Top 6 Fire Safety Tips for Elders

Yesterday I wrote about the special challenges older people face when it comes to fire safety. Elderly people are more likely to experience mobility issues or senility or Alzheimer’s, both illnesses that impair judgment and decision making. Elders are often on prescription medications that may affect their awareness or behavior. Non-medical issues also contribute to this risk, elderly citizens are more likely to live alone, and many live in impoverished circumstances that engender dangerous behavior such as using space heaters or electric blankets. The sad fact is that over 25% of house fire fatalities occur among people 65 years of age and older.

If you fall into that category, or care for a loved one who does, read on for some tips on some of the challenges unique to elders and how you can help protect yourself or your loved one from fire:

1.) Smoking is the number one cause of all fire fatalities involving elders. Ideally, elders should quit smoking, but if that isn’t possible, they should never smoke in bed and should always make sure that all flames are extinguished. Elders should always put out flames at the first sign of drowsiness, and never walk away from a lit cigarette.

2.) More fatal fires occur in December, January and February than in any other months, and that is because heating is a problematic source of house fires. Encourage elders to give space heaters a 3 foot berth. If possible, purchase a space heater with an automatic cut off. Elders should also never use the range to heat the house should be extremely careful with open flame. Buy a fireplace screen to keep fire in the fireplace where it belongs, and always extinguish fires before bed.

3.) Cooking is the third leading cause of fire fatalities among elders. Elders should never wear loose clothing or sleeves while cooking, never leave a stove unattended, and always double check that the stove and other similar appliances are off before going to bed.


4.) Make sure smoke alarms are installed. Elders may have bought their homes before smoke detectors became run of the mill, or they may have an old smoke detector that no longer works. Remember that smoke detectors go bad after 10 years, and that smoke detector batteries should be checked once per month.

5.) Every household should have an escape plan, and this is especially true for elders. If an elder has recently experienced impaired mobility, it’s important to reevaluate the escape plan to account for this fact. Elders should be able to navigate their escape plan with their eyes closed. It is also important to make sure that no doors are blocked.

6.) Install sprinklers. If there is any doubt in your mind that your or an elder you care for will be unable to escape the house during a fire, consider investing in a sprinkler system. Sprinkles react automatically to fire, and they can contain it and keep it from spreading. In fact, sprinklers reduce the likelihood of fire death by 80%. If you are reluctant to install sprinklers, keep in mind that they contain fire damage almost as soon as it starts and will also add value to a home.