Fire Prevention Considerations for the Elderly
Fire prevention is a topic we are all accustomed to hearing about at least a few times a year and especially if you have young ones still in school. Does fire prevention stop after grade school, high school, and college? Fire safety is an everyday necessity that should be on everyone’s mind. One demographic that we as a country fail to consider is the threat of fire for the elderly. Fire prevention and safety should be a particular concern for older adults and their loved ones. As the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) notes, seniors 65 and older carry twice the risk of injury or death in a fire compared with the general population. Older adults ages 85 and over have the highest death rate of over 4 times more likely to die in a fire than the total population. With population numbers growing every year in the United States and Canada, adults age 65 and older make up about 12 percent of the population which is why it’s essential to take the necessary steps to make sure our older loved ones are safe from the treat of a fire.
To increase fire safety for older adults, the NFPA offers the following guidelines:
Keep it low
If you don’t live in an apartment building, consider sleeping in a room on the ground floor in order to make an emergency escape easier. Make sure that smoke alarms are installed in every sleeping room and outside any sleeping areas. Have a telephone installed where you sleep in case of emergency. When looking for an apartment or high-rise home, look for one with an automatic sprinkler system. Sprinklers can extinguish a home fire in less time that it takes for the fire department to arrive.
Sound the alarm
The majority of fatal fires occur when people are sleeping, and because smoke can put you into a deeper sleep rather than waking you, it´s important to have a mechanical early warning of a fire to ensure that you wake up. If anyone in your household is deaf or if your own hearing is diminished, consider installing a smoke alarm that uses a flashing light or vibration to alert you to a fire emergency.
Do the drill
Conduct your own, or participate in, regular fire drills to make sure you know what to do in the event of a home fire. If you or someone you live with cannot escape alone, designate a member of the household to assist, and decide on backups in case the designee isn’t home. Fire drills are also a good opportunity to make sure that everyone is able to hear and respond to smoke alarms.
Make sure that you are able to open all doors and windows in your home. Locks and pins should open easily from inside. (Some apartment and high-rise buildings have windows designed not to open.) If you have security bars on doors or windows, they should have emergency release devices inside so that they can be opened easily. These devices won’t compromise your safety, but they will enable you to open the window from inside in the event of a fire. Check to be sure that windows haven’t been sealed shut with paint or nailed shut; if they have, arrange for someone to break the seals all around your home or remove the nails.
Keep a telephone nearby, along with emergency phone numbers so that you can communicate with emergency personnel if you’re trapped in your room by fire or smoke.
If you happen to reside in a residential high-rise and are unable to safely and quickly escape a fire, it is best practice to shelter in place and put a garment or towel at the base of the front door to keep the smoke out. The doors in the apartment will serve as fire barriers buying time for the fire department to arrive and get the fire under control and or come to rescue the trapped resident.
The absolute best defense against a fire in a residential occupancy is fire sprinklers. Home fire sprinkler systems save lives. In fact, they decrease a person’s risk of dying in a fire by 80%. Unfortunately, about 95% of homes in the United States lack these sprinklers. That is not the case in Prince George’s County, Maryland. More than 20 years ago, the county started requiring new homes to be built with sprinkler systems. The result? No fire deaths in homes with sprinklers.
Many people have only two to three minutes to safely escape from a house on fire. Homes are built with plastics and chemicals that are quite flammable. The furniture tends to be more combustible, too. A house can go up in flames quicker than most people imagine. Meanwhile, seniors tend to have issues with mobility, hearing, sight, breathing or other issues. Escaping in just two or three minutes may not always be possible. Plus, seniors’ skin is thinner and burns more easily.
Sprinklers can help a good deal, more than any other fire safety measure. For example, sprinklers keep fires to their room of origin 97% of the time. Much of the time, they even extinguish fires before firefighters arrive. Home fire sprinklers in combination with smoke detectors is a winning combination that affords the occupant the best odds for survival. If it is possible for seniors to move into a house or community with sprinklers, they should do so. Seniors may be able to choose apartment or condo communities that have fire sprinklers in each unit and in common areas.
Decreased mobility, sight, hearing or cognitive capabilities may limit a person’s ability to take the quick action necessary to escape during a fire emergency. It is up to the younger generations to be mindful of these threats to our older loved ones and do everything possible to keep them safe. Keep fire prevention and fire safety at top of mind at all times and help save a life.