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Fire Safety Checks for Older People: What You Need to Know

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Fires are a big concern for seniors, whether it’s forgetting to put out a cigarette or leaving the stove on. However, you can often avoid fires with a bit of additional caution. Just like fall prevention in the elderly is possible using reliable mobility devices, fires are also preventable by employing basic fire safety checks.

Statistics show that:

  • More than 1,200 Americans over 65 die due to a fire each year.
  • 25% of fire-related deaths in recent years involved the elderly.
  • 30% of fire deaths occur at home.
  • Residential fires injure an average of 3,000 older adults each year.

Falls and then fires are a major cause of injuries and deaths among seniors. Let’s look at why fire safety for seniors is necessary and what are some critical fire safety checks to keep you safe in your home.

Fire Safety for Seniors is Important

Why Fire Safety for Seniors is Important?

Fires are a worrying cause of deaths and injury among the older population in the USA. With age, decreased mobility, waning cognition, loss of hearing or vision impacts the ability of the elderly to respond to emergencies like fires. Further statistics show that seniors over 65 are twice as likely to be affected by fires as the rest of the population. Moreover, those over 85 are almost four times more susceptible to fire injuries or deaths than other people. The brighter side is that most fires are preventable. These facts point out the need for increasing awareness regarding fire safety for seniors.

How to Conduct Fire Safety Checks for Your Property

The US Fire Administration recommends a very simple yet practical tip for fire safety of your property. It consists of 3 Ps: Protect, Prepare, and Plan.

Protect: Protect your space from things that can cause a fire. For example, keep heaters at least 3 feet away from objects that can burn, such as curtains and beds. 

Prepare: Prepare for an emergency by installing and regularly inspecting safety appliances, such as smoke alarms.

Plan: In case of a fire, create an escape plan based on your abilities. Practice this emergency exit route with all members of the house. Seniors should keep their glasses, hearing aids, and mobility devices handy. 

When you protect, prepare, and plan, consider the needs of seniors around you. Often a panic situation can lead to other hazards such as falls and slips. To prevent such falls, install home safety aids for seniors like a bed step stool to quickly get out of a high bed. Other things that can improve home safety are bathtub steps and grab bars to make slippery or wet areas safer to exit.

Tip: Refer to this handy home safety checklist for more ideas to make senior spaces safer.

Safety checks for seniors

Fire Safety Checks for Older People

Let’s delve into the most critical aspects of fire safety for seniors as they age in place. Moreover, the safety risk in an older house is greater than in newer homes. This detailed fire safety checklist recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps make your homes safer than before.

1. Smoking Safety

  • Smoke outside the house at all times. Smoking indoors is a hazard as embers can land on flammable items like clothes, carpets, upholstery, and curtains. 
  • Do not smoke in bed. It is one of the leading causes of home fires.
  • Keep smoking materials away from medical oxygen. 
  • Use a heavy, non-tip ashtray and put out the cigarettes completely.

2. Cooking Safety

  • Do not wear loose clothing while cooking. Short-sleeved or well-fitted clothes are safer around the cooking stove than shawls, scarves, and flowing sleeves. 
  • Always stay in the kitchen while cooking. Turn off the gas if you have to leave the kitchen for some time. 
  • Do not store flammable materials like paint, solvents, gasoline, or firewood in the kitchen or near it. Store such items in a safe place outside the house. 
  • Keep cooking soda handy to put out small cooking fires. Do not douse a cooking fire with water; it can spread.

3. Heating Equipment Safety

  • Keep a 3-foot clearance around heaters, fireplaces, and other heating equipment. Curtains and bedding too close to heaters can catch fire. 
  • Get chimneys cleaned professionally every year to reduce soot buildup. A blocked chimney is a fire hazard. 
  • Switch off heating blankets before getting into bed. Do not use hot water bottles and heating blankets together. Replace old or damaged heating blankets.
  • Remember to blow off candles before bedtime. Although candles are lovely for the ambiance, they can cause fires if not careful. Look for safer alternatives like electric candles.

4. Electrical Equipment Safety

  • Ensure all cords of electrical appliances are in good condition. Replace any that show signs of fraying.
  • Do not hide cords under carpets and rugs. Ensure no furniture rests on cables and wires. 
  • A professional should eliminate all exposed wiring and replace it with fire-safe electrical fittings. 
  • Don’t put too many electric cords in a single extension unit or socket. It can short a circuit and cause a fire.
  • Clean the dryer lint trap after each use. The lint trapped in dryers can catch fire from the heat in the dryer.

