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Fire chiefs reveal drop in house fires and fatalities

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: July 04, 2013

fatal fire Floral tributes left at the scene of the house fire where Michelle Thomas died with her daughter Courtney.

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NO-ONE has died in a house fire in Swansea in almost two years — and incidents across the city have been falling.

The statistics were highlighted this week in a presentation to Swansea Council by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service chief fire officer, Richard Smith and Richard Webborn, group manager for Swansea.

The zero figure takes directly-related fire deaths into consideration.

But despite the service's strong results, no one was resting on their laurels, Mr Webborn said, adding that community awareness was still key.

The last death was in October 2011 when 75-year-old pensioner Vince Vernon perished following a blaze at his Parkmill home.

It has highlighted the importance of fire prevention and safety awareness.

The service carries out checks in homes across the command — however, some, like Mr Vernon, who lived alone and was not receiving any help from any public or private organisation — was not on the radar.

The home fire checks had, however, been advertised in a local shop.

He also spoke about the tragic events in September 2009 when a mum and her daughter died in a house fire in Gwent Gardens, Townhill. Michelle Thomas and her four-year-old daughter Courtney died in their home. There had been no correctly-fitted working fire alarms.

Mr Webborn also told councillors there had been a reduction in calls and the service was meeting its response time targets.

In Swansea the average response time was 5.18 minutes. And 100 per cent of calls are met within 15 minutes — 95 per cent within 10 minutes.

However, he told members that response times always needed to be weighed up against outcomes.

Mr Webborn highlighted an incident in Robert Street, Manselton, where, despite firefighters entering the property within 90 seconds of arrival, there was still a fatality. Mr Webborn said it was about "preventing fires in the first place and home safety audits".

But while fatality rates had fallen — Mr Webborn said it would not be uncommon for there to be four or five a year in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot in previous years — presents good news for the service, there are challenging times ahead.

Times are tight for all authorities and the fire service is having to make savings like everyone else.

In the coming year officers are looking at reducing the service's outgoings by between two and six per cent, which could translate as between £800,000 and £2.4 million year on year.

Mr Smith said the two per cent savings would be a "best case scenario".

"Our current plan for 2013-14 looks at the provision of our fire and rescue services in the Swansea Bay area — Swansea and Neath Port Talbot county command," he said. "These issues are being looked into as we speak."

Saving proposals being looked at include administrative arrangements with a view of merging into one command.

Mr Smith said any cost savings would not affect how it delivered the service.

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