A Cannock firefighter has spoke of the traumatic impact attending a fire death can have on the crew and how the images they see will never leave them.
“Some of the things I’ve seen at house fires will never go away. Those images are stuck in your memory forever. We debrief after the incident and we go over what’s happened but afterwards we have to just pick up and get on because no sooner have you packed up the equipment you could be on to the next incident."
Watch Manager Russell Brown
Watch Manager Russ Brown, has been with the Service for 15 years and has attended hundreds of house fires and several where someone has sadly died. Russ is one of a number of firefighters speaking out about their experiences in order to raise awareness of the Service’s new SAME campaign to try and reduce the number of people who tragically die in fires in their homes.
The SAME campaign is based on 10 years of evidence which show that one or more of the following factors greatly increase your risk of dying in a fire; being a smoker, drinking alcohol, having poor mobility and/or being elderly. The campaign uses the acronym SAME to make it easy for people to remember the four factors: smoking, alcohol, mobility, elderly.
He said: “Some of the things I’ve seen at house fires will never go away. Those images are stuck in your memory forever. We debrief after the incident and we go over what’s happened but afterwards we have to just pick up and get on because no sooner have you packed up the equipment you could be on to the next incident.
“I think since becoming a father it has made it a bit harder. I attended one fatal fire where I picked up a set of keys belonging to the deceased and there was a picture of two kids on there. That was really difficult. When I go home I just go and hug my boys and feel so grateful I’m still here.
“There is a lot of responsibility to make sure you reassure the family. As much as I have a clear image in my mind as to where the person was found and what happened to them, you don’t want to paint that picture of them and have that image be what their family and friends remember.
“There is so much to think about when you have a fatal incident especially when you still have to try and rescue others in the property. There are times when you know someone has passed and you still need to search the room. You need treat that person with the respect and dignity they deserve.
“The hardest ones are when you have built up a relationship with a person. You have worked hard to rescue them and have spent time assuring them and telling them to think of their family, only to lose them afterwards. That’s what’s really hard.
“This is why our prevent work is so important. I would much rather sit in someone’s living room and have a conversation with two people about fire safety than have that conversation two weeks later with one person because the other is gone.”
In the last 10 years research has shown that cigarettes/cigars and lighters have been the biggest cause of fires in which people have died, with 41 per cent of those who died being smokers.
Of those who died 39 per cent were regular drinkers and in a number of cases alcohol was a contributing factor as to why the fire started – often with people being intoxicated and then falling asleep whilst smoking or cooking food.
Of the 56 deaths, 50 per cent had mobility issues and a massive 73 per cent of those who have died in a fire were 65-years-old or over – both factors put people at increased risk as they often find it harder to safely escape should a fire occur in their home.
“Some of the figures around these deaths are quite shocking. I think if this campaign can just prevent one person from passing in a fire then it is worth it. It is so important to raise awareness so the people who fall into these categories don’t become another statistic,” Russ added.
Members of the public who feel these fire deaths factors may apply to them or members of their family should contact the Service’s Community Advice Team on 0800 0241 999 for support or visit www.staffordshirefire.gov.uk