Dorset Fire and Rescue launches Safe and Independent Living initiative

The tragedy of 13 separate fire deaths in one year has led to a transformation in how Dorset firefighters work with partner agencies to enable residents to live safely in their own homes.

In 2008, house fire death figures in the county hit double fires – a huge spike compared to the one or two fatalities that can be expected in an average year.

Investigations by Dorset Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS) found that half of the fires were caused by smoking materials and the other half by electrical factors. What also become clear was that the majority, if not all, of the people who died (average age 68) were known to one public sector service or another. The problem was that the fire service and its partner agencies had no effective way of sharing information about their most vulnerable clients.

DFRS set up a high level multi-agency seminar to persuade its partners that it was vital to collaborate in order to help identify and influence those most at risk.

The agreement that emerged has led to the Safe and Independent Living (SAIL) initiative. Agencies across Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset, including the Police, NHS, welfare and councils, now use a common risk assessment sheet when they visit a client’s home. The agency will do its own risk assessment but also include risk issues which fall under the remit of other partners. For instance, the A4 referral form might include concerns about security locks, smoke alarms, benefits, issues with heating and insulation or accessing food and nutrition.

Residents identify which services, support or information they would like to access and sign the referral form to agree to have their details passed on. A calling card is left with the client so that they have details of the SAIL initiative.

Age UK has been commissioned as a clearing house to forward the forms to the relevant agencies, a process which is just about to be made electronic. More than 600 referrals have been made to DFRS through SAIL and firefighters have referred nearly 1,000 residents to other agencies.

One elderly resident who was helped by SAIL said it had “unleashed an army of people” to see her.

Initially concentrating on the over 50s, the scheme is now being widened to include vulnerable families with young children.

Darran Gunter, DFRS Chief Fire Officer, said: “In the past, firefighters on a home fire safety visit might have noticed some other issue but come away feeling powerless. They may have put in all the fire prevention measures but might think ‘this person’s wiring is shot, what can I do?’ We now have a way that they can redirect that anxiety and have it acted on.”

DFRS employs home safety advisors, who are not operational firefighters, and it has trained 100 volunteers to carry out additional visits. Operational firefighters also do checks, fitting them around their core commitments.

To ensure SAIL is as effective as possible, Bournemouth University Dementia Institute has trained DFRS personnel who will carry out cascade training to 550 frontline staff. The fire service is also researching how to map fire risks and prevention strategies for people affected by dementia and develop best practice guidance.

Councillor Rebecca Knox, Chairman of the Dorset Fire and Rescue Authority and Dorset County Council’s Cabinet Member for health and wellbeing, communities and public health, said the SAIL programme had proved so successful it was being taken up in other areas.

“Vulnerable residents who were being rescued by the fire service were often known to other services, such as social services, health and GPs. What had been missing was the opportunity to share information about who each service recognised as in need of help, she said.

“DFRS initiated SAIL which prompted the sharing of data and the referral of individuals to services they might require but had not been known to them. It’s a multi-agency partnership with everyone working towards the goal of keeping people safe in their homes.”