Fire Safety for Older Adults
Seniors often need assistance from family members to put safety measures into place. Family members are in the best position to reinforce the precautions necessary to help their loved ones prevent or respond to a fire. Focus on these six priorities to help aging family members protect themselves against fire in the home.
1. Smoke Alarms
Install a smoke alarm on each level of the home and outside all sleeping areas. In Ontario this is now the law. Anyone who sleeps with the bed room door closed should have a smoke alarm inside the bedroom. Test each alarm monthly and replace the battery twice a year. Remind loved ones that if they hear the smoke alarm “chirp” it means the battery needs to be replaced immediately. Seniors who are deaf or hard of hearing should consider purchasing flashing or vibrating smoke alarms.
2. Escape Plan
Many seniors still depend on escape routes that were planned when the kids were young. Update these plans with their current capabilities in mind, and practice with them. Make sure there are two ways out of each room, keep hallways and stairs uncluttered and instruct seniors to call 911 from a neighbour’s house, and not to go back inside their home. If they cannot leave on their own, they should still dial 911. Place a telephone beside the bed, as well as slippers, house keys, eyeglasses and a flashlight.
Careless smoking is a leading cause of fire deaths for the elderly. If your loved ones smoke, stress that they must never smoke in bed. When they are finished smoking, have them soak the ashes in water before discarding them. Advise them never to leave smoking materials unattended, and ensure that they collect them in large, deep ashtrays.
Cooking fires are the number one cause of fire injuries among older adults. Emphasize that they must never leave cooking food unattended. If they need to step away, they should turn off the stove. Keep lids nearby so that if the pan catches fire, they can carefully slide the lid on it and turn off the stove. Mount a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and check the pressure gauge monthly. Also, remind seniors not to wear loose clothing when cooking. A dangling sleeve can easily catch fire. Keep towels and potholders away from the stove. Clean the exhaust hood and the duct over the stove regularly.
Have the furnace and chimney inspected by a professional prior to the start of winter. Keep newspapers, rags, and other combustible materials away from the furnace, hot water heater, or space heater. Keep flammable materials, such as curtains or furniture, at least three feet from space heaters. Watch for electrical overload signals, such as dimming lights, when a heating appliance goes on. Call a qualified electrician if this occurs. Stress that the oven should never be used as a heater under any circumstance.
Candles exude an aura of warmth and coziness, but they are causing more and more house fires. The best policy is simply not to have candles in the home. For festive decor, choose CSA approved electric lights. In preparation for an emergency, place flashlights in key locations (i.e. beside the bed, favourite chair, and in the kitchen).