VULNERABLE people in Glasgow are being targeted in a lifesaving operation.
Strathclyde Fire & Rescue wants to prevent fires before they start with a scheme initially aimed at new immigrants who do not speak English.
But now fire bosses plan to expand the ITS (Integration Through Safety) Glasgow project to include people with disabilities who may not know how to cope in the event of a fire – or how to prevent one happening.
Fiona Herriot, Strathclyde Fire & Rescue community safety co-ordinator for the South Side, is in charge of ITS Glasgow, which also provides information on road, home and child safety to members of the Roma and other new communities in Glasgow.
She works with representatives of City of Glasgow College and the South Glasgow Community Health Partnership, as well as other groups, to run the scheme.
It was first set up in 2005 after fire officers learned of a terrifying incident at a Springburn tower block.
A family new to the area – who did not speak English – was caught up in a blaze at the building but had no idea how to escape.
When police arrived at the building the mother was sitting on the window ledge of a top-floor flat holding her baby.
Fiona said: "It occurred to us then that we needed to do something to help out families who were arriving in the area but who perhaps didn't know much about fire prevention or what to do in the event of a fire.
"With so many different languages spoken in the city, there is no way you could provide a poster with information in all those languages, so we had to come up with something else."
That something else was a DVD – without any speech.
The DVD, Stay Safe Scotland, shows varies "dos" and "don'ts" to stop fires and help during a blaze.
And because it is comprised entirely of images it is easy for anyone to understand.
Staff provide fire safety lessons through ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) lessons as well as using the DVD, which was made with help from students of City of Glasgow College.
With a rapidly changing population – including the new Roma population and 10,000 Somali residents – South Side residents speak a total of has 51 languages.
The ESOL packs and Stay Safe Scotland DVDs are now delivered by ESOL teachers across colleges in Glasgow.
Now, as well as being up on the ESOL Scotland website, more than 3000 copies have also been distributed across the city.
And now Fiona plans to adapt the scheme to help people with disabilities. After working with sensory impairment teams and a local group, Deaf Connections, based in the Gorbals, she saw there was a need to help that group too.
Now students from City of Glasgow College are working to put speech and music into the DVD to make sure it is accessible to everyone.
Fiona added: "We really needed to reach out to the new communities in Glasgow as no-one was showing them how to adapt to living in a new country.
"For example, our officers were going into homes where the carpet had been lifted up and a stone circle laid out for cooking on or where stones were put on top of the cooker as they didn't know to cook with gas.
"But other vulnerable groups in the community also need our help, so we are adapting the DVD for those with sensory impairment."
One of the main groups requiring help was the Roma community, which has settled in Govanhill during the past five years.
So Strathclyde Fire & Rescue decided to get involved in the Govanhill Hub, which sees representatives from 40 groups based in Govanhill Housing Association properties.
Its involvement in the Hub was also designed to help an increase in young people in the Govanhill community suffering from burns and scalds.
Figures from the fire service also showed an increase in house and rubbish fires in the area.
ESOL teachers working with Roma people were given the Stay Safe Scotland packs and youngsters were invited to join the force's Firereach programme, which encourages them to interact with firefighters from their local station.
Brian McCracken, who is about to celebrate his 30th anniversary with the fire service, represents Strathclyde Fire & Rescue at the Govanhill Hub.
He carries out between 25 and 30 home visits every week to residents who have been identified as being vulnerable by social services or other local groups.
Brian said: "I'm the first port of call for people in Govanhill who need help and advice about home safety, and we fit deaf alerters as well as smoke alarms for the deaf community.
"There are a lot of people who need our help. You see some terrible sights, from one girl who was a solvent abuser to others who live very chaotic lifestyles.
"Prevention is better than cure is our ethos –and keeping people safe in their homes."
catriona. stewart@ eveningtimes.co.uk