Electrical Equipment Safety

5 . Smoke Alarms

  • Install smoke alarms on each floor and inside and outside each sleeping area.
  • Replace smoke alarms every 10 years even if they are in working condition.
  • Test the alarms monthly. Link all alarms if possible so that an alarm going off in one part of the house alerts everyone. 
  • Replace batteries of the smoke alarms twice a year.
  • Ensure the alarm is loud enough for seniors to hear and wake up. Install alternative alarms like strobe lights, bed shakers, or vibrating equipment for those with hearing impairment. 

6. Carbon Monoxide Alarms

  • Carbon monoxide is hard to detect but a toxic gas that can cause great harm and even deaths. Hence, place carbon monoxide alarms on each floor of the house.
  • Replace alarms that are more than 7 years old.
  • Get the alarms tested and regularly inspected to ensure they work.

7. Escape Plan

  • Plan escape routes from home, ideally two from every room.
  • Ensure that seniors can use the fire escape routes and plan the escape according to their abilities.
  • Clear all exits. Clutter and furniture should not block any doorways or fire escape exits. 
  • Practice the escape plan at least twice a year with all house members and decide on a safe meeting place outside the home. 
  • Seniors should keep their phones, glasses, hearing aids, canes, or other necessities within easy reach to grab and go.

Escape Plan

8. Home Fire Sprinkler Systems 

  • If possible, install fire sprinkler systems in the house. 
  • Home fire sprinkler systems save lives and decrease a person’s risk of dying in a fire by 80% 
  • It may seem like an expensive investment, but it provides measurable safety, especially for seniors who are slower to react in emergencies.

9. Fire Extinguishers 

  • Keep fire extinguishers in multiple rooms but away from flames and flammable material.
  • Learn how to use fire extinguishers and practice with a small, inexpensive one outside the house.
  • Keep note of the expiration dates of fire extinguishers and replace them when they expire.
  • Call an emergency number or 911 if the fire is still burning 20 seconds after trying to put it out. 

Final Thoughts

Accidents do happen, regardless of age. However, you can prevent most situations from spinning out of control with a little extra caution. The fire safety checks discussed here are the most doable ones. However, every home is different. Moreover, older people have diverse needs. Keeping in mind these aspects, conduct a regular fire safety inspection or take professional help to ensure your home is safe. Fire safety for seniors is essential to save lives in an emergency and help them live independently in a safe and secured environment.


How Do You Ensure the Safety of Older People In a Fire?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends that seniors check their homes for fire safety regularly. It is important to have an escape plan prepared and practiced by all house members. Moreover, seniors should move to the ground floor of their homes to make a quick exit in case of a fire. If a fire occurs, seniors should not panic when they hear the smoke alarm. Instead, they must leave the house as quickly as possible and not return for people or pets. Then call 911 or an emergency contact. If there is a fire outside their closed room door, it is best to keep it shut, call an emergency, and use the second exit to make their way out. These are some of the things that can help seniors in a fire.

What Systems Should a Fire Safety Plan Include?

A fire safety plan should include regular equipment inspections for active fire protection. These include smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, and a working fire escape plan. Additionally, it helps to professionally inspect the electrical wiring and equipment, heating and chimneys, and medical alert systems to avert fires and react quickly in case of one.

What Are Class B and Class C Fires?

Class B fires are caused by flammable liquids such as alcohol, oil, gasoline, and grease. Class C fires are caused by electrical equipment, appliances, and wiring, such as short circuits or faulty devices.

What Is the Legal Requirement for Fire Alarm Testing?

Test smoke alarms for home use once a month using the test button. Replace them every ten years. For replaceable batteries, change them twice a year. The requirements for commercial establishments are different and more information can be found here.

Vince Baiera

Vince Baiera is the founder of step2health, a mobility aids and wellness company for older adults. He is a former ICU Nurse of the Cleveland Clinic and Duke University Hospital in the Cardiac ICU. With years of working on the frontlines, Vince noticed the struggles of older adults and people with mobility issues that became an impediment for both patients and their caretakers. He then designed and created the patented product, Step2Bed (and its variants) that helps seniors and those with mobility issues safely get in and out of bed. His philosophy concerning aging is to plan ahead and start with simple home and life modifications to avoid being overwhelmed at retirement.

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