Older adults are at greater risk of dying in a fire than other adults. Americans over 65 have a particularly high risk of fire-related injuries and death. Older adults are at greater risk because:
• They may be less able to take the quick action that is often needed to escape from a fire;
• They may take medications that affect their ability to make quick decisions;
• Many older adults live alone, so others may not be around to help when a fire occurs; and
• Many have a limited income and may not be able to fully maintain their homes.
The most important step that everyone, including older adults, can take to reduce their risk of dying from fire is to have working smoke alarms in their homes. Every home should have a smoke alarm in each bedroom, an alarm outside each bedroom or group of bedrooms, and at least one smoke alarm on every level, including in finished basements.
Smoke alarms must be tested regularly. Test your smoke alarms at least once each month, even if you have the kind of smoke alarms that operate on AC power. If your smoke alarms operate on batteries, replace the batteries twice each year, when you change your clocks to and from Daylight Savings Time. (If your smoke alarms use long life, lithium batteries that are designed to last for up to ten years, you will only need to change the batteries when the low battery alert sounds, or if the alarm fails a test.)
If a smoke alarm fails to sound when you test it, or the low battery alert sounds, replace the battery immediately. If the alarm still doesn’t work, replace the smoke alarm.
Make an escape plan so that you will know how to get out quickly if the smoke alarm sounds. The plan should be based on your physical abilities. If you are not able to move quickly, or have trouble with stairs, you should try to locate your bedroom on the ground floor near an exit door.
The most common cause of fatal fires among older adults is smoking. To prevent smoking-related fires, use large, deep, ashtrays that won’t tip over easily. Never leave a lighted cigarette in an ashtray or leave an ashtray on the arm of a couch or chair. Make sure that all cigarette butts are completely out and cold before discarding them. Never smoke in bed or while lying down, especially when you are drowsy or taking medication that makes you sleepy. Never permit smoking around a medical oxygen tank.
Many older adults are injured by cooking-related fires. Remember to “stand by your pan” and never leave cooking food unattended. Setting a cooking timer whenever you put something on the stove can help you remember to check it regularly. Don’t wear long, loose sleeves when you are cooking; they can catch fire if they touch the stove. Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove so that you won’t bump them and cause a spill that might scald you. Let microwave heated foods and liquids stand for a minute or two before you touch them.
Finally, make sure that your home heating system and electrical wiring are in good condition. If you use space heaters, always keep them at least three feet away from any type of combustible material such as bedding, draperies and furniture.
For more information about fire safety, contact the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center at (859 257-4954 or visit our web site at www.kiprc.uky.edu .