‘Smoke alarms give us peace of mind’

LIFE-SAVER ... South Shields Fire Station White Watch manager Ray Craig with a smoke alarm.
LIFE-SAVER ... South Shields Fire Station White Watch manager Ray Craig with a smoke alarm.

SAFETY-conscious South Tyneside shoppers are acutely aware of the risks of failing to have a smoke alarm fitted in their home.

The Gazette conducted a straw poll in King Street, South Shields, to find out how many people are heeding a warning issued by a fire chief this week.

Shocking figures released by the fire service showed that 412 of 1,200 homes visited last year across South Shields didn’t have working smoke detectors – that’s more than a third.

Since April 1, 116 out of 200 properties visited by firefighters needed smoke alarms fitted – more than half.

Ray Craig, watch manager at South Shields Fire Station, said the issue was a “matter of life and death”.

He told the Gazette: “A lot of people will fork out for a burglar alarm, because they are worried about being burgled, but yet fail to have a smoke alarm.”

It’s an anomaly which made no sense to the people we questioned.

Anthony McElhatton, 22, a sales assistant at the Savers store in South Shields, is not one to take a risk.

He said: “Yes, I have a smoke alarm fitted and I change the batteries regularly to make sure that it is still working.

“I always change the batteries when the clocks go back or forward. It’s a handy reminder. I also make sure that I check that my elderly neighbour’s home in Hebburn has fresh batteries fitted.

“I can’t understand why anyone would not have a smoke alarm – I don’t want to die!”

Mary O’Sullivan, 81, of Whiteleas, said: “I have one alarm upstairs and another downstairs. I know to change the batteries whenever they start to bleep – which always seem to be in the middle of the night.

“A lot of fires start when people smoke in bed or in a chair. People who smoke should be especially aware of the need for an alarm.”

Mrs O’Sullivan’s daughter, tutor Pauline Bicker, 53, of Marine Approach, South Shields, said: “I have an alarm at the bottom of the landing. They’re not expensive and they’re life-savers.

“I think they are more important for people who have old sofas which are more likely to catch fire.

“The new sofas now need a fire-proof certificate.”

Mum Amber Wears, 30, from Jarrow, added: “I think they’re especially important for families with young children.

“I live in a council house and they call me up to remind me when I need to change the batteries, which is something like every six months or so.”

Retired refuse collector Joseph Dowson, 64, of Petrel Close, South Shields, said: “I have one in the passageway. I live in an Isos housing association property and they fitted it for me.

“Officers come to my home and do spot checks to make sure it’s operational. That’s great, because it gives me peace of mind.”

South Shields travel agent Ian Turley, 47, had a mains-operated alarm fitted when he had a loft conversion at his home.

He said: “There’s no chance of not remembering to change the batteries because it makes an almighty noise when it needs replacing.

“I can’t understand anyone not choosing to have one installed. It’s just common sense.”

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul