Fire Prevention Week kicks off Sunday, and it's critical that older Americans take steps to stay safe. Statistics show that the risk of dying in a residential fire is greater as people age because of physical and cognitive limitations, says the U.S. Fire Administration, part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Poor eyesight, hearing loss, arthritis, dementia and the side effects of medication are among the factors that can make it more difficult for a person to react to a fire, officials say. “We have about two minutes to escape our home after our smoke alarms sound. We need to consider how these physical changes may affect our ability to escape quickly,” says the Fire Administration's Teresa Neal, a fire program specialist.
Some 12,572 Americans age 65-plus died in fires in a 10-year period ending in 2017.
That's an average of more than 1,250 fire deaths a years. Members of that age group were 2.6 times as likely as the population at large to perish in a fire, the Fire Administration says.
Older homes are more likely to catch fire from electrical causes and may not have the capcity to safely handle newer appliances, Neal says. But newer homes also pose their own set of risks.
"New home construction styles, methods and materials as well as the materials we have in our home cause fires to grow quicker,” says Neal. “They burn hotter and faster. These flames create toxic smoke that can easily overcome us and be lethal."
Here are eight tips you should know, plus resources to consult to learn more about protecting yourself and your home.
1. Maintain smoke alarms
- Smoke alarms should be installed in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home.
- For better protection, smoke alarms should be interconnected so that if one sounds, they signal alerts throughout the home.
- Dust or vacuum your smoke alarms at least once a year when the battery is replaced. Replace the alarm itself every 10 years.
- If you are deaf or hard of hearing, install a smoke alarm that uses a flashing light or vibration to signal smoke.
2. Use caution with open flames
- Only burn candles when you are in the room, and use sturdy candleholders.
- Smoke outdoors only, and use deep, sturdy ashtrays. Make sure butts are cool before throwing them out.
- Avoid any open flame where medical oxygen is being used.
3. Cook safely
- Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove to prevent them from being knocked off.
- Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stove or broiling.
- Keep a pot lid nearby while cooking. If a fire starts in a pan, you can slide the lid over and turn off the burner.