Inquest highlights clothing fire risk

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service says that highly flammable clothing played a role in the tragic death of an elderly man who set his clothes alight while trying to smoke a cigarette.

Crews were called to Mais House care home in Bexhill on November 16, following reports that 72-year-old resident David Kitching had been involved in a fire in the garden of the home.

Mr Kitching was rushed to hospital with burns, but died later that day.

The investigation later established that the most likely cause was Mr Kitching accidentally setting his clothing alight with a naked flame when he attempted to smoke a cigarette.

At an inquest this week, coroner Alan Craze returned a verdict of accidental death.

Mr Craze is to write a “prevention of future deaths” letter to be sent to the appropriate minister in Government highlighting the circumstances of this case and asking them to consider the issues raised.

Mark Hobbs investigated the fire for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and gave evidence at the inquest. He said: “This was a terrible and tragic event for Mr Kitching, his family and all those who witnessed the incident. Our subsequent testing of the clothing Mr Kitching was wearing, showed that there was little time to do anything to save him; as once his jacket had caught alight it burned extremely quickly. Our thoughts are with Mr Kitching’s family and friends at this time.

“Over recent years we have sadly seen a number of people accidentally set themselves alight, often with smoking materials. If someone is unable to react quickly, perhaps because they are elderly or have reduced mobility, the consequences can be devastating.”

“More people die in fires caused by smoking than in fires caused by anything else. If you are looking after someone who smokes, please look out for warning signs such as tell-tale signs of near-misses including visible burn and scorch marks not only in clothing but carpets and furniture too. There are protective items such as fire proof lap blankets which could help keep them safe which ESFRS can supply. Anyone with concerns about a vulnerable smoker can speak to us.”

He added: “We know that some fabrics burn much more quickly. We also know it isn’t easy for people to check whether their clothes will catch light easily. There are no regulations – other than for children’s nightwear – for clothing to be labelled. We hope that this case will prompt further work in this area to help protect the public.”

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service has issued the follow advice for people looking after a vulnerable person who smokes:

• Help them to stop smoking by calling 0800 622 6968 for free local support

• Whenever possible, it is always safer for someone else to light their cigarettes

• If possible – consider the clothing being worn; as some materials are more ignitable and will burn much more rapidly than others

• Remove matches and lighters and replace with a non-flame cigarette lighter

• Encourage smokers to cover their lap with a fire retardant cover or wear a smoking apron

• A proper ashtray must be used and emptied – keep it within easy reach

• Discourage smoking in bed. If this is not possible consider getting fire retardant bed covers

• Ensure smoke alarms are fitted, work properly and are tested regularly

• Ensure smokers are suitably monitored and smoking only takes place in recognised and designated areas

• Smoking on airflow mattresses should be avoided, but if not possible cover with fire resistant bedding

For a full report on today’s (May 12) inquest, please see this Friday’s Bexhill Observer.