Hot Tips on Fire Safety for the Elderly

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Fire safety is important for anyone at any age. Everyone should know how to keep themselves safe in the event of a fire. However, if you are a senior and have any medical conditions that prevent you from moving quickly or thinking clearly in the event of an emergency, it is beneficial to plan ahead.

In a study from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “The relative risk of individuals age 65 or over dying in a fire was 2.7 times greater than that of the general population. The risk worsened as age increased. The relative risk for adults soared to 4.6 for those over the age of 84.” (1) Fires can be a scary experience and you may worry about encountering one. Yet, if you think ahead and create a plan to keep yourself safe, you can take some comfort in knowing that you are prepared.

Preventing a Fire

Fire safety begins in knowing how to prevent fires in the first place. By taking some extra precautions and being more careful with certain activities and appliances, you can reduce your risk of starting a fire.

1. Get a Fire Detector

A fire detector is one of the best tools you can get to protect yourself. It can detect smoke early on and sound an alarm so that you have time to get out of your home. There are multiple types of smoke detectors:

·         Heat Detector – These alert you when there is a rise in temperature, however, it can take longer to detect fires than other smoke detectors. Yet, they have fewer false alarms; steam, dust, and moisture in the air won’t set them off like some of the other models.

·         Ionization Smoke Detector – Uses two metal plates with an electrical current that flows back and forth. When smoke enters the detector, it will block the current and the alarm will sound.

·         Photoelectric Smoke Detector – These are like ionization smoke detectors but use a beam of light rather than an electrical current.

·         Dual Smoke Detector – A dual smoke detector combines the features of the ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors. It provides the best protection of the four models. However, it can not detect heat.

A smoke detector can alert you to a fire before you are able to detect the fire yourself. It can give you the extra precious time you need to get out of your home safely.

2. Be Careful When Cooking

The National Fire Protection Association states, “Cooking was the leading cause of reported home fires and home fire injuries in 2015-2019 and the second leading cause of home fire deaths. Cooking caused 49 percent of reported home fires, 20 percent of reported home fire deaths, and 42 percent of home fire injuries.” (2) Cooking commonly uses fire and heat-related appliances. Therefore, it is important to use extra caution when cooking in the kitchen. Some good rules of thumb include:

·         Never leave a stove unattended when turned on.

·         Keep your clothing tucked in and roll up your sleeves.

·         Keep flammable items away from the stove.

·         Turn pot handles to a safe position.

·         Keep your cooking area clean.

You may also find it helpful to wear a senior life-saving alert system while cooking in the kitchen. This way, if any accidents occur such as fall, fire, or medical emergency, you have an instant and easy way to contact an emergency response agent for help. All you must do is press a single button on your emergency response solution. Then the agent can help you and contact a loved one or medical professional.

3. Avoid Candles, Cigarettes, and Matches

Along with cooking, candles, cigarettes, and matches are common causes of house fires. It is best to avoid using them if you can help it. If you do happen to use them, however, be sure to keep an eye on them while lit. Then, when you are finished using them, make sure they are completely extinguished before you walk away. You may even want to run cigarettes or matches under some water to help ensure that they are fully extinguished.

4. Give Portable Heaters Space

If you have a space heater, be sure to give it plenty of room. Placing other objects near the heater can cause them to catch fire. This is especially true if the items are flammable. You also want to keep space heaters on the floor and away from water. It can be tempting to move it wherever you are sitting to keep you warm, but this can be potentially dangerous. You will also want to turn the heater off when you leave the room.

5. Get Fireplaces and Furnaces Inspected Yearly

Cracks in your chimney can cause a house fire. Therefore, you should have your chimney cleaned and inspected at least once a year so that you can get dangerous problems repaired.

When furnaces get too dirty, or malfunction, they can burn or explode as well. You may want to hire a professional HVAC contactor to service and inspect your furnace once per year. 

Planning an Escape

When you have a plan to evacuate your home, you can increase your chances of getting out safely.

1. Remove Clutter

Clutter is extremely dangerous during a fire. Not only can it pose as a tripping hazard and make it more difficult to exit your house, but it can also catch fire itself. If you have any stray items laying around your home, be sure to find a safe place to store them. You can get rid of the items completely. Some items you may want to pay particular attention to include cardboard boxes, mail, piles of clothing, and books.

If you have a lot of clutter in your home, you may find it useful to have a personal alarm button for the elderly.  This reliable tool will allow you to quickly contact an emergency response agent for assistance in the case of a fall or fire. You may also want to consider a fall alert device for seniors. This system can contact our monitoring center for you if unable to press the button due to an injury or symptoms of smoke inhalation.

2. Create A Fire Evacuation Plan

When you see a fire, you may panic and struggle to think clearly. Therefore, having a pre-thought-out plan can be useful. Some aspects you will want to figure out include:

·         A map of your home with escape routes from each room.

·         If you have any pets, put a sticker or sign near the door that can inform firefighters that your companion also needs rescuing.

·         What tools you will need to get out safely such as glasses, walker, or emergency alert system.

·         Add more exits, wheelchair ramps, railings, or any other necessary safety equipment to your home, if needed.

·         Place a fire extinguisher in an accessible place.

