Following the death of an elderly resident, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service started working more closely with services that work with older and vulnerable people.
The Fire and Rescue Service teaches health, social care and others how to identify fire risks and deal with them. More than 6,000 people have been trained to date and 2,800 referrals made to the fire service.
In November 2006, an elderly woman called Olive died in a fire in her home. Her home – a two-up, two-down house called Dove Cottage in South Staffordshire – was isolated and had fallen into a state of decline. Flammable materials were kept near an open fire which had no fireguard and overgrown plants blocked the back door.
Eighty-year-old Olive lived alone and mostly in one downstairs room. She had a habit of collecting things she didn’t really need, and was also a smoker. She extinguished her cigarettes by putting them under a rug and standing on it with her foot.
Olive was visited regularly by representatives from health and social services. But she was not known to the Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, therefore no fire safety measures had been put in place.
The woman’s death highlighted the need for local agencies to work more closely together to help safeguard vulnerable people. And so the Olive Branch training initiative was launched. Its aim is to prevent similar deaths by helping agencies such as Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and Staffordshire County Council’s social care and health services work more closely together.
Olive Branch was launched in February 2011 after a report by the coroner investigating the death of Olive said fire and rescue services must work more closely with the Care Quality Commission.
Statistics show that most people who die in an accidental house fire are aged 65 years and over, while those aged over 80 years are 10 times more likely to die in a fire than those aged 30.
Through the Olive Branch initiative, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service teaches social care and health workers, and others who are involved regularly with the care of the elderly, disabled and vulnerable, how to identify fire hazards, and how to deal with these risks to assess the fire risk when they visit a house.
Each free training session lasts about 90 minutes, and a certificate of attendance is awarded to each person who completes the course. The programme also highlights how to refer vulnerable people to the fire and rescue service for a free home fire risk check.
Already almost 6,300 people have undergone the training and to date more than 2,800 referrals have been made to Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service by care providers including NHS Trusts, volunteer groups, housing providers, and private care providers.
Alan Snell, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Partnerships and Engagements Officer, says a key element of the initiative is that all care providers who are commissioned by local authorities must have Olive Branch training. “It is incorporated within their contracts,” he says. Mr Snell says that while the Olive Branch scheme focuses on fire risk, it has also highlighted the need to recognise other vulnerabilities that people in the community have in relation to health and wellbeing, such as poor mental or physical health, substance or alcohol misuse, lack of mobility or poor living conditions. “Using the Olive Branch model we are exploring the concept of setting up other referral pathways,” Mr Snell says.
“Health and wellbeing is part of a larger agenda, of which we are a part. “It’s recognising that there are other factors along with fire risks that cause a fatality. If people are vulnerable to fire, they are vulnerable to a number of other things. But if we can reduce their risk of fire, we can help reduce other vulnerabilities. We’re trying to bring all these together working with local authorities, mental health agencies and the NHS.”
From picking up on obvious fire risks, even if spotting them doesn’t fall into a home visitor’s traditional service area, through to sharing potentially life-saving information, the Olive Branch initiative has been a success.
The Olive Branch model has also been the basis for other fire safety programmes, including Gloucestershire County Council’s Safe and Sound programme.
And the success of the Olive Branch training initiative resulted in the launch of the Let’s Work Together project in February 2012.
The scheme started in the Lichfield district of Staffordshire and has since been rolled out to other parts of the county.
It has provided training to professionals who go into people’s homes as part of their work, such as police, health professionals and council staff as well as fire officers, to enable them to spot dangers that might not traditionally be part of their work area and to explain to residents how they can get extra help and support.
This can involve anything from fire safety and falls risks to alcohol dependency and smoking. Stafford Borough Council Head of Policy and Improvement Norman Jones says: “By partnering with other organisations and training their staff we utilise resources better and increase our reach of protecting people and homes from fire and other hazards.”