Disabled man’s fire death ‘a tragic accident’

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A former serviceman, who died after his clothing caught alight when he tried to light a cigarette, may have been saved if his jacket had not been so flammable, an inquest heard this week.

David Kitching, a resident at the British Legion-run care home Mais House, in Hastings Road, suffered 30 percent burns to his face, neck, chest, left arm, hand and thigh in the incident in the home’s garden.

The 72-year-old, who was wheelchair-bound and was paralysed down his left side following an acute stroke in 2013, called a member of Mais House staff to wheel him outside for a cigarette on November 16 last year.

Registered general nurse Helen Comber took Mr Kitching outside, leaving him with his call bell, and returned to the nurses’ office.

Mr Kitching rang the bell after accidentally getting his cigarette wet.

After furnishing him with a fresh cigarette, Ms Comber returned upstairs. But the bell rang again a very short time later and when Ms Comber went outside, she could see smoke coming from behind the hedge.

She told the inquest: “He was quite clearly on fire on the left hand side of his body and up the centre.”

Ms Comber said she “frantically” tried to put the flames out but his clothing was already “significantly” alight.

She activated an emergency alarm and other Mais House staff raced to assist, eventually putting the flames out with a fire extinguisher.

Emergency services were quickly on the scene and Mr Kitching was rushed to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton. However, he died of a cardiac arrest later that day.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service carried out an investigation into the blaze.

Investigators tested clothing like that worn by Mr Kitching on the day of the incident and discovered his jacket was “very combustible”.

Mark Hobbs, lead fire investigation officer, said it took just 15 to 20 seconds for the flames to engulf the jacket. Due to his impaired mobility, Mr Kitching would not have been able to push the burning jacket away.

Mr Hobbs said it was not easy for people to check if their clothes are flammable and revealed there are no regulations – other than for children’s nightwear – for clothing to be labelled. He added: “If Mr Kitching had worn another jacket in his cupboard that day, he may not have died.”

Coroner Alan Craze said he would write to the appropriate minister in Government highlighting the circumstances of the case and asking them to consider the issues raised.

He recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Kitching’s partner, Kathy Hastings, said: “The incident was one that we could not have foreseen. Unfortunately, it resulted in the death of the person I had loved and cared for for some 22 years.

“David was a loving, kind, supportive and considerate partner. David will be missed by everyone who had the good fortune to call him a friend.

“Rest in peace David – loving you forever.”