Belfast Telegraph

Fire tragedy ‘highlights the need for escape plan’

A Belfast coroner has urged people to have a fire escape plan after hearing the inquest of a man who died of smoke inhalation.

Speaking at the inquest of Newtownards man James Francis, coroner Joanne Donnelly said that many people underestimated how difficult it would be to get out of a burning house in total |darkness.

“I would ask individuals and families to sit down in their homes to make a fire escape plan,” Ms Donnelly said.

The court heard that Mr Francis (84) died of smoke inhalation after a fire broke out in his home in the early hours of May 10 last year.

Fire officers found him lying in the utility room of his house close to the back door, which had been locked.

Speaking at the inquest, forensic officer Ken Arnold said the fire began when a gas lantern in Mr Francis’s bedroom made |contact with flammable material which was probably at the base of the bed.

Even though the doors into the kitchen and utility rooms were closed smoke had filled both rooms by the time emergency services arrived.

Firefighter Ivan McKeown |attended the scene.

He told the hearing that the fire would have developed very rapidly and smoke would have entered all parts of the house quickly.

“The Fire and Rescue Service has a message to get out and stay out and to then contact the Fire Service.

“It is an easy thing to say if you are not involved, but you don’t |realise how quickly a fire can start, and so you should get out no |matter what age you are,” he said.

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Francis’s daughter Julie Holland said her father was a very active member of the community and would be sorely missed.

“We would encourage people to be aware of fire safety, talk to your kids about it.

“You have got to be prepared. I know that the Fire Service have information online and I would ask people to look at this,” she said.

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