When considering aging in place as an option, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about the possibility of a fire breaking out in your home. Maybe you should.
Recently the Herald-Tribune mentioned how a disproportionate number of older adults live alone, which can have a significant impact in an emergency. Those 65 years and older are nearly three times more likely to die in a fire than the general population, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. This risk heightens as age increases, with the figure jumping to more than four times for those over the age of 85.
Experts say that a well-developed fire safety plan should be part of any good aging in place strategy.
“Older adults are burdened with the greatest fire risk and are consistently more threatened by fire than any other age group,” said Brianne Deerwester of Electrical Safety Foundation International. “By increasing knowledge and awareness in preventing fires and urging older adults to take a proactive approach to home fire safety and learning about fire hazards and how to prevent them, we can help reduce deaths, and home and property loss one workplace/home at a time.”
Luckily, there are several resources available to those looking to bolster their approach to fire safety. One such resource is ESFI’s Home Fire Safety for Older Adults Safety Awareness Program Toolkit.
The toolkit provides handy tips, tricks and reminders for fire safety, like avoiding cooking when you are taking medication that could make you drowsy, keeping heaters away from other objects, and routinely checking cords, outlets, and switches for signs of damage. It also has a helpful home fire safety checklist.
There are other terrific resources available online as well, such as Remembering When, a fire and fall prevention program for older adults provided by the National Fire Protection Association. In addition to the home safety checklist, the program talks about how fall prevention and fire safety are linked.
“In some cases, you may only have two to three minutes to get out of a house before things are engulfed in flames,” said Andrea Vastis, senior director of public education for the National Fire Protection Association. That’s makes it pivotal, she said, to make sure you are exercising regularly to retain your mobility and that there are clear paths in and out of your house that are free of clutter in case of an emergency.
If you live with a loved one, discussing your emergency plan in the event of a fire can be imperative. Having a designated fire route and a meeting place outside is crucial, said Vastis, to prevent confusion.
Making sure that you have an adequate number of working smoke alarms is vital. The National Fire Protection Association recommends one installed for every level of your home, with one installed inside of every bedroom and outside every sleeping area. Checking their batteries regularly is also a must.
Many local fire stations also offer free home safety checks, according to Vastis.
Other things you can do to increase your safety include making sure you aren’t wearing loose-fitting clothing while cooking, not leaving candles unattended, having adequate lighting in case of an emergency, using the correct wattage bulbs in fixtures, making sure that electrical panels and circuits are properly labeled, and double checking windows and doors to see if they can be opened easily in case of an emergency.