Elderly Fire Safety

Terry Hurley
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When it comes to the elderly fire safety cannot be stressed enough. Sadly, statistics show that this segment of the American population runs a much higher risk of being the victim of a deadly fire than younger people.

The Elderly at Risk

According to the United States Fire Administration, older adults run a risk that is 2.5 times higher of dying in a fire than people in younger age groups. They also suffer a higher number of fire related injuries.

Most of the elderly people who lost their lives or were injured by fires were in their bedroom sleeping when the fire broke out.

Fire Risk Factors of the Elderly

Naturally every elderly person has different physical and mental abilities. There are elders that run marathons, seniors that swim laps and people in their 80s and 90s with minds as sharp as they were in their earlier years. However, this is not the norm.Most people suffer from physical and/or mental decline as they age. The elderly often are afflicted with illnesses or disabilities that limit their mobility to varying degrees, making escape from a fire more difficult.

The following are additional risk factors that increase the possibility of fire related injuries or fatalities to the elderly.

  • Diminished mental facilities due to depression, forms of dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
  • Slower reaction times
  • A reduction in the abilities of the five senses:
    • Vision
    • Hearing
    • Smell
    • Touch
    • Taste
  • Medications may have an affect on a senior citizens quick decision making ability
  • Economic situations may cause some elderly people to use dangerous space heaters, candles or cooking methods. They may be unable to pay for necessary home repairs involving electrical problems.
  • Many elderly people live alone.

Fire Hazards and the Elderly

The following are several of the most common causes of fires that affect older people.

  • Kitchen fires caused by cooking accidents, such as unattended or forgotten pots of food being cooked, or fires caused by grease flare-ups
  • Using alternative heating methods such as kerosene or electric space heaters, wood stoves or fireplaces
  • Smoking
  • Electrical problems including overloaded outlets, old and worn appliances and faulty or old wiring

Elderly Fire Safety Education

It is important to educate the elderly, their families and caretakers of the increased risks of fire to this age group. Many fire departments in the United States offer fire safety education for children through programs at schools or visits to the firehouse during October, which is Fire Prevention Month, However, more light needs to be shed on the dangers of fire that older adults face each day. Some fire departments, such as the one in Wayland, Massachusetts, provide programs for the elderly that stress the importance of smoke detectors, supplying them for free to those in need. During Fire Prevention Month, representatives of fire departments throughout the nation stress the importance of changing smoke detector batteries each year. Many recommend changing the batteries in the fall when the clocks are turned back for Daylight Savings Time.

In addition to obvious fire hazards, the elderly and their families need to know about other possible fire dangers such as:

  • Using oxygen tanks and oxygen compressors
  • The fire hazards associated with hand sanitizes
  • The dangers of keeping clothes under a gas dryer

Fire Educational Material for Older Adults

There are many types of educational materials available from the Office of Public Safety and Security aimed at teaching older adults about fire hazards and the issues of fire safety. The following are examples of these educational materials.

  • Let's Retire Fire: A Fire Safety Program for Older Americans provides information and assistance in starting a public educational campaign. The materials are free.
  • Fire & Burn Safety Program for the Elderly
  • Safety for Older Consumers (Home Safety Checklist)
  • Remembering When - A Senior Fire Safety Program

For the elderly fire safety education for themselves, their family and caretakers could mean the difference of life and death.

Elderly Fire Safety