Lack of smoke alarms in Norfolk homes puts lives at risk

Three in five of the properties involved in house fires in Norfolk do not have properly-fitted smoke alarms, worrying new figures have revealed.

It means thousands of lives are being put at risk as families fail to get the early warning of a blaze which could help them flee their homes.

Last night Norfolk Fire Service's head of community safety said he was desperate to see every single household with a fitted and working smoke alarm.

Stuart Horth said: 'The only thing that will definitely wake you up at night is a smoke detector. The sound of burning won't wake you and smoke alone is very unlikely to wake you.

'You only get a very few breaths before it's too late. Don't drown in toxic smoke. It's extremely important to get a smoke alarm.'

Figures obtained by the EDP under the Freedom of Information Act show 907 – or 58.4pc – of the 1,553 house fires attended by Norfolk fire service since 2008 were in homes that did not have fitted and working smoke detectors.

The figure is even higher for fires so far this year with 65pc of the properties, or 76 of the 117 involved in house fires, lacking a working alarm.

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Of those fires since 2008, 98 have either caused death or serious injury and 53 of those – or 54pc – were in homes without smoke detectors.

In Suffolk and Cambridgeshire the picture is just as worrying.

About 64pc of the 1,295 house fires in Cambridgeshire were at properties without alarms while in Suffolk the figure, although slightly lower at 48pc, was still worrying.

Mr Horth, of Norfolk Fire Service, said: 'We are very concerned about this. We are actively trying to find people who are most at risk of fires and we are prepared to go out there if they are in a vulnerable group and fit a smoke detector for them.'

Those vulnerable groups, considered most at risk of experiencing a house fire, are the elderly and people suffering with health problems.

Mr Horth said the Fire Service worked closely with other organisations, like Age UK Norfolk, to contact those people.

Hilary MacDonald, chief executive of Age UK Norfolk, said the charity actively promoted the importance of fire safety and fire safety advice.

She said: 'Older people in Norfolk, for example, may be totally unaware that special alarms can be fitted for people with hearing difficulties.

'Smoke alarms play a vital role in preventing injury and death in a fire and preventing a fire in the first place is also extremely important.'

She said free fire safety and smoke alarm checks were also available for people in later life and urged older people to make use of the support on offer.

Mr Horth said the early warning given by a smoke alarm would give householders vital time to find their way out of their houses and call the emergency services.

He said the result was that not only did families survive and avoid serious injury, they also had the chance to reduce the damage to their homes.

'You can get us there quicker and we can deal with the house fire and not the rescue,' he said. 'That is always our number one priority – we will always get in there and rescue people while we fight the fire. But if we haven't got to rescue people, it allows us to concentrate on the fire.'

The head of community safety also urged people to think about what they would do if a fire began in their home. Mr Horth said having a plan of action – like knowing your escape route – would save valuable time when the smoke detector went off.

As well as targeting vulnerable groups and offering to fit fire alarms for them, Norfolk Fire Service also works hard to raise awareness of the problem.

Officers visit doctors surgeries, post office and supermarkets as part of its publicity campaigns while Crucial Crew safety events and school visits teach youngsters the importance of smoke alarms at an early age.

Mr Horth added: 'We try to get in contact with as many key stage two children as we possibly can to give them the safety message.'

The Test It Tuesday campaign also reminds householders to check their smoke detectors are working every week.

With so much work being done to encourage more people to ensure they have fitted and working alarms, it is frustrating for fire crews to find so many homes still lacking the protection.

'It's hugely frustrating,' said Mr Horth. 'We are passionate about people's safety in Norfolk.

'You can get smoke alarms for �5. They're not very expensive and they are very easy to put up - and very effective.'

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