A bedridden pensioner who died in a fire after dropping a cigarette when she fell asleep could have been saved had she agreed to having a smoke alarm and flame-retardent bedding, an inquest heard.
Bradford assistant deputy coroner Roger Whittaker said lessons could be learned from 90-year-old Nelly Carr’s death at her converted mill home in High Mill Lane, Addingham, in March 2011.
The inquest heard how Mrs Carr, a heavy smoker, had four smoke alarms fitted by firefighters in 2008 after a home safety check but in 2010, during a similar visit, had turned down the offer to get a detector fitted in her bedroom and free fire-retardant bedding.
The inquest heard how Mrs Carr’s mattress had been “completely consumed” by fire and she was found by firefighters collapsed on the floor between the bed and the bedroom door, which had been shut at the time.
Mrs Carr’s neighbour Mike Whiteley and a police officer were the first on the scene and tried to rescue her but had been beaten back by the intense heat and thick smoke.
Commenting on their bravery, Mr Whittaker said: “I commend both of them for doing what was a dangerous job trying to find Mrs Carr without the benefit of breathing apparatus.”
He heard from fire investigator Garry Asquith how Mrs Carr’s local fire station had previously tried to help with advice because of risks posed by her smoking in bed.
“In 2010 we did offer her a smoke alarm and fire retardant bedding but she refused,” said Mr Asquith. He added: “It’s possible an alarm in the bedroom might have saved her life by giving her the chance to wake and ring 999.”
Mrs Carr, who lived alone and had home care visits three times a day, had been washed and given her medication by her carers just before 7pm on March 8, but just before 4am the next day her neighbour woke smelling smoke.
When Mr Whiteley realised it was coming from next door he dialled 999 and used a spare key to let himself in, but had to retreat. Minutes later a police officer arrived and also tried to get up the stairs but was forced back until firefighters reached her using breathing apparatus.
Mrs Carr, who had a history of heart disease and breathing problems, was pronounced dead by paramedics outside her home. A post mortem showed she had died from breathing-in smoke.
Recording an accidental death, Mr Whittaker said Mrs Carr declining the fire service’s offer of help “amplified the tragedy of the case.”