Sunderland coroner makes smoke alarms plea after death of couple following Hendon house fire
Sunderland’s senior coroner has urged the public to think carefully about where to install smoke alarms after the deaths of a city couple.
Alfred and Audrey Crawford, both 79, were rescued from their home in Minorca Close, Hendon, in the early hours of October 31 last year.
Mrs Crawford was declared dead at the scene, while her husband passed away in the RVI in Newcastle the next day.
An inquest at Sunderland Coroner’s Court today, Wednesday, March 8, heard Mrs Crawford had died from carbon monoxide inhalation and Mr Crawford from the effect of his injuries.
‘He realised there was or had been a fire’
Fire investigation officer Ian Stewart said the service had been contacted by alarm company Telecare at 3.54am, to say an alarm had been activated in the property and two appliances had been sent.
The officer in charge of the first crew had used a thermal scanner to check for heat in the house. He then noticed ‘a black sooty deposit’ on one of the windows.
"He realised there was or had been a fire, although he could not see any flames,” said Station Manager Stewart.
Firefighters had forced their way into the property and found Mr and Mrs Crawford in the living room.
Station Manager Stewart told the hearing Mrs Crawford would sleep on a bed in the living room, while her husband would sleep upstairs or on the couch – though there was no sign of any bedding on the sofa on the night of the fire.
It was known that Mrs Crawford would smoke in bed.
“There was a large number of matches on the floor in and around the bed,” said Station Manager Stewart.
The pattern of smoke and fire damage indicated the blaze had started in the area of the bed. Damage to the bed itself suggested the fire had started on top and moved down rather than the other way around. Smoking materials were the most likely cause of the blaze, which could have been smouldering for some time.
‘A private couple’
The property’s three smoke alarms – two in the downstairs hall and one upstairs – had been tested on August 1. Asked why they had not activated sooner, Station Manager Stewart said the damage pattern suggested smoke in the living room had been carried away from the door and not into the hall.
Senior coroner Derek Winter asked if the fire service had been involved in the location of the alarms and possible installation of others: “I was told Mr and Mrs Crawford were a private couple who did not want any further support than they were receiving,” said Station Manager Stewart.
He would personally have recommended installing an alarm in the living room as well as the hall and landing.
Recording conclusions of accidental death on the couple, Mr Winter said he would ‘give some thought’ to the possibility of a fire safety review system for safeguarding agencies and said: “I would urge the public as best I can in the confines of this inquest to treat the installation of smoke alarms and other protective equipment with the utmost seriousness, because they can and will save lives.”
:: For fire safety advice, contact Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue service on 0191 444 1500 or visit https://www.twfire.gov.uk/safety-advice/