Fire service calls for sensible approach to garden fires

South Yorkshire’s firefighters are calling on people across the county to use ‘common sense’ when lighting garden fires during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

The plea from South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue comes as they, and other fire services nationally, have seen an increase in garden fire call-outs over the last two weeks.

These incidents, they say, could potentially slow their response to a more serious incident and hamper their ability to help their communities in other ways during these difficult times.

“First and foremost, we don’t want to take away from the most important message right now – stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives,” said Group Manager Matt Gillatt, deputy head of the joint police and fire community safety team.

“What we do want to do, though, is keep our firefighters free not only for real, life-threatening emergencies, and for the extra work that they are starting to take on during this pandemic.

“We appreciate people are generating more rubbish by staying at home, and that disposal options are more limited right now, which is why some people are lighting garden fires.

“Ideally people wouldn’t do this at all, given that they can so easily get out of control, put people at risk and tie up our firefighters.

“But if people must have a fire in their garden, please do not leave them unattended, keep them away from sheds, trees and fences and have a bucket of water nearby.

“Please also consider your neighbours. Smoke can be a real nuisance and this is especially the case if you’re trying to enjoy some fresh air, or it’s blowing into your home.”

The service is also calling on people to be vigilant around deliberate fire-setting – with a particular plea going out to parents with teenage children.

“As well as an increase in garden fires we’ve seen a rise in deliberate fires, too. That is basically people setting fire to cars, rubbish, bins and other stuff.

“Whilst we sympathise with the people whose home’s we’ve attended to extinguish a garden fire, we really have no tolerance for those setting fire to things on purpose.

“At quite a lot of these deliberate incidents we’ve seen groups of young people running away upon our arrival so, if you’ve got kids that are still going out, please talk to them about the consequences of actions like this.”

Last week it was announced that a tri-party agreement had been struck for firefighters across the country to take on additional duties during the COVID-19 outbreak.

This will see crews across South Yorkshire potentially driving ambulances, delivering care packages to the most vulnerable and transporting bodies.

The extra efforts coincide with South Yorkshire’s new safety campaign, #KeepFireSafe, which has been launched in light of the pandemic.

More information on this campaign, how people can stay safe and get involved, can be found at www.syfire.gov.uk.

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Advice for businesses during COVID-19 pandemic

We know this is a very difficult time for everyone, including businesses, but it is vital that your business, and the people working for you, remain safe from fire.

We’ve put together the following advice so you can keep your business, and those within the premises, as safe as possible.

If you have a specific question about fire safety within your premises during Covid-19, that isn’t answered below, please email tfs.cs@syfire.gov.uk and a Fire Safety Inspecting Officer will get back to you.

Review your fire risk assessment

If there have been changes in the way your business is operating (including fewer people within the premises than normal) this should be recorded, and any necessary measures should be taken to reduce any risks identified.

Review your evacuation procedures

Are there enough staff members to assist with evacuation as necessary? (roll calls, fire warden sweeps, moving/assisting residents etc.) Are all of your evacuation routes still available? (including any routes shared with other businesses).

Review & provide staff training

We know some businesses have taken on temporary staff to cope with demand. You need to ensure temporary staff and existing staff are aware of general fire safety within the premises, for example not overloading plug sockets, reporting identified issues, keeping escape routes clear etc. You also need to ensure they are familiar with evacuation procedures and any role they are required to carry out during an evacuation.

Review your fire safety arrangements

You should consider the impact Covid-19 has on your fire safety arrangements. Such arrangements could include other people such as training providers, testing and maintenance companies and other external companies or persons. Fire safety arrangements could also include business continuity arrangements, for example the availability of alternative premises in an emergency.

Consider Lone Workers

With fewer people working within the premises you should consider if your fire detection and warning arrangements are still suitable to alert lone or fewer occupants.

Consider the testing & maintenance of fire safety systems

Including fire alarms, emergency lighting, fire extinguishers, sprinklers etc. These systems need to be kept in good working order. If you are considering rescheduling any routine maintenance you should first discuss this with your Service Engineer and discuss the fire safety risks. If your premises are occupied you should ensure in routine tests such as weekly fire alarm tests, monthly emergency lighting tests etc. continue and that you have a sufficient number of people who are trained to do this to cover for sickness and/or absence.

System faults

These must still be investigated and repaired without delay if the premises are occupied.

