hot enough to scald a child
  • Look out behind you – children – especially very young children or their toys can easily be a trip hazard in the kitchen
  • Be careful when you are cooking with oil or fats as they can spit and burn you or a child
  • Oil and fat can easily catch fire, careful not to overfill a pan with oil or splash it when you add food
  • If a pan does catch fire don’t try and move it, never use water, turn the heat off if you can, get out and call 999
  • Don’t leave children alone in the kitchen
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Figures from RoSPA say 67,000 children are injured in the kitchen every year

The NHS has useful information about treating scalds and burns.

Caution in the kitchen

The kitchen is the highest fire risk area in the home– up to 60% of fires start in the kitchen.  It’s not only due to the cooking it’s also because this area of the home has a high concentration of domestic appliances.

It’s worth registering your kitchen appliances so you are aware of any safety advice or product recalls. You can register appliances up to 12 years from purchase.

  • Make sure hobs and grills pans are clean, the build up of fat can cause a fire
  • Take care not to lean over hot hobs or gas flames
  • Keep tea towels and cloths away from the cooker and hob
  • Don’t cook if you have been drinking alcohol
  • Take care when cooking with hot oil – it can easily overheat and catch fire
  • Never fill a pan more than one-third full of fat or oil
  • Make sure food is dry before putting it in hot oil
  • If the oil starts to smoke, it’s too hot. Turn off the heat and leave it to cool

Be alarmed

Most people have experienced the smoke alarm going off when cooking. It can be annoying – more annoying than Piers Morgan apparently. It’s not unusual for people to remove the batteries. In 19% of fires where a smoke alarm failed to activate it was because the batteries were dead or had been removed.

If this is the case in your household it may be time to double check you have the right alarms in the right places.

  • Is your smoke alarm too close to the kitchen? If it goes off when you are cooking it might be
  • Consider a heat alarms for the kitchen. These will not be activated by cooking fumes but react to the temperature increase caused by fire
  • You can never have too many smoke or heat detectors, as a minimum you should have one on every level of your home. Consider additional alarms for other rooms especially if there are lots of electrical in the room – such as teens bedroom
  • Help your alarms help you, test them – ideally once a week, replace the batteries once a year unless they are mains connected or a ten year alarm
  • Plan your escape route- just in case
  • Make sure you have the right alarms for your needs. For example if you are hard of hearing you can get alarms which have vibrating pads or flashing lights to alert you

If you need advice take a look at your local fire and rescue service website. Details of UK fire services can be found on the CFOA website. They often have guides and advice, even home safety checklists for you to follow. There will also be details of any services they may offer to help with home safety. This could be anything from arranging a home safety check to an open day event at a local station.

Resolve to make 2016 safer

It’s the time of year we once again make the effort to kick those bad habits such as smoking and drinking. CFOA is keen to point out that these changes can not only improve our health but can also reduce the risk of an accidental house fire.

Evidence from fire and rescue services across the UK shows the consumption of alcohol significantly increases the risk of an accidental fire in the home.

In November 2015 Peter Dartford, Chief Fire Officer for Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and a past President of CFOA, spoke at Alcohol Concern’s annual conference and  outlined the strong links between alcohol and fire and fire related deaths.

If drink or drugs are a factor in a house fire the risk of death is over three times higher. Details of the government’s statistics for the effect of alcohol on casualty rates in fires in the home for 2011-2012 can be found by following this link http://bit.ly/1Pk6liS

London Fire Brigade said that one third fatal fires in their region are alcohol related. The cause is usually because the person has started cooking and fallen asleep. Additionally the consumption of alcohol means that you are less likely to respond to a smoke alarm. Being under the influence can easily make people disorientated and therefore less likely to be able to escape the fire safely and quickly.

If you are looking at New Year’s resolutions it is worth while taking a moment to think about your drinking habits. Is wine o’clock a little earlier than it used to be? Is it a little more often? Maybe you have got into the habit of having a drinking while cooking after work. Alcohol Concern’s #Dry January campaign has some useful guidance if you are thinking of cutting down.

How to reduce the risk of alcohol related fires:

  • Don’t cook if you have been drinking – treat yourself to a take-away
  • Avoid drinking too much so that you cannot take care of yourself or anyone else in the home
  • Don’t smoke in the house while you are drunk
  • Don’t use candles or any naked flames while you are drinking
  • Alcohol can impair your judgement – don’t attempt to tackle a fire yourself, call 999

If smoking is your habit then unfortunately you significantly increase your risks of an accidental house fire.

A smoker is 75% more likely to have a house fire than a non-smoker and smoking materials are the cause of 1 in 10 house fires. Smoking related fires are usually due to the careless disposal of cigarettes. If smoking is combined with alcohol then the risk of a fatal house fire increases significantly.

