Fire safety issues are very important for every age group but especially for seniors. According to FEMA, in 2015, about 15% of the US population were over the age of 65. Yet, 40% of all fire deaths that year involved seniors.
Statistics like this show how critical it is to include fire safety as part of the overall re-education of making the home environment safer not only for seniors but also for caregivers and other family members as well as any pets living in the residence.
Here is my list of fire safety tips for seniors and their caregivers.
- Be realistic about the cognitive and physical capabilities of the older adult(s) in the home.
- Have an escape plan.
- Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
- Equip the home with easy to use and accessible fire extinguishers.
- Avoid or use extreme caution with flammable objects like candles, hand sanitizers, portable heaters, etc.
- Avoid hazardous behavior like wearing loose clothing while cooking, smoking in bed, overloading electrical sockets, etc.
- Keep up with maintaining fireplace inspections, dryer inspections, etc.
- Use voice search tools like Alexa and Google Home to call 911 in case of a fire.
- If you have pets, be extra cautious and vigilant to keep them from accidentally starting a fire.
Fire Safety In The Home For Seniors
Before any of the following fire safety tips are implemented, the first step is to be realistic about what the elderly person in the home can and cannot do, both cognitively and physically.
It doesn’t make sense to put fire extinguishers throughout the house if your parent(s) can’t remember how to use them or even able to lift them. This is where practicing the fire escape plan frequently throughout the year would come in handy.
If the senior loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s then you may have installed some kind of lock on the door to prevent them from wandering away or perhaps concocted some other homemade method to make it as difficult as possible to open or unlock a door.
This works very well for preventing them from wandering but will not work well in the case of a fire.
Fire Escape Plan For Elderly
Not many families or homeowners put together a fire escape plan but ideally, we all know we should. Creating such a plan and periodically rehearsing it can save your life and the lives of your loved ones.
With a little help from the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) – I put together the following comprehensive fire escape plan for seniors and families.
- Include everyone in your household in creating and regularly rehearsing the escape plan. I would also recommend to include family and friends who live nearby.
- Draw a map of your home – make sure to include all doors and windows.
- Go to each room of your home and identify two ways to get out.
- Make sure that all your windows can open and that they open easily.
- Your home should be equipped with smoke alarms. For seniors who are hard of hearing I would recommend models that include strobe lights like this one from Amazon. But you can also consider models that will shake the bed (or pillow) like the HomeAware Fire/CO Alert.
- Smoke alarms should be placed as follows:
- one in each bedroom
- one outside the bedrooms (usually the adjoining hallway)
- one on each level of the home
- I would recommend one in or near the kitchen as well but install it 10 feet or more from the stove and/or oven.
- Test smoke alarms once a month.
- Install an alarm that can detect gas – I like the Nighthawk Plug-in Carbon Monoxide and Explosive Gas Alarm. It plugs into any standard outlet and detects natural gas, propane gas, and carbon monoxide.
- Keep your bedroom door closed at night. It’s an extra barrier against the fire and it can give you the extra time you need to escape safely through your bedroom window or other exit.
- If the room you are in is filling up with smoke and if you are physically able – get onto the ground and crawl your way out of the room and the house.
- Have a designated area outside the home for all family members to meet in case you get separated during an escape from a fire.
- Your house number should be clearly seen from the street to make it easier for the firefighters to identify your home.
- Contact your local fire department – they may keep a directory of households in their area that require extra help to escape from a fire.
Smoke Alarms And Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Starting back in 1999, the NFPA began requiring that smoke alarms and detectors be replaced every 10 years. The lithium batteries in these units has a 10 year lifespan, making these one of the best products on the market for home safety.
Smoke Alarms and Detectors
There are basically three types of alarms that can installed in your home.
- Battery powered units
- Hard wired units with a battery backup
- Smoke alarms combined with a monoxide detector
Of course, choose the units that would best suit your home environment but the ones that we recommend are…
|Battery Powered||Hard Wired||Combination|
|Strobe Light||Strobe Light & Bed Shaker|
There are also a variety of combinations of these as well that are available.
