West Sussex fire deaths at highest level in seven years

Seven people in West Sussex died as the result of fires in 2020/21 – the highest since 2013/14.

Monday, 21st June 2021, 3:16 pm
West Sussex Fire and Rescue. Pic Steve Robards SR1817300 SUS-180108-084305001

The figures were shared at a meeting of the county council’s fire & rescue service scrutiny committee on Friday (June 18).

Chief fire officer Sabrina Cohen-Hatton told the meeting that, while the number was small, ‘one is a fire death too many’.

Looking at figures from previous years, in both 2018/19 and 2019/20, two people died as the result of fire. There were no deaths in 2017/18 and four in both 2015/16 and 2016/17.

In 2013/14, there were eight deaths.

Dr Cohen-Hatton said: “We will always work incredibly hard to try to prevent fire deaths in any way.”

She added: “One thing we have introduced recently is a fatal fire panel.

“So every time there is a fatal fire, our officers will review all of the information to look for any possibility that we might be able to take something from that or work with partners to try to stop it from happening again in the future.”

One issue the panel did uncover was the fact that some of the deaths happened in rural areas, which are classed as low-risk on the service’s data maps.

As a result, the decision was made to aim more prevention work into rural communities to raise awareness of the risks of fire.

Responding to questions from the committee, Dr Cohen-Hatton said there was no link between the increase in the number of deaths and the fall in the number of safety visits the fire service had been able to carry out in 2020/21.

A target of 4,000 such visits per year was set – aimed particularly at the most vulnerable people in the community – and for two years that target was comfortably reached and exceeded.

In 2020/21, however, the number of visits fell well short of the target, with only 2,998 carried out.

The pandemic was the obvious cause of the shortfall. While the fire service was prompt in contacting every person referred to it for a visit, many people were unwilling to allow anyone into their homes.

A report to the meeting also said there was no correlation with the number of accidental house fires – a figure which fell during 2020/21.

Some 387 fires were reported, 46 fewer than the seven-year average, with 18 people injured – ten fewer than the year before.

Looking at the fire service’s performance between January and March, the committee was told that 16 of the 31 targets – known as core measures – were green, seven were amber and eight were red.

Eight targets had shown an improvement while five had slipped.

One area which Dr Cohen-Hatton was particularly pleased with was the improvement in response times, which saw 81.5 per cent of first fire engines arrive within 13 minutes of being called.

The target set was 80 per cent.

She said: “This is really important to the service because this is how fast we get our fire engines to people when they call us out – when they need us the most.”

While stressing that the service was not ‘resting on our laurels’, she added: “This is the first time in four or five years that we’ve actually succeeded in reaching our response times for the full year, which I’m really, really proud of.”