Preventing home fires is particularly important for older adults

When it comes to older adults, fire safety cannot be stressed enough. Did you know that adults at age 65 are twice as likely as younger populations to be killed or injured by fires? By age 75, that risk increases to three times—and to four times by age 85.

Knowing what to do in the event of a fire is particularly important for older adults, according to Captain Christopher E. Shaffer of the Center Township Fire Department in Aliquippa. “Most people suffer from physical or mental decline as they age, including illnesses or disabilities that limit their mobility to varying degrees, making escape from a fire more difficult,” he explains. “That’s why it’s important to educate the elderly, their families and caretakers of their increased risk and what to do about it.”

Captain Shaffer teaches fire safety education to both children and adults through programs at schools, the Center Township firehouse, and elsewhere in the community. He offers the following general tips for staying safe in case of a fire emergency.

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 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. View a list of product manufacturers.

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.

Open up
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.

Stay connected
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.

Cooking and kitchen safety tips
Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries year after year. Adults ages 65 and older are at significantly higher risk of dying from a cooking-related fire. These tips will help you cook safely and minimize fire hazards in your kitchen.

Cooking Safety
• Do not cook if you are sleepy, have been drinking alcohol, or have taken medications that make you drowsy.
• Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food.  Turn off the stove if you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time.
• If you are simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food, check it regularly. Use a timer to regularly remind you that you’re cooking.
• Turn handles of pots and pans to the side so you don’t accidentally bump them and spill the contents.
• Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking. Loose clothing can easily catch fire if it comes in contact with a gas flame or
electric burner.
• Check the kitchen after you finish cooking to make sure the oven burners and other appliances are turned off.

Kitchen Safety
• Keep the stovetop and oven clean.  Spilled or baked on food can ignite and start a fire.
• Clean the exhaust hood and duct over the stove regularly.
• Keep towels, dish cloths, and other flammable items away from the stove and other hot surfaces.
• Plug countertop appliances into ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)-protected outlets.
• Unplug the toaster and other countertop appliances when not in use.
• Never use an oven or stove for heating your home.

Home heating safety tips
Colder winter weather increases the likelihood of heating related fires. These fires are the second leading cause of fire deaths among older adults. Keep your home safe and warm with these tips.
• Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, space heater, fireplace or wood stove.
• Use products only for their intended purposes. Cooking stoves should not be used for heating the home, and space heaters are not for drying wet clothes.
• Have your heating system inspected by a qualified service professional at least once a year.
• Make sure all fuel-burning heating equipment is vented to the outside.
• Keep intake and output vents clean and clear of debris and dust.
• Install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning.

Space Heaters
• Purchase space heaters that have the certification label of a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
• Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, do not use the heater.
• Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces, but never place on cabinets, tables or other furniture.
• Keep space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways where they may pose a tripping hazard.
• Plug portable space heaters directly into an outlet; do not use an extension cord.
• Do not use a space heater in wet or damp areas unless it is specifically designed for use in wet locations such as bathrooms.
• Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you leave the room or go to sleep.

Fireplaces and Wood Stoves
• Have your chimney or wood stove inspected annually by a certified chimney specialist.
• Always use a sturdy fireplace screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.
• Never leave an open flame unattended, including a fire in the fireplace.

To learn more about Captain Schaffer’s presentations or to book him for an event, call the Center Township Fire Department’s Bureau of Fire Prevention for Senior Adults at (724) 774-1566.