Fire Escape Plan For Two Story House
An escape plan in case of a fire in a two story home is the same as any other fire escape plan, the difference is the addition of equipment that’s needed to get out of a second story.
The main item that’s obviously needed would be a fire safety ladder. The best one that I can recommend is one that comes in sizes for two stories up to six stories. It’s easy to use and store away and only weighs about 6 pounds.
It’s the XIT Emergency Fire Escape Ladder – you can check it out at Amazon.
Of course, a fire escape ladder can only work if you are able to physically use it. For older adults who may be in a wheelchair or physically compromised the best advice is to do everything possible to prevent a fire in the first place.
Some recommendations concerning fire safety for physically disabled seniors are:
- An indoor sprinkler system
- Flame resistant blankets
- Telephone with speed dial to 911
- An Amazon Echo in every room (yes, you can use Alexa to call 911) (read more about what Alexa can do here)
- Medical alert products
- Emergency alert app on smartphone including the Jitterbug phone
Fire Extinguishers For Elderly
You may not know it but there are different types of fire extinguishers for different classes of fires.
- Class A – ordinary fires, including burning wood, cloth, paper, and plastic
- Class B – flammable liquid fires, including burning gasoline, oil, propane, and kerosene
- Class C – electrical fires, where a short circuit or overloaded electrical outlet sets fire to nearby combustible items
- Class D – flammable metal fires, including sodium, potassium, titanium, and magnesium (usually found in chemical laboratories and industrial plants)
- Class K – kitchen fires, where grease or hot oils catch fire while cooking
When purchasing an extinguisher, make sure you buy one that can put out the types of fire that are most likely to occur. For most homes, the class A, B, C and K fire extinguishers are all that are needed.
Of course, you can have different types of extinguishers placed throughout the house accordingly.
Fire Extinguishers We Recommend
|Class A B C||Class D||Class K|
Generally, fire extinguishers can be a problem for someone if they have arthritis in their hands, if they have very weak upper body strength and/or if they panic in a stressful situation.
So I strongly recommend to consider the condition of the homeowner before investing in a fire extinguisher.
To operate the traditional fire extinguisher the user has to…
- Lift the extinguisher (common weights are between 4 and 20 pounds)
- Pull the pin out
- Pull out the hose
- Aim the hose at the base of the fire
- Sweep the spray from side to side
If the older adult that would be handling this fire extinguisher has any problem with any of these steps, I would recommend to use an extinguisher that may accommodate them (i.e. a lightweight one) and of course practice using the extinguisher during your rehearsal of your fire escape plan (which I recommend you do at least twice a year).
Also know that fire extinguishers are good for 5 to 15 years.
You may want to consider Fire Suppresant Canisters – they are easier to use and work on A, B and C class fires. But note that there is a safety tab that must first be removed in order to use it. If it’s too difficult for your senior loved one to remove the tab, I would recommend that you go ahead and remove it and store it as is – ready to use.
Also, make sure to check the expiration dates on these canisters.
If using a fire extinguisher or even a fire suppresant canister are not feasible options for your senior loved one, I would then recommend a Fire Extinguishing Blanket. This will put out a pan fire (liquid or grease). All the senior has to do is pull down the tabs on the wrapper, open the blanket,and toss it onto the fire.
It’s important to know that there are some products that can present a potential fire hazard, to anyone. Everyday products that you would not think could contribute to a fire.
The following products are to be used / stored with caution.
Hand Sanitizers – the majority of hand sanitizers contain a large volume of alcohol so they are classified as Class I Flammable Liquid substances. This means that any spilled hand sanitizer must be cleaned up immediately, it must be stored away from all heat and ignition sources (including electrical outlets and hot temperatures).
In case you do experience a fire caused by hand sanitizers – the best way to extinguish it is with either alcohol foam or a Class B fire extinguisher.
