London Fire Brigade

Deadly delay in calling 999 warns new Brigade report

21 September 2017

Ninety-five per cent of the people who died in accidental fires in the home last year occurred where there was a delay in calling 999, a new report has found.

The Brigade was called immediately in only two of the 39 accidental fatal dwelling fires last year. In four of these fires there was a delay of over an hour. The report concludes that in 27 of the 39 fire deaths, the victims had most likely already sustained life threatening injuries by the time firefighters were called.

The report also found that there were no working smoke alarms in half of all accidental fires in the homes.

Test your smoke alarms regularly

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said: “This report suggests that there was a delay in calling the Brigade or people weren’t aware that the fire had broken out until it was too late.

“Calling 999 and having a smoke alarm are the very basics of fire safety. If there is a fire in your home please do not try and tackle it yourself. Get out, stay out and dial 999.

“You should have a number of smoke alarms in your home and test them regularly. Don’t stick one alarm in your hallways and forget about it. Homes need multiple smoke alarms to give you the earliest warning of a fire.

“Ideal spots for smoke alarms include rooms where you leave electrical equipment running like satellite boxes, computers or heaters; any room where you smoke, and anywhere you charge your mobile or laptop. As a minimum you should have smoke alarms on every floor - in the hallways and the rooms you use the most. It is vital that people regularly test their smoke alarms once a month.

“Our free home fire safety visits where firefighters give life saving advice has meant that 350,000 smoke alarms have been installed in homes over the past five years.”

Discarded cigarettes are the most common cause of fatal fire in the home

The report also explores where fires typically start, finding that most fatal fires at home occur in the bedroom or the living room with discarded cigarettes being the most common cause.  Nine per cent of fires start in the bedroom and six per cent in the living room, yet they account for 27 of the 39 deaths.

In total 44 people died as a result of fire in 2016/17 but this report only analyses the 39 dwelling fires that were accidental and therefore probably preventable. The remaining five deaths are as result of deliberate fires such as arson or suicide.

As part of it’s work to prevent fires from breaking out in the first place,  London Fire Brigade exceeded its target of 73,500 home fire safety visits (HFSVs) last year, with over half of the 84,500 visits carried out in social housing accommodation.

The Brigade’s 2013 report concluded that people were 18 times less likely to have a fire if they had a home fire safety visit and the Brigade focuses its visits on vulnerable people who have lifestyle characteristics that put them at greater risk from fire or live in areas with increased fire risk.

The deaths as result of the Grenfell Tower fire will be included in next year’s figures.