Exposed: the burning issue of poor fire station safety


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The Independent Online

They should be the safest buildings in the land, but there have been almost 300 blazes at fire stations in the past five years, new figures reveal.

The list of domestic appliances responsible for fires – including microwaves, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and toasters – will embarrass fire safety officers who have ploughed vast sums of money into public awareness campaigns, such as adverts telling smokers to ‘Put it out, right out’ and advising people to opt for takeaways rather than cook at home after a night out.

A smouldering cigarette butt, an unattended chip pan and a chair left next to a heater were among other causes of a series of incidents on fire brigade property.

The data was obtained by The Independent via Freedom of Information requests to the UK’s 54 fire services. While many of the 279 incidents at fire stations and 39 fires on vehicles are described as “minor” some resulted in dozens of firefighters responding.

In Worcester, nine firefighters fought a blaze at the fire station caused by a cigarette that had been “carelessly” disposed of. Hereford and Worcester Fire Service said 16 fires at stations over the five-year period “could still be considered low” given the size of its area.

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service ran up a damages bill totalling £184,272 for a blaze and explosion at Epworth Fire Station in 2011 – 24 firefighters were needed to bring it under control.

The national cost of such incidents could run into millions. For the 16 brigades that collected data on the financial impact of each incident, the combined bill was £945,875, though some of this will have been paid by insurance.

Not included in the data is the destruction of the fire station at Downham Market, Norfolk, last month, as it happened after the requests were submitted.

Despite the stations being manned around the clock – and of course being equipped with all the latest extinguishing equipment – fire services have been quick to say that fires can happen anywhere and at any time.

Water jets and breathing apparatus were used to bring two “major fires” under control on fire brigade property in Northern Ireland. The total cost for repairing and remodelling the affected buildings, including Rathfriland Station in County Down, which was gutted in 2009, was £711,842.

Three fire engines were also destroyed over the period, which Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said served as a “stark reminder of the dangers of fire”.

“These incidents... help emphasise our message to the community that fire does not discriminate – it can happen to anyone, including the fire service, at any time, in any building,” a spokesman said.

West Midlands Fire Service had more blazes on its property than any other service. The 53 incidents included five kitchen fires and six incidents involving fire engines.

It said: “We set the bar extremely high when it comes to fire prevention  and detection, and have rigorous testing and maintenance programmes.”