The coronavirus lockdown is a key factor behind the doubling of house fire deaths, Scotland’s chief fire officer has told MSPs.
Sixteen people died in house fires during April, May and June, an increase from eight on the number of deaths in the same period of last year.
Chief fire officer Martin Blunden and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) chair Kirsty Darwent have said they believe the increased number of deaths is linked to people spending more time at home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The conveners of Holyrood’s justice and police committees said the fire chiefs also told them more could be done to reduce the risk of potentially fatal blazes if the fire brigade is made aware of where vulnerable people are living.
In a letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the conveners of those committees – Adam Tomkins and John Finnie – ask for help “overcoming any obstacles in sharing relevant and timely data” with the SFRS.
They wrote: “It is [the SFRS’s] view that there is a link between the current coronavirus pandemic and the increase in the number of people who have sadly lost their lives.
“The coronavirus pandemic means that more people are remaining in their homes for longer periods, which can increase the risks of house fires, especially for vulnerable people.”
Fire service figures also suggest a 7% reduction in the number of blazes throughout Scotland, but house fires classed as “high severity” rose by 12% in April and June compared to the previous year.
The letter from Mr Tomkins and Mr Finnie adds: “The people affected were known to other service providers, such as local authorities or the health service.
“The fire service provide a valuable community safety role.
“They believe that they could help to reduce the risks of house fires if they are made aware of the people within their communities who are receiving support from the health service and/or local authorities. They could undertake essential preventative work, such as home visits.
“This could be made possible by the relevant service providers sharing relevant, and possibly sensitive, data with the fire service in a way that is compliant, but not prevented by data protection rules.
“It is vitally important that we do all that we can to ensure that people remain safe in their homes during these challenging times.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome MSPs’ interest in this matter and will respond to the conveners’ letter in due course.
“The Scottish Government fully supports SFRS’s work to reduce fires and fire fatalities, including providing support to local communities and promoting safety.
“While the number of fire fatalities remains relatively low, any death is one too many and it is crucial that we avoid any complacency – especially at a time where people are spending more time within their homes.
“The Scottish Government will continue to work with the emergency services and is happy to consider any further steps we can take to assist with information sharing.”