Older adults are twice as likely to die or get injured from a fire as the rest of the population. In fact, seniors represented 40% of all fire related deaths in the United States. Decreased mobility, cognitive confusion, sight and hearing loss can all impact your ability to respond and take the quick steps necessary in an emergency situation.
Whether it's forgetting to butt out a cigarette or leaving the stove top on, fires are a serious risk for seniors, but one that's largely avoidable with a little extra care.
We've assembled some of the most recommended fire safety tips for seniors from the country's leading authorities to help guide you on some of the things you should do to prevent fires and reduce the likelihood of injury should one occur.
10 Fire Safety Tips For Seniors
1. Butt Out
Smoking is the #1 cause of fires that kill older adults. Never smoke in bed. Never smoke if there is an oxygen tank nearby. Instead, smoke outside to fully eliminate the risk of fire. Regardless, make sure you use deep and heavy ashtrays to avoid them from flipping or falling off a table by accident. Moreover, when putting out your cigarette, use water or sand to help snuff out any embers.
2. Space Heaters Need Space
Make sure space heaters are not too close to drapes, bedding, sofas or your clothing. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association recommends your space heater should be at least 3 feet away from everything. Shut off AND unplug your space heater when you leave your home and go to bed. Never plug your space heater into an extension cord or power strip, plug them directly into the wall.
As an extra precaution, you can also get a space heater that is designed to turn off if it gets tipped over.
3. Cook With Care
Most cooking fires happen when you fry food. If a pan or pot of food catches fire, keep a lid nearby and cover the pan. Wear short, rolled-up or fitted sleeves when cooking so they don't catch fire accidentally. Don't leave the room when food is being cooked on the stove. Move things that can burn away from the stove.
4. Smoke Alarms
Did you know the chance of surviving a home fire almost doubles with the use of a smoke alarm? They work.
You should get a smoke alarm for every room, outside each bedroom and on every level of your home. If you can get a connected smoke alarm system, so that if one goes off, they all go off. You should also test your smoke alarms every month (simply press the test button). If hearing the alarm is a problem, you can get a strobe alarm or one that shakes your bed in the event it goes off. Lastly, if reacting to a smoke alarm is a problem due to poor hearing, vision or immobility consider getting a smoke alarm that's connected to a monitoring center in the event it gets triggered.
5. Get Fireplace & Wood Stoves Inspected Annually
Your fireplace or wood stove may need a cleaning. Too much soot in your chimney can cause a fire. Cracks in chimney bricks and rusting in stove pipes can also cause a fire. Avoid burning green wood, garbage or cardboard boxes in your fireplace, as they increase dangerous soot buildup in your chimney. Also, if you have fireplace glass doors, keep them open when making a fire.
6. Make a Getaway Plan
If there is a fire that's too hard to control, get out. Create a fire escape plan and familiarize yourself with it. You should know the exits from your house or apartment, as well as how to get out of your building. Make sure your designated escape door can be easily opened, when rushed and visibility is poor. If you have difficulty maneuvering quickly or without help, consider getting one of the many dependable and reputable medical alert systems. If you have an emergency, simply press the button and agents will send help right away.
7. Learn How To Put Out A Fire on Your Clothing
If your clothes catch on fire you'll need to learn how to put out the fire. According to the CDC and the National Fire Prevention Association, stop (don't run), drop and roll. Cover your face. Roll until the fire is out. If you're not able to drop, use something like a blanket to put out the flames. Run cold water on your burn until emergency responders arrive.
8. Avoid Escape Proof Doors
If your loved one has issues with wandering due to alzheimer's or dementia, do not create a complicated lock that will keep them from opening the front door. You could end up trapping them inside the house in the event of a fire. Better to explore getting them a GPS system that will track them if they wander or an alarm system that will alert you if they leave a designated perimeter.
9. Avoid Candles
Scented candles have grown in popularity, they smell delicious and they can create a calm and soothing environment. Avoid any open flames in your home to the extent possible. Consider electric scented candles or electric candles as a safer alternative to the real thing.
10. Keep Fire Extinguishers Nearby
You should have at least one fire extinguisher near every fire hazard, whether it be the kitchen, the fireplace, wood stove or your furnace room. Make sure your fire extinguishers are full and operational. Also, don't place the extinguishers too close to the hazard. For example, place an extinguisher in the kitchen, but far away from the stove, that way if your stove top does catch fire, you'll be able to get the extinguisher without burning yourself.
Fire Safety Resources
Here are a few fire safety resources for seniors and their loved ones: