Publication : Thesis

Community engagement and its role in fire prevention in a West Midlands neighbourhood

Chris Hastie
Hastie, C. (2017) Community Engagement and Its Role in Fire Prevention in a West Midlands Neighbourhood. PhD Thesis. Coventry: Coventry University. Available from


In this thesis I investigate inequality in the way in which fires are distributed through society, in particular exploring the role played in this by community engagement and the relationship between public service providers and the communities that they serve.

The thesis begins with an extensive, quantitative investigation of the distribution of accidental dwelling fires in the West Midlands. By analysing service data from the West Midlands Fire Service, together with a range of socio-economic and demographic data, I establish that there is considerable inequality in the way in which fire is distributed, with economic status, ethnic make-up and household structure in an area all being predictive of rates of fire.

Conceptualising this inequality as an inequality in the delivery of fire prevention work, I then focus in on one socially disadvantaged area with high rates of fire. In the second part of the thesis I use an intensive, interpretivist approach to explore perceptions of, and attitudes towards, public services, and whether these hamper the ability to deliver effective fire prevention initiatives. Residents rarely thought about the fire service directly, with fire not perceived as a priority. However, the fire service was often associated with other services in people’s minds, and I found a number of factors that disinclined people from interacting with public services in general. These include disillusionment, a sense of feeling judged, a fear of adverse consequences and a lack of awareness of the services available.

Building on these findings I argue that for engagement to take place community members must feel that there is a space available for dialogue that is safe, comfortable and rewarding. In an area characterised by multiple, heterogeneous communities, many different spaces will be needed to ensure dialogue with the widest range of people. The work both updates knowledge of inequality in the distribution of fire and contributes to understanding of the way in which access to public services can be restricted by the taken-for-granted assumptions of service providers.