Other products that could also cause a fire if stored or used near heat, fire and ignition sources include…
- Nail Polish Remover
- Hair Spray
- Paraffin based skin cream
- Aerosol cans
- Cooking oil
- Non dairy creamer
- Laundry detergent
- Fabric softeners
- Rubbing Alcohol
Candles – it’s easy to see how candles can be a fire hazard. The key here is the candle holder. If candles must be used, I would suggest to use a candle holder that encases the candle – like an open tube. But make sure that it can be handled without feeling the heat of the glass or ceramic container.
Cell Phones and Tablets – many of us are in the habit of charging our phones throughout the night. There’s normally no problem with this habit except if you leave your phone on the bed or sofa chair or other cushion type of material. It’s rare, but phones and tablets can get hot while they are charging. Some have been known to catch on fire. The general recommendation is to place the phone or tablet on a flat surface (like a nightstand) and make sure there are no flammable materials near it.
Smoking – One of the most common causes of fires in homes with older adults are the careless use of cigarettes / smoking. It’s so very easy to fall asleep on the sofa or the recliner or in bed with a lit cigarette in your hand.
It only takes a few minutes for a lit cigarette to ignite a fire.
Loose Clothing While Cooking – I can’t tell you how many times I would caution my aunt to stop wearing clothes with long loose sleeves while she cooked over open flames. It seems like such a silly little thing until that sleeve or scarf or shawl catches on fire!
Gas Water Heater – There should be a minimum of 3 feet of cleared space surrounding the gas water heater. If the cover plate has fallen off, please replace it immediately!
Portable Space Heaters – Every winter we hear of fires and deaths that were started by portable space heaters. Again, keep a minimum of 3 feet clearance around these heaters and please don’t use them while sleeping.
Cooktops – Many of us use kitchen towels and oven mitts throughout the cooking process and sometimes we put them down too close to the stove where something is cooking. We often do it without thinking but 23% of home fires (and 9% of deaths) are caused by cooking fires. Don’t become part of these statistics.
NOTE: If any of your clothing does catch on fire – the rule of thumb is to Drop and Roll until the fire is out. If you are physically unable to do this then a fire blanket like the one I mentioned above can be used. But the one thing you shouldn’t do is to run which may only help to spread the fire.
Electrical Cords – Stop using electrical cords or extension cords that are frayed or overloaded. The price of replacing these is minimal compared to the cost of a fire or your life.
Candles – I have an elderly neighbor who enjoys placing candles throughout her home for ambiance. This is beautiful, of course but can be a safety hazard.
If you (or your senior loved one) enjoys this practice I would strongly recommend to replace those traditional candles with battery powered ones. The Enpornk Candles are made out of real wax and they include timers which is great if you have a tendency to forget to turn them off!
Old Smoke Alarms – There’s no excuse for not maintaining the smoke alarms and carbon dioxide alarms in your home. Test them monthly.
Fireplace – If you happen to live in a home with a fireplace – you should have your chimney and fireplace inspected once a year no matter if it’s a wood burning or a gas fireplace.
Dryer Vents – There are approximately 2900 fires each year caused by clothes dryers. You can easily avoid this by simply having your dryer vent ductwork cleaned out at least once a year.
Pet Fire Safety
I’ve written before about the important role that pets play in our lives, and especially the lives of our senior loved ones. So, including them in a fire safety plan is imperative.
Here are my tips on how to best protect your home and your pet from fire.
Keep objects like candles out of your pet’s reach. We all know a good wag of a dog’s tail can knock down most things. Be cognizant of where any items that may ignite a fire such as candles, cigarettes, etc. are located and if your pet can reach them.
Place a pet fire safety sticker by your front door. It will alert the first responders that you have pets inside and how many. You can get free stickers here from the ASPCA.
Include your pet in the fire escape plan. Either designate someone to be responsible to get the pet or keep your furry friend in such a place where they can escape a fire.
I hope that you and any of your loved ones never have to experience the trauma of living through a fire, but I am sure that if you follow these tips you will at least be more prepared than most if it were to happen.