East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service calls for action after jacket ‘goes up in flames’

David Kitching SUS-150518-172121001
David Kitching SUS-150518-172121001

David Kitching was a pillar of his local community, a member of the armed forces for 33 years and a much-loved partner and father.

After a stroke left him paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, Mr Kitching moved into a residential home.

But one day after he was wheeled outside for a cigarette, he accidentally set alight to his clothing, sustaining serious burns as he was unable to escape the flames because of his disability.

He later died in hospital.

The coroner ruled the death to be an accident but during the inquest hearing one shocking truth came out - if Mr Kitching had worn a different jacket that day, he would have survived.

Following his death, fire investigators carried out tests and discovered it would have taken just 15 seconds for the highly-flammable jacket to go up in flames.

What is more shocking is this is not a one-off tragedy.

Mark Hobbs, business safety manager at East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, said: “I have been investigating fires for a number of years and unfortunately what happened to Mr Kitching was not an isolated incident

“When you have got someone elderly or someone who cannot get up and walk away and they are a smoker, they are particularly vulnerable.”

There are few fatal fires in East Sussex, but just over a third of those who are killed are immobile people who cannot get away from the blaze

An exacerbating factor is often the flammability of certain clothes, with no requirements for companies to put safety labels on clothing.

Mr Hobbs said: “There is no requirement to label how flammable clothing is, apart from nightwear.”

Following Mr Kitching’s inquest, coroner Alan Craze will write a letter calling upon Ministers to take action to help prevent further deaths. Similar letters have previously been sent by other coroners following similar tragedies involving disabled people in Surrey and Staffordshire.

ESFRS is contacting all 46 fire and rescue services across the country in a bid to collate figures and discover how widespread the problem is.

Mr Hobbs hopes to secure a meeting with Government Ministers over what he describes as “a significant issue”.

He said: “We are looking to talk to other fire services about their experiences and gathering a bit more information, so if we did subsequently have a meeting with the minister, we would have some robust evidence. We are not sure what the outcome would be, but we are thinking if we could get clearer warnings on adult clothing, that would be great.”

Since Mr Kitching’s death, ESFRS has contacted all care homes in the county to make staff aware and have issued new advice for those concerned about a disabled or elderly smoker (see page 30).

ESFRS is also adding its voice to the call for a change in the law with regards to children’s fancy dress outfits. The outfits are currently classed as toys, which means they are subject to less stringent fire safety standards.

Although the issue with children’s fancy dress has received more national publicity, Mr Hobbs said the risk to disabled and vulnerable people who smoke from igniting their clothing is an issue that has been “under the radar” and is something the service is looking to change.