Fire chief sparks concern over safety in Manchester

By Jonathan Kalmus, September 20, 2012
Commander Ben Levy: "There is a perceived increase risk in Jewish Households because of Shabbat candles"

Commander Ben Levy: "There is a perceived increase risk in Jewish Households because of Shabbat candles"

A Manchester firefighter has warned that Jewish households in the area are at a significantly greater risk because of a low uptake in safety checks.

The warning was issued by the region’s only Jewish commander, Ben Levy, who is in charge at the Stretford station, located next to the Trafford Centre. The former Liverpool King David High pupil also spends time at the Broughton station, in the heart of the Jewish community.

Mr Levy, 41, says a campaign is being launched to encourage more families to take advantage of fire prevention visits, which include the installation of free smoke detectors, electrical checks and guidance on escape routes.
Fire officials have held talks with Manchester Jewish Representative Council members and another aspect of the campaign is the distribution of fire safety leaflets in Jewish neighbourhoods.

“In a normal area we would expect a 25 or 30 per cent uptake in fire checks,” Mr Levy explained. “But what’s apparent in the Jewish community is that the take up is very low, and can be nil in some streets.

“There is a perceived increase risk in Jewish households because of the Shabbat and Chanucah candles. More Orthodox families may be leaving crock pots on overnight, which is ordinarily perfectly safe, but checks are needed on electrical safety and to ensure the pots never run dry.”

Mr Levy was working as a PE teacher when a colleague showed him a recruitment ad for the Fire Brigade. He said that joining the service in 1997 was the best move he had ever made. He has “never rescued a rabbi from up a tree” but did oversee precautionary measures when north Manchester synagogues were under arson threat some years ago.

As a station commander, he is responsible for complex rescue operations for the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service — for example, after a light aircraft crashed into two houses in July — and major blazes requiring the deployment of 18 water pumps.

“As a commander I don’t go into blazes any more, but I’ve done all that. I’ve rescued just about everything, carrying old ladies out of burning houses, babies, cats dogs, even iguanas.”

Last updated: 11:17am, September 20 2012