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Older adult cooking in the kitchenThe facts speak for themselves: Americans over the age of 65 are one of the groups at greatest risk of dying in a fire. Last year, more than 1,200 Americans over age 65 died in home fires and 3,000 were injured in fire-related incidences. However, there are a number of precautionary steps that older Americans can take to dramatically reduce their chances of becoming a fire casualty. 

Why are Older Adults at Risk?

Older Americans are at risk for fire death and injuries for a number of reasons:

  • Decreased mobility, health, sight, and hearing may limit the quick action necessary in a fire emergency.
  • They may be on medication that affects their ability to make quick decisions.
  • Many older people live alone and when accidents happen others may not be around to help.

What Fire Hazards Affect Older Adults?

  • Cooking accidents are the leading cause of fire related injuries for older Americans. The kitchen is one of the most active and potentially dangerous rooms in the home.
  • The unsafe use of smoking materials is the leading cause of fire deaths among older Americans.
  • Heating equipment is responsible for a big share of fires in seniors' homes. Extra caution should be used with alternate heaters such as wood stoves or electric space heaters.
  • Faulty wiring is another major cause of fires affecting the elderly. Older homes can have serious wiring problems, ranging from old appliances with bad wiring to overloaded sockets.

Safety Tips for Older Adults

Kitchen Fires 
Most kitchen fires occur because food is left unattended on the stove or in the oven. If you must leave the kitchen while cooking, take a spoon or potholder with you to remind you to return to the kitchen. Never cook with loose, dangling sleeves that can ignite easily. Heat cooking oils gradually and use extra caution when deep-frying. If a fire breaks out in a pan, put a lid on the pan and turn off the burner. Never throw water on a grease fire. Never use a range or stove to heat your home.

Space Heaters 
Buy only Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) approved heaters. Use only the manufacturer's recommended fuel for each heater. Do not use electric space heaters in the bathroom or around other wet areas. Do not dry or store objects on top of your heater. Keep combustibles away from heat sources. There should be at least 3 feet between a space heater and anything that could catch on fire.

Do not leave smoking materials unattended. Use deep, sturdy ashtrays. When discarding cigarette butts and ashes, dampen them with water and place them in a metal container. Never smoke in bed.

Fires caused by candles have increased substantially over the past few years. When using candles in your home, do not place them close to anything flammable and be sure they are in a sturdy holder. Never leave candles unattended and extinguish them when leaving the room. Do not let children play with candles.

Install and Maintain Smoke Alarms

  • Install smoke alarms on each level of your home and outside all sleeping areas. To increase your protection, install smoke alarms in each bedroom.

Test smoke alarms monthly.

  • Change batteries once a year or sooner if smoke detector sends out a "chirping" sound.
  • Smoke detectors are only reliable for 10 years. If your detector is older than 10 years old, or you do not know the age of your detector, replace it.
  • Make sure you can hear your detector when it sounds
  • Properly installed and maintained smoke alarms can lower your risk of dying in a fire by 50 percent.

Stop, Drop and Roll

  • If your clothing catches on fire immediately stop, drop gently to the ground, cover your face, and roll from side to side to put out the fire.
  • If you are unable to get to the ground and roll, a heavy blanket or coat can be used to smother the flames.

Plan and Practice Your Escape

  • If you have lived in your home for many years, do not get a false sense of security. Even though you may be extremely familiar with the layout of your house, it will become very dark with smoke and you can become disoriented.
  • Know two ways out of every room.
  • Make sure you can open and unlock doors and windows easily.
  • Keep a phone, flashlight, and any walking aids near your bed. If you become trapped in your room, the phone is useful for calling for help (even if the fire trucks are sitting right outside your home). The flashlight can be used to signal the fire department from a window if you are trapped and need rescued.
  • If you do need to escape through smoke, crawl low under smoke.
  • Once you get out of your home, stay out.
  • Practice your escape at least twice a year.

If you would like further information about fire safety for older adults, contact Sydney Wright at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department by phone 319-286-5200 or by email at s.wright@cedar-rapids.org

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