How to reduce the risk of smoking related fires:

  • Don’t light up if you are tired or have been drinking – it’s is very easy to fall asleep with a lit cigarette
  • Use a proper ashtray and make sure it can’t be knocked over
  • Make sure that you have put the cigarette out properly – maybe pop a little water in the ashtray just to make sure.
  • Be careful when you dispose of cigarette ash – hot ashes can start a fire
  • Don’t leave your cigarette unattended
  • Consider not smoking in the house and have your cigarette outdoors.

The number of fires caused by smoking related materials has decreased over the past few years but it is still the biggest cause of fatalities in accidental house fires.

Many people are turning to e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking. Fire and rescue services across the UK have seen an increase in incidents relating these products as they gain popularity. Recorded incidents have risen from 8 in 2012 to 62 in 2014 and tend to relate to the charging or incorrect charging of these devices.

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House fire caused by an e-cigarette. Image courtesy of London Fire Brigade.

If you are using an e-cigarette to help you quit smoking take the same precautions as you would with other small electrical devices.

  • Use the correct charger –even if the charger fits the voltage may be too high for your device
  • Avoid cheap or unbranded chargers
  • Don’t leave e-cigarettes charging unattended for long periods
  • Make sure you buy from a reputable store
  • Make sure your e-cigarette has a CE mark

Just in case you don’t manage to stick to your resolutions you can still decrease your risk of fire or accidents in the home in 2016. Contact your local fire and rescue service and ask them to carry out a home fire safety visit. This means you will get specific advice for your household and advice on what to do if a fire does break out.

Don’t leave older friends out in the cold this winter

Photo credit Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service

The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) is encouraging people to take action to keep older friends and neighbours safe this winter. It is estimated that there are approximately 200 unnecessary winter deaths in people aged over 65 per day in the UK.

Instead of just posting that Christmas card through the door why not take the time to pop in and double check any appliances or smoke alarms? People might struggle to check alarms are working. A quick check that batteries work and alarms are correctly fitted on each floor is vital.

Smoke alarms can give a person valuable time in the event of a fire. In 19% of house fires a smoke alarm was fitted but not working. Statistics show that 47% of fire deaths in 2013-14 were among people aged 60 or over.

For people living in private rented accommodation new legislation was introduced on 1st October 2015. It requires landlords to have a working smoke alarm on each floor of their property and carbon monoxide detectors in properties which burn solid fuel.

It’s worth taking some time just to check that they are able to heat their home sufficiently. Any electrical appliances being used for heating should be checked to ensure they don’t pose a risk to safety. A useful site for more information is Electrical Safety First.  Fire caused by electrical appliances and electric blankets have the highest rate of injuries – 440 injuries per every 1000 fires.

If electric blankets are being used it is important they are being switched off and stored flat and never use a hot water bottle at the same time.

CFOA is asking people to make sure older and vulnerable people take up the opportunity of a ‘Safe and Well’ visit from their local FRS. More information about how a visit can help can be found on GMFRS website and in their flyer ‘Safe and Well’.  Arranging a visit to a home might just prevent an accident or save a life.

The visits not only identify fire hazards but risk factors in the home that impact on health and well-being, which can lead to an increase in demand for health and local authority services.

Wider health impacts are also addressed during the visit, such as the identification of frailty, promotion and support of healthy aging, help to avoid trips and falls; and signposting people to relevant services and sources of help.

Paul Hancock, President of CFOA, said: “By working in partnership with health professionals we can help to protect some of our most vulnerable residents, while improving people’s quality of life. The Safe and Well checks will help to identify issues at an early stage, which could reduce the likelihood of older people being admitted to hospital by focusing on prevention measures. Firefighters carrying out these checks already have a high level of trust from the people they are visiting and will be able to give help and advice on a wide range of issues, while helping to keep our older residents safer.”

For more useful information NHS England and Age UK produced a useful document which you can download here ‘A Practical Guide to Healthy Ageing’ (PDF). It has winter advice and year round tips on staying safe in the home for older people.

Fire as a Health Asset: New NHS England Blogs

Two new blog posts from NHS England colleagues highlight some of the fantastic work being undertaken by Fire and Rescue Services to improve health outcomes and make the lives of vulnerable people better.

Emma Latimer, Chief Officer for NHS Hull CCG, talks about Humberside Fire and Rescue Service’s role in the Hull 2020 programme. Humberside are leading on efforts to respond to and prevent falls as part of the frailty and isolation workstream which they lead. The rapid Falls Response Service is already having an impact and they are exploring what more the FRS can do to support health outcomes in one of the UK’s most deprived cities.

Dr Martin McShane, Director for Long Term Conditions at NHS England, talks about his experience of visiting Greater Manchester FRS and joining a safe and well visit with their innovative Community Risk Intervention Team.

You can find loads more information on the work that NHS England, Public Health England, CFOA and others are doing to develop fire as a health asset on the CFOA website, including our consensus statement and plenty of case studies of the great work that is already being undertaken.