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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 18/02/2011 | 3 Comments

In a rather pressured week it was a great privilege to have an exploratory meeting with three firemen concerned about community safety.

Here's their reasoning for wanting to meet up for a chat: over the festive period Scotland, but particularly the west of Scotland, had an unprecedented number of house fires, deaths and injuries. Even before this spike in figures, Scotland had double the rate of fire deaths than the UK as a whole.  The problem is not that Scotland has twice as many fires (the differential is actually between 30- 35 per cent); it is that people are more likely to die in fires in Scotland than in other parts of the UK. In other words, in Scotland when a fire starts folk are less likely to get out alive.  Why?  Much of the explanation focuses on Scotland's higher use of alcohol and drugs; higher rates of smoking; and our prevalence of mental  health problems (cognitive impairment and suicide). When deprivation and single household living are added in (they increase the risk of fires) we can see why people in some parts of the west of Scotland are particularly vulnerable. This information is very well set out in a 2008 report called 'Scotland Together: A Study  examining fire deaths and injuries in Scotland'. This report concluded that fire and rescue services  had to work harder with colleagues in  health boards, housing, social services etc to tackle some of these common challenges.
What had moved the firemen to get in touch with me was reading my book The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow which basically tries to explain why the city is particularly beset with exactly the same type of problems which lead to fire deaths. 'What we are mainly doing at the moment' one of them said 'is giving out information as if that is what people lack. We have got to start grappling with the fact that these problems are cultural.'

Of course, these three recognised that understanding the problem is cultural does not lead to easy solutions but it  is encouraging them to think much more about the problems in their midst and how they may begin to work with others to counteract them. These discussions are making them think about themselves and their own attitudes and behaviour.  One of the firemen reeled off the books he had read since finishing mine –The Wee Yellow Butterfly, The Tipping Point  and The Spirit Level. 'My wife doesn't know what's happened to me,' he told us at one point. 

Comment By Comment
Joined: 03/03/2011

Comment Posted: 03/03/2011 13:54
Having served 31 years in the British Fire & Rescue Service and then changing my career to that of university lecturer in social sciences,I was heartened to read about your meeting. In my latter years in the service I was involved in the development and delivery of strategies to combat the (then) increasing number of fire deaths and injuries, as well as being fortunate to have published research on the 'problem'.
Much more, (and better!), research has been carried out subsequently that continues to show a clear corelation between social deprivation and fire victimization. Studies have clearly identified households at greatest risk being those with children, single parents being at higher risk still and whilst elderly households had fewer fires, they make up a higher proportion of casualties.
The prevalence of fires in smoking households is very much higher than the prevalence of fires directly caused by smoking, suggesting that these households have other characteristics which increase fire risk, (links here to the the class analysis of smoking?).Those who rented property (from local authorities or others) were more at risk than owner occupiers.
Importantly, it is known that drinking, Independent of smoking, increased risks. Interestingly, whilst there is now this wealth of corelation studies into this problem highlighted by the tragedies in Scotland recently, little work exists as to the 'why', or causality issues.

In the past, and indeed to an extent today, many of the groups who exhibit a raised risk are described as the 'hard to reach' though in truth they are better described as the 'hard to influence'. There is no doubt that the groups mentioned now make up a huge proportion of those victimized by fire, in a context of vastly reduced fire deaths since the publication of 'As safe as Houses' (HO 1997), (a document that began the journey of the Fire Service in regard to pro active community fire safety).
As Carol pointed out, the realisation that to reduce fire deaths and injuries, the 'culture' of those risk groups has to be understood and perhaps challenged does not make this as easy task.
It is going to require the same mobilization and concentrating of resources and action as efforts to reduce alcohol abuse,drug abuse and violence - for they represent one and the same problem. The same obstacles will be there and the same need to engage communities, politicians, law makers and service providers exists for all these problems.
Dealing with the cultural and psychological contexts of those most at risk in Glasgow, Scotland and the UK is no easy task, but the willingness of the Fire Service to engage with these problems, people and other agencies is going to be of great importance. Indeed challenging some of its own cultural practices was, and still remains, an element of the challenge for the Fire Service - Best of Luck!
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Joined: 03/03/2011

Comment Posted: 07/03/2011 11:14
A brief footnote on the 'causality' issue as regard to the 'corelations' with social deprivation.
Research in 2006-7 demonstrated that causes of fire within certain social groups was skewed greatly in terms of 'cooking' and 'fat or oil' as an item ignited first.

Accidental domestic Property Fire by cause
and Acorn category 2006-7
Hard Pressed Chip Pan18
Smoking Materials9
Cooking - not chip pan111
All Other43
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