The Fire Brigades Union has voiced fresh concerns over the impact of cuts to the service after figures showed a sharp rise in the number of deaths caused by accidental house fires in West Yorkshire.
Between April and July of this year eight people died in the county in domestic fires – four times as many as the two fatalities in the same period last year.
The increase in the number of people killed during this period happened despite a seven per cent decrease in the number of domestic incidents crews had to attend compared with the same four-month period in 2014.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said crews got to every incident within the target response times, which range from seven minutes in areas considered to pose a very high fire risk to 11 minutes in low-risk areas.
Ian Bitcon, the brigade’s fire safety manager, insisted the spike was a statistical anomaly and played down the impact of cuts.
But Dave Williams, secretary of the FBU in West Yorkshire said the loss of firefighters and the closure of stations was having an impact.
He said: “Certainly the number of deaths in this short timescale is unique, but the problem we have got is that it’s something we said would happen at the time [when cuts were being discussed].
“If you are unable to save yourself in the case of a fire, the thing that will save you isn’t a smoke detector, it’s a firefighter and when minutes matter, those firefighters need to be available instantly.”
In 2014-15 258 people in England died in fires – a six per cent fall on the figure for the previous year and 30 per cent lower than a decade ago.
The sharp rise in fire deaths in West Yorkshire this year does not appear to be mirrored in Yorkshire’s other brigade areas.
Between April and July, four people died in fires in South Yorkshire – one fewer than the same period last year. There was one fatality in Humberside, compared with none during the equivalent period in 2014-15. North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service was unable to provide figures.
Mr Bitcon said he was confident the rise in fire deaths in West Yorkshire was “just a very unusual spike”. He said: “We are concerned and statistically it’s very unusual. But the number of fire deaths we have had has been gradually falling over the last 26 years and we are at the bottom of that curve now.”
Of the eight victims of accidental house fires between April and July, the youngest was 55 and the oldest 99.
They included an 80-year-old woman who lived alone next to a pub in Methley, near Leeds, who is believed to have accidentally set her clothes on fire while trying to light her stove.
The 99-year-old victim, who lived on her own in Lightcliffe, near Brighouse, is thought to have died after a fire caused by a faulty electric blanket.
Mr Bitcon said the brigade was carrying out increasing work in the properties of elderly people and had developed a strategy to protect those with dementia.
He said: “The older you get, the more at risk you are of dying in a fire and we are carrying out work to identify the people who live alone and who are at risk because of lifestyle factors [including smoking and heavy drinking].
“We are visiting them to carry out home fire safety checks.”
Mr Bitcon also urged the relatives and neighbours of elderly and vulnerable people to be vigilant.
“Our message is always the same – keep an eye out for your neighbours and relatives,” he said
To book a home fire safety check call 0800 5874536.