Between April 2013 and March 2014, four people in East Sussex died in house fires. Three of these people were over the age of 65.
In October 2013, 87-year-old Elizabeth Blacker died after a fire ripped through her Darley Road home in Eastbourne.
She was pulled from the fire but died at the scene. Her son told The Argus he had been left devastated by the incident.
Earlier that year, a mother and her son died in a house fire in Copthorne.
Christine Winford, 82, and Nicholas Winford, 52, were found in their home following a fire that was thought to have been started by smoking materials. A spokesman for the fire service said it was understood that the property did not have smoke alarms fitted.
In December 2013, Rita Brown, 89, died when a blaze broke out at 6am in her home of 70 years. The fire engulfed both floors of the property and she was declared dead a the scene.
During the same period, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service attended 525 accidental fires, each causing damage, distress and, occasionally, injury.
Now the fire department is asking members of the public to get in contact if they know of a vulnerable person in the community who may benefit from a free home fire safety visit.
Fire officers visit houses by appointment and provide specialist advice about safety.
They will fit a smoke alarm or specialist fire detection equipment for free if one is needed.
The primary aim of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Services’ work is to prevent fires from breaking out and avoiding deaths and injuries in house fires.
Jenny Taylor, a community safety advisor in Hove, said: “Our role in the Fire Service is to try to make people safer in their homes. It’s a varied and interesting job and you meet different people.
“Some people in our communities are obviously much more vulnerable than others and there have been some quite extreme cases I have worked on.
“One was a serious example of hoarding, where we did a home fire safety visit at the property in Brighton and quickly identified very serious fire hazards, such as large amounts of combustible materials piled up on the floor in close proximity to an electric storage heater.
“During this particular home safety visit, we fitted smoke alarms in the property and came back with plastic bin bags later in the day to help the owner clear the debris and potential fire hazards.
“Another recent home safety visit was at a property in Brighton, where we were inspecting the fuse box and discovered it had been damaged by fire.
“The owners were not aware this had happened as all the electrics still appeared to be working.
“Clearly, the consequences of this could have been extremely serious. In this particular property there were also lots of overloaded sockets. The tenants were very vulnerable so with their permission we went directly to their letting agents to address the issue.”
asda Of the 10,500 visits made by home safety staff in the past year, 86% were with vulnerable members of the community, including older people living alone and people with mobility, vision or hearing problems.
Staff ensure people have working fire alarms, know how to prevent fires and what to do if a blaze does break out.
An electrical fault with an emersion heater caused a fire in Mr Howell’s home in Ringmer. The wiring overheated which melted insulation which, in turn, set alight towels and bedding in the airing cupboard.
Mr Howell said: “My son was upstairs and smelt smoke. “We opened the bedroom door to investigate and saw flames coming out of the airing cupboard.
“We did manage to put out the flames ourselves, although having a fire extinguisher in the house would have been rather helpful.
“The fire service was, of course, superb and very quick to arrive.
“The bedroom was filled with smoke and fire crews ventilated the property.
“Fortunately, fire damage was contained to that room. I’d been in hospital a couple of days earlier – obviously the damage would have been much more extensive if we hadn’t been at the property.”
After the blaze, fire staff fitted another smoke alarm at the top of Mr Howell’s stairs.
Chief fire officer Des Prichard said: “In your own home, you rarely see things as a threat as you do them each day.
“You wouldn’t consider cooking as a threat, but the vast majority of house fires in the city and, indeed, nationally, originate in the kitchen.
“Smoke alarms give people an early warning. For example, you’re cooking and your child falls over in the garden. You nip out to tend to them and in the meantime a fire breaks out. A smoke alarm will let you know there’s something up.
“In my career I have seen many incidents that could have been avoided – from unattended cooking to people smoking in bed.
“That’s why we’re pleased The Argus supports this as it will reach people we’re trying to target.
“The Argus has a great circulation and even if the vulnerable people themselves don’t pick up a copy, their families or carers will.
“And then from that, they’ll think ‘next time I go to see my mother or grandmother, I’ll make sure they’ve got that in place or I’ll send the fire department over there’.
“The most vulnerable people are elderly living alone, people with life-limiting illnesses or mobility issues and single-parent families, for no other reason than there’s only one pair of eyes, not two.”
Mr Prichard said the onus is on families and carers as opposed to the vulnerable people themselves to make the first move.
He said: “I’m sure everyone believes they are doing their best and nobody would deliberately put loved ones in danger, but we are experts and can assess how safe a house is.
“We work in partnership with agencies like the council, so if a person with mobility issues would benefit from having handrails, we can pass that on to the relevant people.”
How to get involved and help
Steve Wright, community safety team manager, said: “East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service staff work with partner agencies, including other emergency services, and care, support and voluntary organisations to identify and access our most vulnerable members of the community.
“We ask the public for help in identifying even more people who would benefit from extra fire safety support, so if you have a vulnerable friend, relative or neighbour we can help, call us free on 0800 177 7069.
“The inspection of your home is not as intrusive as it sounds. We will visit you, look at potential dangers and with your permission, look at the rooms within your home paying particular attention to areas such as overloaded plug sockets or wires trapped under carpets.
“Our Home Safety Advisors will provide you with advice on making an escape plan appropriate for you. In the event of a fire, we always advise that you get out, stay out and call 999. We will also discuss fire safety issues with you, such as electrical safety, smoking, electric blankets.
“With consent from the occupier, East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service can also help to access additional services around wellbeing and if appropriate refer your details to partner agencies to help individuals continue to live safely and independently in their own home.”
To check you are eligible for a home safety visit, call East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service on 0800 177 7069. If you are not eligible the service will send out a free information pack with advice.