Savvy Senior
by Dr. Jim Miller
Oct 19, 2011 | 2556 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dear Savvy Senior,

Can your write a column on fire safety tips for seniors? With winter approaching, it’s important that seniors know that home fires are far more common and deadly among the elderly, but there are things they can do to guard against it. Thanks for your help.

Fire Safety Council

Dear Council,

You’re right! Because of physical limitations and slower reaction times, seniors are particularly vulnerable in home fires. In fact, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, seniors over the age of 65 are twice as likely to die or be injured in a home fire rather than those younger. For those over 75, the risk nearly triples. But with a little awareness and a few precautionary tips (see firesafety.gov), seniors can go a long way in protecting their property and themselves.

Fire hazards

While there are many possible causes of accidental home fires, the three most common among the elderly are caused by smoking, cooking, and alternative heating devices. Here’s a breakdown of what seniors can do to protect themselves in each of these key areas.

Smoke safely: Careless smoking is the leading cause of home fire deaths and the second leading cause of injuries among seniors. For those who smoke it’s important to remember:

Never smoke in bed.

Put your cigarette or cigar out at the first sign of feeling drowsy while watching television or reading.

Don’t leave your lit cigarette or cigar unattended.

Use deep ashtrays and put your cigarettes all the way out.

Consider switching to fire-save cigarettes (firesafecigarettes.org) that self-extinguish when they’re not being smoked.

Cook Safely: Home cooking fires are the number one cause of fire injuries among the elderly. Tips that can help include:

Never leave food cooking on a stove top unattended. When leaving the kitchen, take a wooden spoon or potholder as a reminder to turn off the oven or burners, or consider installing an automatic stove shut-off device as a safety precaution. Cookstop.com, homesensers.com, stoveguardintl.com and pioneeringtech.com sell them.

Avoid wearing loose clothing with hanging sleeves when you cook and keep towels and pot holders away from flames or burners.

Never use the range or oven to heat your home.

Double-check the kitchen before you go to bed or leave the house.

Heat Safely: Alternative heating devices like space heaters, stoves, and fireplaces are another potential fire hazard for seniors. Seniors who use these devices should keep these tips in mind:

If you use a space heater, keep anything that can burn at least three feet away and always turn it off when you leave the house or go to sleep. Also, if you’re buying a new space heater, look for one with a safety feature that automatically shuts off the power if the heater falls over.

If you use a fireplace that burns wood, be sure you have a glass or metal screen front to catch the flying sparks and rolling logs, and have the chimney flue inspected annually and cleaned if needed.

If you use a heating device fueled by gas, oil, wood, or kerosene, purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you to potential toxic gas problems.

Home tips

Around 75 percent of seniors who die in fires each year don’t have working smoke alarms in their homes. Seniors or caregivers should make it a priority to install smoke alarms on every level of their house outside their sleeping area, and change the batteries at least once a year. It’s also important to have an escape plan in the event of a fire.

For seniors who are hearing impaired, companies like Silent Call (silentcall.com) and Harris Communications (harriscomm.com) sell smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that work with flashing strobe lights and bed vibrators to alert you when a problem arises. And, there are also home smoke and fire monitoring services like ADT (adtfireprotection.com) that can alert seniors, caregivers, and the fire department if a fire happens.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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