Safety Fire Tips for Seniors
Senior Deaths and Injuries from Fires
According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), only 13% of the US population is over age 65, but seniors make up 30% of the deaths from home fires. Here are tips for seniors, their family members and caregivers to stay safe.
Smoke detectors should be on every floor in the home and regularly checked to make sure the batteries are still in working order. For seniors who are hard of hearing it is best to buy an alarm that also has a flashing warning light to show when the batteries are too low and need to be replaced.
Phones and Emergency Alert Button
Seniors should have a phone next to their beds and if they live alone, they should have an emergency alert button that will connect them immediately to emergency services. These can usually be rented monthly.
According to statistics, fires that start from smoking cause 30% of the deaths and 16% of fire injuries of seniors and smoking materials are the main causes of home fires that kill seniors. First of all, besides the safety concerns, seniors should be encouraged to quit smoking for all kinds of health reasons. Seniors and their Families should hire caregivers who do not smoke. Seniors also do not need to suffer from second-hand smoke from caregivers. Family members who smoke should make it a point not to smoke inside the home of seniors when they visit them.
- Ashtrays should be the deep kind that do not tip over. Never leave a smoking cigarette sitting in an ashtray and never leave an ashtray on the arm of a chair or couch.
- Cigarette butts should be put out with water before discarding them in the trash.
- No one should ever smoke while lying down either in bed or on a sofa.
- Before going to sleep make sure there are no cigarette butts that may still be smoldering that may have fallen between pillows on the sofa.
- No one should smoke near combustible materials, especially around an oxygen storage tank that is being used by seniors with pulmonary disorders.
Fires that start in the kitchen from cooking cause 16% of the deaths and 35% of fire injuries of seniors.
- Keep your eyes on pots cooking on the stove.
- Heat cooking oils slowly on a low light. Be especially careful when deep-frying. Cooking oils can catch on fire without warning, so never leave food that is frying unattended.
- Wear tight-fitting or short sleeves as long loose sleeves can easily catch on fire.
- When possible, only use the back burners on stoves for cooking hot liquids to avoid accidentally bumping into pots that can overturn and cause scalding injuries. This is especially true for pots or pans with long handles that should either be put only on back burners or turned so the handles face the back to avoid brushing past them and knocking them over.
- Always use oven mitts or pot holders when handling or picking up hot baking sheets, pots or pans.
- Cook foods on medium or low settings – this will also save pots from burning.
- Use an electric kettle with an automatic shut-off rather than a whistling kettle on the stove. Many seniors do not hear well and may not hear the kettle whistling.
- It is best not to microwave liquids to avoid scalding. Let microwaved foods cool off before handling them. Microwaves must have at least 3 inches of space all around them so that they will not malfunction. Do not cover the microwave or prevent venting, as this can cause it to overheat and malfunction.
- To avoid hot water tap scalding burns, set the thermostat for heating hot water at 110 degrees F.
- Add anti-scalding devices to all the hot water faucets.
If a fire breaks out in a pot on the stove turn the burner off and douse the fire with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).
Never use water to put out a fire on the stove as this will only spread it. Do not ever try to pick up a pot or pan that is on fire.
Electric Hot Plates
Buy only a safe electric hot plate that has the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) label.
Do not use an electric hot plate overnight unless it has an automatic shut-off in case it overheats, or else use a timer to automatically shut off an electric hot plate before going to sleep. A timer can also be set to turn it on again.
Fires from Home Heating
It is mainly from fires caused by home heating that there are more fires in the winter than at other times of the year. Fires that are caused by malfunctioning heating devices cause 22% deaths and 14% injuries to seniors. Electric space heaters cause two out of every three home heating fires.
Electric Space Heaters
- When buying an electric space heater be sure to buy a safe one that has an automatic shut-off if it tips over or over-heats. Make certain the model you are purchasing has been safely tested and bears the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) mark.
- The space heater really needs to have at least three feet of space all around it and should be kept far away from anything that can explode or catch on fire, like bedding, furniture, etc.
- If the electric cord on the heater feels too hot unplug it immediately.
- An extension cord should not be used with an electric space heater.
- The space heater should only be used on the floor. Never place it on top of a table or counter.
- Never cover an electrical space heater or dry laundry on it.
- Always turn the space heater off before leaving the home or going to sleep.
Gas, Propane and Kerosene Space Heaters
- Gas and kerosene space heaters are the most dangerous for causing fires and are strictly prohibited and illegal in some cities like New York.
- Anyone who lives in a place where a gas or kerosene space heater is allowed must always keep a window open in the room to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. If a fire breaks out in a gas heater, the gas in the entire home must be shut off.
Electrical fires from malfunctioning appliances, problems with the wiring like short-circuits and overheating cause 16% of deaths and 8% of injuries to seniors.
- The most important step to take is to make sure the automatic shut-off, circuit breakers or fuse box is in top working condition and will immediately shut down electric power in the home when an electrical appliance malfunctions.
- Buy only electric appliances that have the UL safety code on them.
- Do not use light bulbs that are too hot for the sockets. Buy LED light bulbs instead of the standard incandescent ones, as they do not heat up as much.
- Do not plug in an appliance if the electric cord is torn or damaged in any way.
- Do not plug in more than two appliances for one electrical socket.
- If there is a burning or smoke smell or unusual odor or noises, unplug the appliance right away and do not use it any more. Do not touch an appliance that is smoking or making odd noises as this can lead to getting an electric shock. The safest thing is to shut off all the electricity in the home first and then unplug the appliance.
- If an appliance smokes or burns after unplugging it, phone the fire department immediately (911).
Electric Blankets and Hot Water Bottles
It is far safer to warm a bed with one or more hot water bottles before going to sleep than to use an electric blanket. However, no one should sleep with an electric blanket, but only use it to warm the bed before retiring. Thousands of fires are caused by malfunctioning electric blankets.
- No moisture of any sort must come near an electric blanket. Seniors that are incontinent must never use an electric blanket except to warm a bed and shut it off before retiring. There is a danger of electrocution if the electric blanket becomes wet in any way.
- Buy only electric blankets that are determined to be safe and have the proper UL code.
- An electric blanket must never be tucked in under the mattress.
- No other blankets or comforters should be placed on top of the electric blanket while it is in use.
- Do not use an electric blanket if the cord is torn or damaged in any way.
- In general, an electric blanket should be replaced after 10 years even if it appears to be in good condition.
Seniors should know where there are emergency exits and fire escapes. It is a good idea to rehearse leaving a home to be prepared in case of an actual fire.
Seniors should have emergency lanterns to use rather than candles during power outages. Burning candles must be watched. No one should leave a home with candles burning.
Since seniors are at a high risk for casualties and injuries when caught in fires, they, their families and caregivers should do everything possible to make their homes safe from fires.