Reducing the Risks for Older Adults

The information for this article was obtained through the U.S. Fire Administration.

Older adults represent one of the highest fire risk populations in the United States. As a result of the normal aging process, degeneration of physical, cognitive, and emotional capabilities occur in older adults, presents a unique challenge in the fields of fire protection, prevention, and safety. Complications associated with aging increase the possibility that an elderly person can accidentally start a fire, and at the same time, reduce his or her chances of surviving it. As the nation’s elderly population grows, the fire death toll will likely rise in direct proportion to that growth, unless measures are taken to reduce the risks associated with this group.

The Fire Problem and Older adults:

  • People over the age of 65 are the fastest growing segment of the American population.
  • Over 1,200 Americans over the age of 65 die as a result of a fire each year. Older adults comprise over 25% of fire deaths of all ages, and 30% of all fire deaths that occur in the home.
  • Fires and burns are the leading cause of deaths from unintentional injuries among older adults.
  • Residential fires injure an average of 3,000 older adults each year.
  • Fires caused by smoking are the leading cause of fire deaths in the elderly.
  • Fires caused by cooking are the leading cause of fire related injuries in the elderly.
  • Elderly fire victims usually come in close contact with the heat source that starts the fire.
  • Adults in the age group between 65 and 75 have a fire death rate twice that of the national average; between 75 and 85, three times the national average; and over 85, four times the national average.
  • Approximately 30% of older adults live alone, placing them at higher risk for accidental injury.
  • Many older adults take multiple medications, the interaction of which can cause a variety of side effects, including confusion, that may alter the decision making process, and increase the potential for accidents.

Part II: Fire Safety Tips for Older Adults:

The following fire safety tips are provided by the Rutland City Fire Dept.

  • Be Kitchen Wise: Never leave cooking unattended. Wear clothes with tight-fitting sleeves when cooking. Always set a timer to remind you to turn off burners and oven. Keep stove surfaces free of clutter and grease.
  • Be Smoker Wary: Provide smokers with large, deep, non-tip ashtrays. Empty ashtrays often, wetting the contents before dumping them.
  • NEVER smoke in bed, or while drinking alcohol or on medication that could make you drowsy.
  • Install Smoke Detectors: Contact your Rutland City Fire Dept. for information regarding the installation of smoke detectors.
  • Plan Your Escape: Know two ways out of each room in your home. Windows should open easily, and keep an easily found key by each locked door. Practice emergency exit drills to identify and correct obstructions.
  • Know All Building Exits: If you live in an apartment, count the number of doorways between your apartment and the nearest exits, because during a fire you may have to escape in the dark.
  • If Fire Strikes: Test doors before opening them. If the door is hot to the touch, do not open it, if it is cool, open door cautiously and continue along your escape route.
  • Crawl Low Under Smoke: If you encounter smoke using your primary exit, use your alternative route. If you must exit through smoke, crawl or stay as low to the floor as possible. When you leave the building, NEVER RETURN for any reason, until directed to do so by the Fire Officer in charge.
  • If You Are Trapped: Remain calm. Close all doors between you and the smoke. If you have a phone in the room, call 911, tell the dispatcher where you are trapped, and remain on the phone. Stuff wet towels in the cracks around doors to help keep the smoke out. Stand by a window and wave a flashlight or light-colored cloth at arriving firefighters.
  • If Your Clothes Catch Fire: DO NOT RUN! Stop where you are, Drop gently to the ground, cover your face with your hands to protect it from flames, and Roll over continuously to smother the flames. If you cannot drop to the floor, smother the flames with a blanket or towel.

The Rutland City Fire Dept. will be pleased to address any senior citizen group or organization, with a presentation on Fire Safety for Senior Citizens. For further information on this or any fire safety subject, please contact Deputy Chief Gary Gregorio, at Rutland Fire Dept. Headquarters.

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