Senior firefighter urges safety action after death of elderly woman

Senior firefighter urges safety action after death of elderly woman

Lucy Elder

Senior firefighter urges safety action after death of elderly woman
Reading Town Hall

A coroner has agreed to write to encourage local authorities to work more closely with fire services after the death of a 98-year-old woman.

Daisy Darling-Rumsey died from heart failure three days after a fire at her home in Station Road, Wraysbury, on January 6.

The blaze in her house has prompted a senior firefighter to call for local authorities and fire services to discuss fire risk in private homes, particularly in relation to vulnerable people.

An inquest yesterday (Thursday) heard Mrs Darling-Rumsey was using the living room on the ground floor of her house as a bedroom when a fire broke out in the fuse box in the corner of the room.

The smoke alarm, which was in another room, went off and Mrs Darling-Rumsey pressed her panic button.

The panic button operator at Forestcare then called Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) at about 11.30pm and crews from Windsor, Langley and Egham fire stations were alerted.

But along the chain of communication from Forestcare to RBFRS, the wrong house number was given, resulting in crews attending the wrong address.

This was quickly rectified and within minutes, the crews were on the scene.

Mrs Darling-Rumsey was rescued and treated for smoke inhalation before being taken to Wexham Park Hospital, where she later died.

Reports from the night state she had been inhaling smoke for an estimated 20 to 30 minutes but was conscious, unburned and remembered the incident clearly.

An extensive investigation into the cause of the fire was carried out, the inquest heard.

It found the blaze started in the electrical intake cupboard (fuse box), where the fuse to the water heater had overheated due to degradation over a period of time, estimated to be several months, though there may not have been any visible signs to suggest that anything was amiss in the box before the fire.

The post mortem examination, carried out by Dr Rezan Gardy, found the arteries carrying blood to and from the heart were narrowed, and recorded the cause of death was heart-related.

The toxicology report found that Mrs Darling-Rumsey’s blood had low levels of carbon monoxide.

But Berkshire coroner Peter Bedford added the coincidence of timing was too much to be ignored.

“If you have a heart that is bordering on the brink, it doesn’t take much,” he said.

“The fact that there was a low level of carbon monoxide, if even a small amount, can have a knock-on effect to a chronic condition.”

Mr Bedford said although it was ‘hugely regrettable’ he did not think huge significance can be placed upon the delay in fire crews attending.

He added he would be happy to use his powers to write to the relevant authorities about the inquest’s findings.

RBFRS group manager Chris Bunyan said it would be ‘very welcome’ if Mr Bedford wrote and asked for local authorities to work closely with their relevant fire service.

He said he would like them discuss fire risk in private homes, particularly those occupied by vulnerable people.

He added: “We can work closely with them to be more focused and make sure they get the best support possible.”

The inquest heard modern-build houses now have electrical boxes on the outside.

A warning was also given about not putting objects near to the fusebox as it could be a fire risk.

Mr Bedford recorded a narrative verdict at the inquest, which was held at Reading Town Hall.

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