Carefully manage extra stock and keep escape routes clear

Storage of extra stock should be considered by your fire risk assessment. You should make sure stock is not in close proximity to ignition sources, or too close to smoke detectors or sprinkler heads as this could affect their operation. You should also make sure stock is not obstructing any escape route(s) and that escape routes are kept clear at all times.

Do not wedge open fire doors

We know people are worried that the virus may be transmitted via surfaces that are regularly touched such as door handles. We cannot stress enough how important it is to NOT wedge open fire doors. We ask you to focus on cleaning door handles/push plates regularly. Fire doors are a very important part of protecting people within a premises and need to remain closed.

Protect your premises from arson

Extra care should be taken if your premises are vacant during Covid-19, please ensure the premises are secure and any combustibles left externally are removed from site or stored securely. Do not store combustible items close to the premises.

Staff working from home?

Encourage your staff to consider fire safety within their homes. Lots on information can be found on our website. (There’s also a home fire safety quiz where they can enter a draw to win Amazon vouchers).

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Service pledges support following national pandemic agreement

South Yorkshire’s firefighters will be able to deliver food and drive ambulances in order to support their communities during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

This comes following an unprecedented national agreement that has been struck by fire chiefs, national employers and representative bodies such as the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

Crews will also be able to retrieve dead bodies, as part of the deal, whilst continuing to do their core duty – responding to emergency incidents such as fires and road traffic collisions.

The additional work will be co-ordinated and done in conjunction with the South Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum – with the temporary agreement lasting for an initial two-month period.

“As a service we are here to make South Yorkshire safer and stronger. We could not be more willing, and able, to help out in any way we can during these extremely challenging times,” said Chief Fire Officer, Alex Johnson.

“Our firefighters are trained to an extremely high standard. They have a huge amount of experience in driving blue light vehicles and are very well respected in their local communities. I’m hugely proud of them all and know they will do a fantastic job if called upon.

“When this is over, and it will be over, we want to know that we did everything we could to support our communities. Now, more than ever, is the time to come together. It is great to see that the three groups, nationally, have done exactly that.”

Any extra activities that firefighters are asked to undertake will be done on a voluntary basis and will be fully risk assessed – with crews being given any necessary training and personal protective equipment.

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Home Safety Checks – reduction during pandemic

Much like other services across the country, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue took the difficult decision recentlyc to suspend all but immediately high-risk community safety activity.

This is due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic and includes most of our home safety visits, safe and well checks, school visits and station-based events.

The joint police and fire Lifewise Centre is also closed, until further notice, and fire station community rooms are no longer being used by our partner agencies.

Whilst we strive to make South Yorkshire safer and stronger, through our wide ranging partnership and prevention work, these measures are required to safeguard our staff.

It is, during this difficult time, vitally important that our firefighters and control operators are kept fit and ready to respond to 999 emergencies.

Members of the public, and especially our partners, are still encouraged to make referrals through our website but please expect a delay in our response to these.

We will endeavour to complete them all as soon as it is safe, and possible, to do so. Until this point there is a range of safety information available on our website, here.

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Keep Fire Safe – children’s poster drawing contest

Home schooling? We’ve got you covered.

We’re launching a poster drawing competition for your youngsters and we have a load of LEGO prizes up for grabs.

We’ll be sharing as many entries as possible with our staff to help keep spirits up, too.

All we want your youngsters to do is get a piece of A4 paper and draw us a firefighter, fire engine or fire station.

They must also include at least one of the below safety messages:

  • don’t forget about your cooking!
  • don’t leave clothes near electric heaters
  • don’t use broken electrical items
  • test your smoke alarms!

When they’ve done just add their name, age, a grown-up’s name and their contact details. Either DM us a photo or email one to press@syfire.gov.uk.

Winners will be picked in May. We look forward to seeing the entries!

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Fire service offers safety advice in light of virus pandemic

South Yorkshire’s firefighters are calling on people to take extra steps to keep themselves safe from fire, following the Government’s recent announcements on social distancing.

They say that, with thousands across the county expected to either self-isolate, work from home or generally stay away from others, it’s never been more important to think about fire safety.

And despite the fact that crews are continuing to respond to 999 emergencies as normal, senior fire officers are keen to limit potentially avoidable call outs.

“We’re certainly not trying to panic anyone here – nor take away from the very important health advice – as our firefighters are continuing to respond to calls as normal,” said Group Manager Matt Gillatt, head of the joint police and fire community safety team.

“What we are doing, though, is asking people who are spending more time than normal at home to have a think about fire safety and take on board some of our advice.

“Simple steps – like making sure you’ve got working smoke alarms – can make a huge difference in terms of how safe you and your family are at home.”

