Fire Safety Tips For Seniors
January 9, 2020
In 2018, ten people in Baton Rouge, LA were killed in house fires during a severe January cold snap. The majority of those fires were started by heating equipment – space heaters, fireplaces, and even ovens. The danger from house fires is an especially important issue for seniors. According to the US Fire Administration (USFA), adults age 65 and over are 2.5 times more likely than other Americans to die in a fire at home.
As we head into the coldest months of the year, we encourage you to review these fire safety tips and look for potential hazards in your home. It only takes a few minutes, but could save your life or the life of a loved one.
Seniors Are at Higher Risk
Retirees tend to spend more time at home than younger people, which naturally increases their chance of being caught in a house fire. However, a number of other risk factors specifically affect seniors, including:
- Living alone means there’s nobody nearby to help in an emergency.
- Reduced levels of vision, hearing, and physical mobility make it harder react quickly to an emergency.
- Medication side effects can cause deeper sleep or affect mental alertness.
- Cognitive decline may lead to poor decision-making or forgetfulness.
- Financial difficulties may cause people to use alternate or unsafe methods for heating and cooking.
Four Common Causes of House Fires
A 2018 report on “Home Fire Victims by Age and Gender” found that the risk associated with different types of fires varies by age. People age 65 and over were most likely to be injured or killed by fires caused by smoking, heating equipment, cooking, and electrical problems.
For people in the 45-84 age groups, fires caused by smoking materials were the leading cause of home fire deaths.
- Never smoke in bed or when taking medications that cause drowsiness.
- Use large, deep metal ashtrays and always empty the ashes into metal containers.
- Never smoke around oxygen equipment!
Fires resulting from space heaters accounted for 22% of home fire deaths for senior adults.
- Purchase space heaters with automatic shutoff features.
- Please space heaters at least 3 feet away from furniture or any other combustible surface (including walls and window treatments).
- Always place heaters on the floor, never tables or counters where they could be knocked over.
- Turn off and/or unplug space heaters when you leave the room.
- Plug the heater directly into the wall socket; never use an extension cord.
Cooking is a simple, everyday activity that can be deadly. It was the leading cause of fire injury for everyone, and the leading cause of fire death for people age 85 and older.
- Never leave the stove unattended when cooking.
- Avoid loose, flowing clothing. Loose sleeves can brush against hot stove eyes or burners and easily catch fire.
- Keep the area around the stove free from clutter – especially paper towels, cardboard boxes, etc.
Seniors often live in older homes that may have outdated wiring that doesn’t meet current codes. Modern appliances may overload older wiring and outlets.
- Avoid extension cords when possible. Extension cords and plugs are responsible for over half of all fatal fires caused by electrical problems.
- Never overload an outlet or extension cord or plug in an outlet that uses more watts than the cord/outlet can handle. It can overheat and start a fire.
In Case of Fire, Be Prepared!
It’s important to be ready if the worst does happen. In a fire, every second counts.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
These are the most important safety devices in your home! They’re inexpensive and save lives.
Approximately 60% of fire deaths occur in homes without smoke detectors or where the smoke detectors weren’t working. The death rate in these homes was almost twice as high as in homes with working smoke detectors.
- Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home (even the attic and basement) and test them regularly.
- If you smoke, install a smoke detector in your bedroom as well.
- Some home security system offer smoke detectors as part of the security package. The security company can dispatch fire fighters if you’re unable to reach a phone or are away from home.
- Smoke alarms with high-intensity flashing light will wake people with hearing problems.
If you use heating or cooking sources that burn fuel (wood, gas, kerosene, propane, etc.), then you should also have carbon monoxide (CO) detectors on every level of your house. CO is the product of incomplete combustion and it’s odorless and colorless. It’s the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the US.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends at least one fire extinguisher for every 600 feet of floor space in the home. Use it to extinguish a small fire before it spreads throughout your home.
- Always keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and make sure you have easy access.
- Know the location of every fire extinguisher in your home. An emergency isn’t the time to be searching for anything.
- Practice with the fire extinguisher so you’re ready if it’s needed.
- Check the expiration dates and pressure gauges on your fire extinguishers each month. If the needle is in the green area, you’re fine. If not, have it serviced or replaced.
Have a plan and practice it
Do you remember those fire drills from school? They were a welcome break from routine, but also a critical part of fire safety planning. When there’s a fire, you only have a few minutes to escape. That takes planning and practice.
- Sleep with your bedroom door closed. That can protect you from both flames and smoke while you escape through a window or alternate exit.
- Walk through your home and consider how you would escape from each room in case of a fire. Practice what you would do.
- Keep windows lubricated so they slide open easily.
- Windows or doors with security bars should have emergency release devices.
- Fire ladders for multi-story homes can help residents escape quickly and safely.
- Keep escape routes clear. There will be heat, smoke, and confusion during a home fire. A fall could delay your quick, safe exit.
This NFPA guide walks you through the steps of creating and practicing a family fire escape plan.
Your medical alert button also provides an added layer of safety. Use it to contact one of our operators in any type of emergency. They’ll immediately dispatch first responders and contact family members while you focus on staying safe.
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