Thursday, 2 January 2014

Fire safety project for people with Down's syndrome

A course which teaches fire safety skills and awareness to young people and adults with Down's syndrome in Essex could be rolled out across the UK and beyond, after it won national recognition as a runner-up for partnership excellence in the Guardian's public services awards.

Essex county fire and rescue service has produced a free Firebreaks training package for other fire services if they are interested in offering the five-day accredited course to young people in their own district. The Down's Syndrome Association charity has brought the scheme to the attention of its global arm, Down's Syndrome International, so that other fire services across the world can adopt the Essex model.

Donna Finch, the fire service's children and young people's manager in Essex, says achieving a place on the shortlist gave her a national platform to encourage other agencies to engage with people with Down's syndrome and focus on their abilities rather than concentrate on what they cannot do.

"I think that is quite a powerful thing to do," says Finch. "People with Down's syndrome are a section of the community that tends to be forgotten, regardless of the fact that we want to prepare them as a community for independent living; I think sometimes we don't give them the tools to do that."

Finch is adamant that fire and rescue services have a responsibility to educate all vulnerable groups in fire safety to help reduce the "shocking " national figures which reveal that 15% of all fire fatalities involve a person with a mental impairment and 29% involve somebody with a physical disability.

"It concerns me that up until now the sort of work [we are doing in Essex] has not been identified. I think it is the role of fire and rescue services to work with vulnerable groups, and make an impact on these shocking figures."

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