Firefighters in Blackpool will be at the fore of a new pilot that will see them inspecting homes for frayed carpets, trailing wires, and other hazards, it can be revealed.
The brigade’s free Home Fire Safety Check service is set to be replaced with new ‘Prevention and Wellbeing Visits’ that will focus on six key areas as well as fire prevention.
Crews will also look out for signs of loneliness, dementia, diabetes, lax home security, risk of falling, and homes that are not well-prepared for the cold of winter, as part of a trial held in one part of the town.
The project is still in its development stage, The Gazette understands, with staff set to undergo specialist training before the trial gets underway before the end of the year.
The fire service declined to comment on the project, but one source confirmed those deemed at ‘low-risk’ will continue to receive fire safety advice via email, with home visits paid only to those who are at higher risk, a move criticised by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) last year.
General secretary Andy Dark argued that ‘effectively using means testing could put people off from applying for the checks’.
“Firefighters are here to protect the many, not the few,” he said. “How could fire and rescue services accurately know when someone moves from being deemed non-vulnerable to being high risk? People’s circumstances change all the time. Means testing could see people fall through the cracks.”
Firefighters will not be working in health or social worker roles, and will not be able to make medical diagnoses, it is understood, but they will be able to make referrals to charities such as Age UK and the Alzheimer’s Society.
The service’s ultimate aim is to reduce health inequalities in the town, and to reduce the risk of both fires, and poor outcomes in the event of one breaking out.
The fire service believes it can help care for the most vulnerable at a time when other bodies are having their budgets slashed by Whitehall.
Details are still being ironed out by bosses and are subject to change, but it is understood one watch from across the Fylde coast will launch the pilot, as will one each from Blackburn and Lancashire County Council’s area.
Results will be looked at in the spring, before a decision is made on whether to roll the scheme out further.
Ian McGill, northwest Fire Brigades Union chair, said he was ‘not in a position at the moment to make comment on the pilot as the service hasn’t yet formally provided detailed information to us’.