The Fire Brigades Union has voiced concern over the impact of cuts to the service after figures showed a sharp rise in the number of deaths in accidental house fires in West Yorkshire.
Between April and July of this year eight people perished in non-deliberate fires – four times as many as the two fatalities in the same period last year.
Ian Bitcon, fire safety manager for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said crews got to every fire within the target response times and insisted the spike was a statistical anomaly.
But Dave Williams, secretary of the FBU in West Yorkshire, said the loss of firefighters and the closure of stations was having an impact.
He said: “Certainly the number of deaths in this short timescale is unique, but the problem we have got is that it’s something we said would happen at the time [when cuts were being discussed].
“If you are unable to save yourself in the case of a fire, the thing that will save you isn’t a smoke detector, it’s a firefighter and when minutes matter, those firefighters need to be available instantly.” An 80-year-old woman who lived alone next to a pub in Methley, died in a fire in July after accidentally setting her clothes on fire while trying to light her stove.
A 72-year-old dementia sufferer from Lofthouse died the same months in a fire thought to have been started by a cigarette. A similar incident claimed the life of a 77-year-old woman in Featherstone.
Mr Bitcon said he was confident the rise in fire deaths in West Yorkshire was “just a very unusual spike”. He said: “We are concerned and statistically it’s very unusual. But the number of fire deaths we have had has been gradually falling over the last 26 years and we are at the bottom of that curve now.”
The 99-year-old victim, who lived on her own in Lightcliffe, near Brighouse, is thought to have died after a fire caused by a faulty electric blanket.
Of the eight victims of accidental house fires between April and July, the youngest was 55 and the oldest 99.
Mr Bitcon said the brigade was carrying out increasing work in the properties of elderly people and had developed a strategy to protect those with dementia.
He said: “The older you get, the more at risk you are of dying in a fire and we are carrying out work to identify the people who live alone and who are at risk because of lifestyle factors [including smoking and heavy drinking].
“We are visiting them to carry out home fire safety checks.”
Mr Bitcon also urged the relatives and neighbours of elderly and vulnerable people to be vigilant.
“Our message is always the same – keep an eye out for your neighbours and relatives,” he said
To book a home fire safety check call 0800 5874536.