Fury at ‘fire safe’ labels after pyjama blazes

Firefighters have warned of the dangers of “fire safe” clothing labels following the deaths of two Hawke’s Bay men whose pyjamas caught fire in separate incidents.

Hastings man Thomas Walls suffered extensive burns after his pyjamas caught alight while he cooked dinner for himself and his wife on Friday night.

Ambulance officers raced the 90-year-old to Hawke’s Bay Hospital with what was thought to be non-life threatening injuries. But he died yesterday.

On Monday night, Arthur McLaren, 80, died after a house fire in nearby Taradale.

Investigators said his pyjamas were set alight by a fire caused by a fan heater that had bedding draped over it.

Firefighters who attended the first incident said Walls’ death was a “tragedy” that could have been prevented.

Senior Station Officer Bruno Saathof said: “At 90 years old, he would have lived through a lot. So to be taken out by a stove fire is really quite sad,” he added.

“Any death by fire is a tragedy, we take it very personally.”

Saathof said Walls’ wife Jean was deaf and did not realise her husband was hurt until the house had filled with smoke.

He said Walls was conscious when fire and ambulance crews arrived.

Walls had complained to the emergency team, saying he thought he had bought fire-resistant pyjamas, the fire officer said.

Saathof warned people had to ensure that loose clothing did not hang over stove elements.

Pyjamas made from natural fibres such as cotton were safest. “The more polyester or nylon in the fabric, the greater the flammability,” he said.

Saathof added that there were widespread concerns that some clothing is inaccurately labelled as being “fire safe”.

McLaren was dragged to safety by firefighters after they found him unconscious in the hallway of his King St home about 11.30pm on Monday.

His wife Marjorie was found outside the home, having managed to escape the blaze.

Fire risk management officer Mike Finucane said his pyjamas had caught fire. He said they were made of polar-fleece.

“A fabric like that, which is polyester as opposed to wool, is likely to be more flammable,” Finucane said. “I guess the manufacturers rely on the fact that adults will be responsible.

“It’s difficult amongst the elderly. They can get quite cold so tend to rug up.”

In June last year, Dannevirke woman Mona Grace Stewart, 93, was found dead on the doorstep of her home by a caregiver. She had been standing too close to her gas heater and only fanned the flames further when she tried to get outside.

National burns centre surgeon Amber Moazzan said safety standards for adult nightwear would save lives.

“We get people from all age groups, children, young adults, and the elderly.

“If clothing is made out of fire-retardant material it would absolutely save lives. If the clothing doesn’t catch on fire as quickly they more likely to get away with superficial burns. The more superficial the burns the better the survival rate.”

A spokeswoman from the Commerce Commission, which is responsible for product safety standards, said, “There are no standards for adult nightwear.”

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