The service has boiled its top tips down to four key things – based on the leading causes of accidental house fire across South Yorkshire:

  1. Don’t leave cooking unattended and stop using chip pans – oven chips are safer
  2. Don’t leave clothes/towels near heaters, hobs, or candles
  3. Make sure your electrical items are in working order and don’t use faulty white goods
  4. Make sure you have working smoke alarms and test them weekly

As part of a new ‘Keep Fire Safe’ campaign – which has been developed in light of the pandemic – fire service staff will be posting safety advice booklets, through letterboxes, to homes in certain areas across the county in the coming weeks.

The campaign will also see the launch of a poster drawing competition for kids – with schools now closed for the foreseeable future – and an online safety quiz. Both of which give entrants the chance to win prizes for their efforts.

A specific home safety web page has also been set up, dedicated to people who are self-isolating, working from home and generally social distancing, at www.syfire.gov.uk/keepfiresafe.

“We’d love to see as many people take part in these two competitions as possible. Not only will it give the kids something to do, it will open up really important conversations about fire safety,” added Matt.

“Hopefully we can put a smile on some faces, too. We’ve got prizes on offer for both kids and adults which should be reason enough for people to enter!”

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Keep Fire Safe – home fire safety quiz

Whether you’re self-isolating, working from home or just social distancing, the likelihood is that you will be spending more time at home over the next few weeks.

This makes it even more important to make sure you and your loved ones are safe from fire.

That’s why we’ve developed the below quiz – to test your knowledge, get you thinking about fire safety AND give you the chance to win one of two £100 Amazon vouchers that we’ve got to give away.

#KeepFireSafe - Home Fire Safety Quiz

  • This form collects some personal information - which will be used to contact the randomly selected quiz winner and subsequently be destroyed. By submitting the form you are agreeing for your data to be used in this way.
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Social distancing and self-isolation – fire safety advice

Whether you are home working, self-isolating or social distancing, we know you’ll probably be spending more time at home over the next few weeks. This could increase the chances of you having a fire in your home.

Fortunately, by taking four easy steps, you can seriously reduce the risk to you and your loved ones:

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1.Don’t leave cooking unattended – and ditch the chip pan immediately

Distraction is the leading cause of house fire nationally. In fact, most of the cooking fires we attend are down to somebody starting cooking, forgetting about it and leaving it to burn. The rest usually involve chip pans – please use oven chips instead.

2.Make sure you’re not leaving clothes, tea-towels and other items near heaters, hobs and other heat sources

Another leading cause of house fire is people leaving things like clothes and tea-towels on hobs and portable heaters. Items like these can easily set on fire so it’s vital you keep them away from naked flames and other heat sources.

3.Check electrical appliances, don’t overload sockets and NEVER use faulty items or white goods

Extension leads can only handle so much power – plug too many things in and the chances are they will blow. Faulty goods can also be a big issue, too. If your washing machine or tumble dryer starts playing up – stop using it and get it checked immediately.

4.Make sure you have working smoke alarms and test them regularly

Smoke alarms save lives, but only if you have them and they are working. They can give you an early warning of a fire – early enough for you to get out safely. Buy them. Fit them. Test them.

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During what are very challenging times for us all we’d ask that, as well as taking on board this advice yourself, you pass the messages on to your friends, neighbours and relatives – especially those over 70-years-old.

Be assured, too, that accidental house fires are very rare and our firefighters stand ready to respond to 999 calls, across South Yorkshire, as and when needed.

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Local Updates – Doncaster Community Hub

We’re pleased to be supporting the Doncaster Community Hub. This has just been opened to support the most vulnerable during these extremely challenging times. It has been established by a range of organisations and will be based at the Doncaster Culture & Leisure Trust. The hub will provide:

· Helpline available 7 days a week from 8.00am to 8.00pm – Telephone: 01302 430300 – anyone can ring this if they are or know of someone who is vulnerable and has no other support
· Practical support such as urgent food supplies, shopping, hot food, collection of medication etc will be a priority
· Online chat, signposting and connecting people to other groups and volunteers to provide advice on exercising at home, keeping connected or just for regular contact
· A proactive team who will be calling vulnerable people to see how they are and find out if they need any support
· Helping to co-ordinate volunteers – collecting information about what voluntary and community sector can offer and supporting and co-ordinating voluntary effort
· There is also an email address: enquiries@dncommunityhub.org.uk and a web site: www.dncommunityhub.org.uk

Anyone self-isolating in Doncaster is urged to fill out a form online – www.doncaster.gov.uk/self-isolation-form – or call 01302 736000.

