Fire and Recue Services (FRSs) across the country will be affected by planned budget cuts to reduce the total expenditure of the public sector. Lorraine Carney, campaign manager at the Electrical Safety Council (ESC), explains how a funding scheme established by the charity has helped a number of local Fire and Rescue Services to maintain and develop safety messaging and awareness campaigns, all aimed at local communities and hard-to-reach groups in particular.
The government target of cutting £83 billion from the public sector budget by 2014 will undoubtedly impact on many public sector services, including the FRS. Although details of the cuts have not yet been specified, it is conceivable that some activities that fire services undertake (apart from actual rescue work), such as awareness days, work with the elderly and the young, could all be severely reduced as budgets are focussed on maintaining core services.
This is a real concern for anyone involved with fire safety. Half of all domestic fires begin with an electrical appliance. It is vital that fire services continue to carry out awareness-raising activities that reach vulnerable people and disadvantaged groups in particular.
Following the Communities and Local Government's Lessons Learned From Real Fires report, we can see that those who are most vulnerable to fires in their homes are often also the hardest to reach - the elderly, young adults and single parents. Last year the ESC launched the Fire Safety Fund to help support individual projects that raised fire safety awareness. We distributed £129,000 to help fund activities across the UK. The Fire Safety Fund is now an annual scheme, with grants of up to £5,000 available for selected projects that raise fire safety awareness in local communities. Grass roots projects are an effective way of reaching people who are at a real risk from fire, and local fire services are well positioned to reach those most at risk.
A number of the projects that the ESC funded in 2009 were those run by local fire services. Greater Manchester FRS ran an event for the local Polish community, giving advice about using electrical appliances purchased abroad and. European conversion plugs, provided with money from the ESC were given away to those who attended the event. This type of activity shows how a local FRS can reach a specific group of people with useful information and practical help to keep them safe.
Similarly, the ESC supported South Wales FRS's 'Celebrate Safely' campaign. The campaign was developed following the discovery that nearly half of all accidental domestic fires in the area were over the Christmas period, a quarter of which were electrical fires. South Wales FRS applied for a Fire Safety Fund grant to help promote their safety messages on local radio stations, as well as printing leaflets, tea towels, cards and Christmas decorations to distribute at the switching on of the Cardiff Christmas Lights. The project was so successful that South Wales FRS has been granted a further allowance from the ESC under this year's Fire Safety Fund. They intend to run further seasonal activities this December.
In this year's Fire Safety Fund the ESC awarded Lancashire FRS £5,000 to enhance the home fire safety visits that they carry out in vulnerable people's homes. Lancashire FRS felt that simply advising people of the dangers of faulty appliances was not sufficient. The service intends to use ESC funding to replace dangerous electric heaters, which caused 175 domestic fires in the area last year.
Glasgow suffered over 1,000 domestic fires last year, a third of which were caused by electrical equipment. Strathclyde FRS made the link between some of the highest rates of domestic dwelling fires in the UK, to high levels of social deprivation. While carrying out home fire safety checks they regularly came across overloaded sockets and home-made/adapted extension leads. Strathclyde FRS will use £5,000 from the ESC to give away free four-way adaptor sockets to help prevent the risk of electrical fire in disadvantaged homes.
The ESC believes that by partnering with local fire services, electrical safety messages can be relayed to a wide audience. Many of the successful applicants of both the 2009 and 2010 Fire Safety Fund are fire services, and it is likely that the Fire Safety Fund will become increasingly useful in the future FRS community-related activities.