Firefighters are planning to fit over 400 arson proof letterboxes across Bexley in a pilot scheme to help protect victims of domestic abuse and hate crimes.
Crews aim to fit special letterboxes, smoke alarms and provide fire safety advice within 24 hours after a referral has been made identifying them at risk of a fire in their home.
Since the scheme was launched in August, Bexley firefighters have been receiving around eight requests for fireproof letter boxes every week from victims of domestic violence and hate crimes.
Trisha* from Sidcup was a victim of domestic violence and received an arson-proof letterbox, she said:
“My son was mentally ill and out of control; he smashed everything up in my house. He is no longer living with me but was making threats to do it again.
“I’m a single-parent living with my two daughters and I felt so vulnerable. I was living scared in case my son came back and attacked us. A referral was made and the London Fire Brigade came to my house and fitted a letterbox and smoke alarms.
Anyone who is going through what I went through, I’d encourage them to get help. It makes me feel a lot safer having the letter box. It’s such a relief to know help is out there if you need it.”
Funding for the scheme has come from the Brigade’s Community Safety Investment Fund. The fund was set up to help protect vulnerable people and communities across London from the risk of fire .
From fire retardant bedding in the home to sprinkler systems in local authority sheltered housing schemes, over a million pounds in fire prevention grants for London’s most vulnerable have been awarded. In addition to the arson proof letterboxes, Bexley has also benefitted from a grant providing fire retardant bedding and nightwear for residents who may need additional protection from potential arson attacks.
Borough Commander for Bexley, Graham Coles said: “I kept hearing about domestic abuse and hate crime cases involving arson and realised there was a clear fire risk which we could help prevent. We want to give peace of mind to anyone who has been a victim of domestic violence and this project will offer reassurance to anyone put in this frightening situation.
"Domestic violence referrals often have young families so providing fire retardant bedding as well as fire proof letter boxes offers another level of protection and peace of mind.
“By working closely with the London Borough of Bexley and support organisations such as, Bexley Women’s Aid and Victim Support, we can really target those who desperately need arson prevention advice and support.
"Stopping fires before they happen is as important as responding to them when they do occur and this is a practical way to help protect some of Bexley’s most vulnerable residents.”
Last year the Brigade achieved ‘White Ribbon’ status in recognition of it’s work in Bexley to support victims of domestic violence. The FIRST (Families Inspire Respect, Security and Trust) programme ran throughout 2016 and helped domestic violence victims rebuild their lives. While parents received help, their children were taught life skills such as, first aid, online safety, healthy relationships, mental health wellbeing and team building skills. Bexley’s previous Borough Commander, Richard Welch, set up the course which has helped over 70 people since it began.
*Trisha is not her real name, this has been changed to protect her identity and for her safety