Local Updates – Rotherham Heroes

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council has set up a volunteer scheme – Rotherham Heroes – to support the district’s most vulnerable.

If you, or someone you know, is living alone, vulnerable and in need of help, the heroes are on hand. They can help with:

  • Essential shopping and dropping off food parcels
  • Being a friendly voice on the other end of the phone
  • Picking up prescriptions from the chemist
  • Taking your dog out for a walk once a day

To access the support – which should only be used by those who really need it – call 01709 807319 between 9am and 5pm. Alternatively you can complete a form on their website – www.rotherham.gov.uk/volunteer.

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Fire service staff call out hurtful comments in defiant new video

South Yorkshire’s fire service is taking a stand against online trolls in a bid to show support to its staff, and communities, during LGBT+ History Month.

This comes in the form of a defiant new video that has been launched today, Monday 3 February, featuring some of the service’s employees.

It shows the staff members reading out some of the abusive, hurtful and homophobic comments made by people on Facebook after the organisation added a rainbow to its profile picture during Pride Month last June.

The service, which strives to be a diverse and inclusive employer, says it wants to show its LGBT+ staff, and communities, that they are valued and supported.

“We fully expect the video will have a mixed reaction but some of the comments we received last year were awful and totally unacceptable,” said Chief Fire Officer, Alex Johnson.

“We’ve produced it for two reasons – firstly we wanted to support the month and let our staff, and communities, know that we are proud to employ and serve them, regardless of those comments.

“And secondly we wanted to demonstrate that we are a genuinely inclusive organisation that values the contribution of all our staff, whatever their LGBT+ status.

“I’d encourage anyone considering a career in the fire service, especially those who may be inspired by our work around LGBT History Month, to register their interest on our website.”

Firefighters, control operators and support staff all feature in the video – which includes 11 employees reading 11 different comments.

The production is being supplemented by another video produced by the service, this one being specifically for staff and based on LGBT+ history.

Crew Manager Rebecca Savin, who is the South Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union LGBT Rep, hopes that the service’s stance will not only allow staff to bring their authentic selves to work but also encourage more people from the LGBT+ community to consider fire service careers.

She said: “We’ve come a long way recently in terms of diversity but there’s still more to do. It really is important that our workforce truly represents all of the communities we serve and visible acts of support like this can mean a lot to sometimes marginalised groups.”

“From a staff perspective I’m really pleased with the video. It’s great that, as an employer, SYFR wants to challenge these comments and stand up for its staff and the people it serves.”

Anyone who wants to register their interest in a job with South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue can do so at www.syfire.gov.uk/jobs.

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Residents feel safer in their homes following fire service checks

Analysis of the home safety checks carried out by fire service staff has revealed overwhelming resident satisfaction levels, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue can reveal.

According to the service, which has completed 15,000 such checks so far this year, 96 percent of people are left satisfied following one of the visits.

The research has also shown that, whilst 55 percent of people rated their home safe before a home safety check, 97 percent rated it safe after the check – a 42 percent increase.

A third of people then said that they would take action, following the visit, to make their home safer – should any issues have been identified.

“We’re really pleased with the results of this research as it reaffirms what we already suspected – that our staff are delivering an outstanding service,” said Area Manager Simon Dunker, head of the joint police and fire community safety department.

“Beyond the satisfaction scores, though, the pleasing thing is that people are feeling safer in their homes after we’ve visited, and are taking action to reduce their risks.

“Reviewing our work, and making sure we’re doing a good job, is really important to us. It is part of striving to be the best we can be and is something we will continue to do.

“I’d encourage anyone who feels they are at particular risk of fire to get in touch with us and arrange a visit as soon as possible. The same goes for family members who you think would benefit.”

Researchers also identified that householders don’t just keep the knowledge to themselves, but share it between friends and family too, with 50 percent of people saying they had passed on some of the advice following their visit.

The study, which was conducted by the University of Sheffield in conjunction with the fire and rescue service, involved telephone interviews with 234 people being asked questions about their own home safety check experience.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue offers home safety checks free for people who meet its set criteria – this can include living alone, being over a certain age or having a hearing impairment.

They involve firefighters or community safety staff giving advice on how to make a home safer and what to do in the event of a fire. They may also involve smoke alarms being fitted, if needed.

Visits can be booked at www.syfire.gov.uk or by calling 0114 253 2314.

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