Fire Safety Tips for Older Adults

Fire prevention experts see the same home safety issues causing fires over and over again. Many of these safety issues are easily preventable. Here are four ways to protect your aging parent or loved one from harm:

  1. Smoke Detector Basics. Having a working smoke detector in the home is one of the best ways to keep a senior safe. Many area fire departments will provide and install smoke detectors for older adults and those living with a disability. The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) recommends every home have either a dual sensor smoke alarm that contains both photoelectric and ionization sensors or one of each of these two types of detectors. That combination alerts the home’s residents to both fire and smoke. Once smoke detectors are safely installed, be sure to test the system once per quarter. If the smoke alarm is battery operated, set a reminder to change the battery at least once each year.
  2. Create a Safer Kitchen. More fires begin in the kitchen than any other room in the house. Fire prevention experts say that is because the kitchen environment brings together heat, fire, grease and electricity. Older adults have additional risks because they often live with chronic health conditions that cause physical impairments and slower reflexes. A few tips to help create a safer kitchen for your loved one include: reminding them to wear tops with tight-fitting sleeves, to keep a small fire extinguisher handy, and to store linens away from the stove. Also consider replacing an older stove which requires your loved one to reach over the burners to use knobs with a newer model that has knobs located on the front.
  3. Space Heater Safety. Older adults sometimes use space heaters to help manage utility costs. Problems arise in older homes where electrical outlets aren’t plentiful and the use of extension cords is common practice. Another mistake is not allowing enough clearance on all sides of the space heater. Rugs, curtains, books, and stacks of magazines stored too close to a space heater can ignite. Read your loved one’s space heater instructions to be sure, but most require a minimum of three feet of clearance. It should also be plugged directly into an electrical outlet and not into an extension cord.
  4. Utilize Products for Hearing Impairments. One of the challenges to keeping older adults safe at home can be accommodating their hearing loss. There are a variety of products that can help. Newer smoke detectors that flash lights and send out vibrations to alert someone with a hearing impairment of a fire can be installed. Some more advanced systems can even shake the bed to alert a sleeping senior of an emergency.

Finally, remind your loved one about the catchphrase most of us learned in elementary school. In the event their clothing or a part of their body catches on fire, they need to Stop, Drop, and Roll. Overcoming the instinct to panic and run is difficult, but it is the best way to quickly extinguish the flames.

Sources: U.S. Fire Administration | FEMA | National Fire Protection Association

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