Research and information indicate some additional considerations in relation to fire risk. 'An investigation into accidental fatal fires in the South West of England’ Report (2013-17) identified eight characteristics which increase the likelihood of fire death:
- mental health issues
- alcohol use
- drug use
- poor housekeeping
- limited mobility
- living alone
- low income.
Certain groups of people are more likely to face these challenges than others. For example, elderly people are more likely to have limited mobility and live alone – over half of victims in dwelling fires live alone.
Our Service area has a growing and ageing population, with one in four of the 1.8 million residents aged 65 years or over7. We expect to see greater numbers of older people living with some form of impairment, many of whom will be living alone and in relative isolation given the rural nature of much of our area. Fifty-four percent of the victims of fires in the home live alone, making it the most common factor.
Over the next 20 years, the population of Devon and Somerset is likely to change, with the Office for National Statistics estimating that by 2025 the population will have increased by 5% and that by 2043 it will have increased by 14%8.
Social and economic factors
Communities look very different across our counties and include complex patterns of urban and rural deprivation across our Service area. We know that the 10% most deprived areas have rates of fire nearly six times higher than those in the least deprived areas.
Deprivation consists of more than just poverty. Poverty is not having enough money to get by on whereas deprivation refers to a general lack of resources and opportunities. Pay inequality, poorer health outcomes and unemployment are good indicators of the level of risk of fire in the home. Those with a lower income tend to live in areas of deprivation, where the likelihood of a fire in their home is higher than those living in less deprived areas.
Low quality or older housing doesn’t tend to have the same advantages as modern homes with fire safety features, such as fire doors and hard-wired alarm systems. Other factors such as rising house prices and the prevalence of second homes in some areas can increasingly push people on lower incomes into poorer quality housing.
Private rented homes are more likely to be damp, less likely to have at least one working smoke alarm and are more likely to contain hazards such as infestations and electrical dangers that pose a risk to life.
Poorer health outcomes from behaviours such as smoking or substance misuse also tend to be higher in these areas, leading to an increase in the causes of fire such as smoking in bed or leaving appliances unattended for example..
According to Government statistics, the most deprived areas in our Service are concentrated around Plymouth, Torbay and Sedgemoor.
Although we have a lot of information about how age or disability and fire risk are linked, certain characteristics like ethnic background, English as a second language, sexuality and religion, are not routinely captured within the data recorded and analysed by the Service. We need to capture and analyse more data and review our prevention, protection and response interventions to ensure that our services meet the needs of everyone and that no one is disadvantaged.
7 Office for National Statistics mid-year population estimates
8 Office for National Statistics mid-year population estimates