Once you have a plan in place, you will also want to conduct a fire drill twice per year.  

3. Keep Important Accessories Near Your Bed

If there are any specific tools that you need to safely exit your house during a fire, figure out a convenient place to store them. For instance, keep glasses on your nightstand or side table and keep your walker always nearby. Wear your medical alert device while sleeping.

If there are any items you may want to try to save during a fire, store them in an accessible place near the exit so you can grab them on your way out. However, it is important that you prioritize your safety over everything. Don’t try to save any items unless you are 100% positive you can do so and still get out safely.

4. Get a Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguishers are the best equipment to have to help extinguish a fire. It is a good idea to keep one in or near your kitchen so that you have it nearby when cooking. You may also want to have one near the exits or in a highly accessible area of your home.

5. Learn How to Extinguish Small Fires

Learn how to extinguish small fires so you can prevent them from damaging your home and threatening your safety. There are different types of fires, that each require a unique solution.  

·         Solid Objects – Can use water or foam extinguisher.

·         Flammable Liquids – Do not use a water extinguisher. Use foam, powder, or a carbon dioxide extinguisher.

·         Electricity – If you can safely do so, cut the power to the appliance or the room that the appliance is plugged into. If the fire is near the outlet, do not put your hand near it. Use a carbon dioxide or dry powder extinguisher to put out the flame.

·         Metal – These are rare, but if you encounter one, you should use a dry powder fire extinguisher only.

·         Cooking Oil, Vegetable Oil, and Animal Fats – If you can safely do so, turn off the appliance and get the pot away from the heat source. Don’t use water to extinguish the fire. Instead, use a wet chemical extinguisher. 

Tips for Getting Out of a Fire Safely

If you do happen to experience a fire, you can protect yourself with these tips.

1. Choose the Safest Route

Depending on where the fire is located, some of your pathways may be blocked. Analyze the situation and determine the safest route to get out as quickly as possible. If you created a map of your home and practiced fire drills, you should already have a good idea of what the safest route will be.

2. Use Your Medical Alert Button

An Alert1 assistive technology device is useful during a fire. If you get caught and don’t know what the best steps to take are, you can contact an emergency response agent to help you through the process. These agents are highly trained to deal with a variety of emergencies and can help you determine the best course of action. They can also contact your family and other emergency professionals for you. They will stay on the line with you until help arrives.

When it comes to emergency response solutions, there are 5 different devices for you to choose from:

·         In-Home Communication Device for Seniors – Offers a 600-foot range, choice of necklace or bracelet, and comes with a base station that is used to communicate with an emergency response agent.

·         In-Home Fall Detection Device – Offers unlimited button presses and talk time, and a free wristband with your order. This system also includes a fall detection sensor that will automatically contact our monitoring centers when it registers a fall.

·         Mobile Medical Alert System – Utilizes a 2-way speaker so you can talk to an agent from anywhere in the US. This device is lightweight and portable so you can take it anywhere you go. You can choose from wearable options including a pendant, belt clip, or simply carry it in your pocket.

·         Mobile Fall Prevention Alarm – Includes a 2-way speaker, a GPS, and fall detection sensor. Runs on nationally renowned Verizon and AT&T networks and no cell phone is needed.

·         On-the-Go Emergency Alarm Wrist Watch – This is the most technologically advanced and stylish medical alert option. It looks just like a normal wrist watch and includes a weather app and pedometer.

3. Protect Yourself from Smoke

Healthline explains, “Inhaling harmful smoke can inflame your lungs and airway, causing them to swell and block oxygen. This can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome and respiratory failure.” (4) If you can, try to crouch or crawl under any smoke to avoid inhaling it. You may also want to try covering your mouth with a shirt or towel.

4. Don’t Open Doors if They are Hot or Smoke is Coming Through

If any doors are hot or have smoke coming through them while you are trying to evacuate, do not open them. Instead, determine an alternate route and use that path to get out safely. Fires use oxygen to sustain the flames. If you open the door, you will let more oxygen flow into the room and allow the fire to spread.

5. Avoid Elevators

You should also avoid elevators if you live in an apartment complex. During a fire, electrical systems can short out and you can get stuck between floors. If the elevator fills with smoke, it can also put you at risk of smoke inhalation. Be sure to use the stairs instead. If you have trouble getting down the stairs, try to find another person who can assist you. 

Safety First

During a fire, your safety is of the utmost importance. By having the tools and knowledge you need to protect yourself, you can improve your chances of making it out of your home unharmed. Fires can be a scary and life-changing event, but with some careful planning, you can successfully handle the situation.



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1 Federal Emergency Management Agency staff. Aug. 2013. Topical Fire Report Series. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Fire Risk to Older Adults in 2010.

2 National Fire Protection Association staff. n.d. Fire Causes & Risks. National Fire Protection Association. Cooking.

3 O’Connor, Brian. Oct. 2020. NFPA Today. National Fire Protection Association. Guide to Fire Extinguisher Inspection, Testing and Maintenance.

4 Santos-Longhurst, Adrienne. July. 2018. Smoke-Inhalation. Healthline. What to Do When You or Someone You Know May Have Breathed in Too Much Smoke.