Both of Sussex’s fire and rescue services have asked people confined at home to do more about preventing blazes.
The appeals came as firefighters moved to assure residents and businesses across the county that the emergency ‘999’ service is unaffected by the national lockdown.
More Radio has interviewed the chief fire officers of both East Sussex and West Sussex, to discover how the services are continuing, and what to do at home, now that more of us than ever are confined to where we live.
We spoke with Dr. Sabrina Cohen-Hatton (West Sussex) and Dawn Whittaker (East Sussex).
What to do now
Specific advice for our homes came from both chief fire officers.
Dawn Whittaker began:
“A key area is cooking in the home.
“We’re encouraging people to ‘Look While You Cook’; don’t be distracted, and check the area around your cooker for items such as discarded tea-towels.”
Dr. Sabrina Cohen-Hatton said:
“Make sure you’re being careful about where you place candles: make sure your curtains are out of the way, especially net curtains.
“Don’t overload any plug sockets; don’t charge your phone in your bed; don’t be distracted while you’re cooking; be extra-vigilant and extra-thoughtful.”
Safety at home
Both fire and rescue services in Sussex have adopted a two-part approach to fire prevention in the home:
- Continuing to offer home fire safety checks, mostly by telephone;
- Educating the public about what to do now in the home.
For West Sussex, Dr. Sabrina Cohen-Hatton described how firefighters want to prevent home disasters:
“We’re doing home fire safety checks via phone calls and Skype calls, so we can give that advice.
“More copies of our printed guidance have been made, so we can ensure that information continues to reach the wider public.
“There are still some people, who we know are at a higher risk than others of experiencing a fire.
“In these cases, we will still come and do a ‘Safe And Well’ visit with one of our specialist fire prevention officers who will observe government guidelines on social distancing.
“We’ve put advice on our website about how people can keep themselves and their families safe.”
Dawn Whittaker, in East Sussex, outlined how her staff want to help:
“We’re working with around 6 per cent staff absence, about double what we normally have.
“But what we’re also doing is working hard with government departments and our partners to make sure we’re collaborating to protect vulnerable people.
“With lots of people working from home, or cooking more from home, there’s a potential for an increase of risk.
“We’re still available to give advice, though face-to-face contact is limited.
“With the 11,000 home safety visits we carry out each year, we’re now phoning people.
“It means that, for anyone who’s unsure about safety in their home, we will still speak to you on the phone.
“For very high risk people, we are carrying out the full home safety visit, over the phone.
“If we find particularly vulnerable people, or people who really must have a smoke detector, we are still visiting those people: but in very small numbers.”
Keep calm and carry on
Both officers emphasised that there won’t be any interruption to emergency responses.
Ms. Whittaker said:
“One advantage that fire and rescue services have is that we’re used to dealing with emergencies, and that makes us flexible in terms of changing policy.
“The key front-line response workers are still at fire stations, on shift or on call.
“But we must minimise contact on fire stations, and have had to cancel some of the public events we normally do.
“This protects both the public, and our own firefighters.
“It allows us to maintain our critical response to emergencies, and keep our firefighters well.”
For West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, Dr. Cohen-Hatton said:
“We acted really quickly to make sure our service remained resilient, so we’re able to help people at the time of an emergency.
“Rest assured: if a member of the public dials 999, and needs the Fire and Rescue Service, we will be there.
“But we’ve taken measures to protect both the public and our firefighters.
“We’ve cancelled all non-critical ‘Safe And Well’ visits, so we can limit the amount of time our firefighters are away from the fire stations.
“We’ve also limited those who enter fire stations to critical people only.
“But we also have firefighters on stations so that crewed stations are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
CFO Dawn Whittaker concluded with a note for Sussex residents who may be experiencing particular stress related to Covid-19 and the lockdown:
“I understand that there are lots of people who are anxious, and who’ve never dealt with anything like this before.
“But please be assured: the emergency services are working very hard to make sure we are there for you if you call 999.
“We are perfectly capable of responding: there is no disruption to our 999 response service.
“But if you can, please take some sensible measures.
“There’s a lot of goodwill in the community, so please don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
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