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Seniors & Fire

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High Risk Population: Older Adults

What two things do the young and the old have in common?  Frequent burns and fires. Older adults are at risk for fire death and injuries for a number of reasons:

  • They may be less able to take the quick action necessary in a fire emergency.
  • They may be on medication that affects their ability to make quick decisions.
  • Many older people live alone. When accidents happen, others may not be around to help.

The following fire hazards affect older adults:

  • Cooking accidents are the leading cause of fire related injuries for older adults. The kitchen is one of the most active and potentially dangerous rooms in the home.
  • The unsafe use of smoking materials is the leading cause of fire deaths among older adults.
  • Heating equipment is responsible for a big share of fires in seniors' homes. Extra caution should be used with alternate heaters such as wood stoves or electric space heaters.
  • Faulty wiring is another major cause of fires affecting older adults. Older homes can have serious wiring problems, ranging from old appliances with bad wiring to overloaded sockets and improper use of extension cords.

Safety Tips for Older Adults

  • Keep large, deep ashtrays handy for smokers. Smoking is a major cause of fire deaths, especially among the elderly.
  • Check smoking areas and furniture for hot cigarettes and ashes.
  • Do not empty ashtrays into waste receptacles until the contents are cold. Try wetting the contents to make sure they are totally extinguished.
  • Never smoke in bed or while reclining on any upholstered furniture.
  • Keep robes, housecoats, and other loose fitting garments out of the kitchen while cooking. Clothing fires are most frequent for seniors.
  • If your clothes do catch fire, don't run. Drop to the ground or floor, cover your face with your hands, and roll back and forth to put the fire out.
  • Don't keep items on the shelf or in the cabinet over the stove. Each time you reach for something, you risk getting burned.
  • Arrange for good lighting, especially in the kitchen. Mark hard-to-read controls in bright colors or large letters...ON/OFF.
  • Turn pot handles inward while cooking and keep potholders handy. Shield yourself from steam when uncovering food (scald injuries are common in seniors).
  • If a grease fire starts, slide the lid or a bigger pan on the fire. Do NOT put water on a grease fire. It makes it bigger. Do NOT carry the pan. You might spill the burning grease on you. Call 911 and get out immediately. Don't wait to collect valuables. They are not worth your life!
  • Don't let grease collect in your broiler, stove, oven, or exhaust fan duct.
  • Keep portable heaters away from beds, furniture, and draperies.
  • Have heating systems cleaned and checked annually.
  • Clean out storage areas. Old papers, magazines, and oily rags are fuels for a fire.
  • Choose a multi-purpose ABC fire extinguisher. Know when and how to use it. Place the extinguisher in an easy-to-reach location such as the kitchen or garage.
  • Install smoke detectors and check them once a month. Change the batteries yearly.