Coroner’s warning after Mansfield house fire death

The scene of the blaze in Mansfield Woodhouse.
The scene of the blaze in Mansfield Woodhouse.

An ailing Mansfield man died after smoking in bed on an air-filled mattress – which may have burst and fanned the fire, his inquest heard.

The chain of events prompted action to prevent a repeat of the circumstances surrounding the death of 54-year-old Kevin Ward at his home on Cherry Tree Close, Mansfield Woodhouse.

Dr Elizabeth Didcock, assistant Nottinghamshire coroner, concluded his death was accidental after receiving details of a fire investigation, as well as statements from his family doctor and care workers.

Fire service investigator Lucie Poxon told the Nottingham hearing today the fire began in the bed and a re-construction was carried out. A leak was found in the mattress.

She said: “We believe a cigarette could have become embedded in the bedding which would have evolved into a slow smouldering fire.

“With the leak, we believe a very slow smouldering fire would be flaming far quicker than we would have expected when just smouldering.”

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The inquest heard heavy smoker Mr Ward had suffered from multiple sclerosis since his mid-20s and had trouble getting around. He used a wheelchair and lived in a warden-controlled bungalow. Carers visited up to four times a day.

He had a “lifeline” phone link, so he could get help immediately, and had been visited three times by fire officers, including twice last year.

These calls were intended to help him keep safe. He was supplied with fire retardant throws to put on his bed and had smoke detectors and an alarm fitted.

The inquest heard health workers supplied the mattress to help him avoid getting bed sores. Its plastic pockets filled with air to move him gently.

Care workers said he smoked 40 cigarettes a day and reported he became “aggressive verbally” if he could not reach a packet.

After the fire, on Thursday, September 7, unopened packets were found in the bungalow.

The hearing was told he also “self-medicated on cannabis two or three times a day”.

On August 10, he complained his £200 stash of cannabis had been taken and was told to report the matter to the police. He declined to do so.

Fire crews were alerted by Lifeline staff who heard a smoke alarm, but could not get Mr Ward on the line to speak to them. After reaching the bungalow, there was no sign of fire until a firefighter forced his way in and found “thick, black smoke”/

Colleagues wore breathing masks and used a thermal imaging camera to find Mr Ward, who was “unresponsive” in bed..

He was rushed to Nottingham’s Queen’s Medical Centre and then moved to a specialist unit to have treatment for burns, but died three days later from cardio-respiratory failure and the effects of breathing in smoke from the blaze.

Concluding, Dr Didcock praised the work of the fire service and Lifeline staff.

She plans to write to GPs, district nurses and the integrated care team, outlining the risk air mattresses can pose to people who smoke in bed.

Dr Didcock said: “This is for those visiting vulnerable people to make sure they know what to do.”

When the problem is highlighted, fire officers will visit patients to try and minimise the risk.

Fire manager Tom Clark told the coroner: “The opportunity to make a professional risk assessment would be appreciated.”

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