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Posted: May 20, 2011

Keeping Seniors Healthy

20 Tips to Aid Seniors with Fire Safety

Q. There was a fire in my parents’ retirement community recently and an older woman died. Now I’m worried about fires and my folks, who are along in years. What can I do to help protect them?

A. Seniors face the highest risk of perishing in a fire because their senses don’t detect danger as easily as they used to, and they don’t move quickly to escape during an emergency. So, fire safety is especially important to all older people.

I went to a bunch of experts and collected suggestions for protecting seniors against fire. The following is a list of 20 tips distilled from all the best material.

1.) First, here are fire-emergency recommendations:

  • If you must exit through smoke, crawl under it (smoke rises).
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a moist towel or an article of clothing to protect yourself from dangerous fumes.
  • Always touch closed doors; if they are warm, don’t open them. Don’t touch doorknobs.
  • If your clothing is on fire, drop to the floor and roll to extinguish flames.
  • Avoid elevators; use stairs or fire escapes.

2.) Install smoke alarms on all levels of the home and outside all sleeping areas. You double your chance of surviving a fire with alarms. Vacuum and test them regularly. Replace all batteries at least once a year. Replace your smoke alarms every 10 years; they lose sensitivity.

3.) Plan a primary escape route and alternates. Discuss your escape plan with family, friends, neighbors and run fire drills. See if everyone can evacuate your home within three minutes -- the time it can take for an entire house to go up in flames.

4.) Being on the ground floor is safer in an emergency. If you live in a multi-story house, sleep on the ground floor near an exit.

5.) Make sure that the windows in every room are easy to open. Get escape ladders for upper floors and keep them near windows.

6.) Ask your fire department for a home-safety inspection. Ask for suggestions to improve your escape plan.

7.) The primary cause of fire deaths among older adults at home is careless smoking. Enough said.

8.) When cooking, use a timer if you have to leave the stove. Don’t cook if you take medication that makes you drowsy. Keep dish towels, aprons, napkins away from stove tops. Don’t wear loose-fitting clothing when cooking.

9.) Don't overload electrical outlets and extension cords.

10.) Buy a fire extinguisher. An extinguisher on each level of your home is ideal. A fire-sprinkler system is worth considering.

11.) Do not exceed the wattage recommended for light fixtures.

12.) Replace appliances that spark, smell unusual, or overheat.

13.) Don't put electrical wires under carpets.

14.) Keep lamps and night lights away from fabrics.

15.) If grandchildren are in your home, make sure you put plastic safety covers on electrical outlets.

16.) Children playing with matches is a major cause of fires. Hide matches and lighters when the grandkids are around.

17.) Keep portable space heaters away from anything flammable.

18.) Put screens on fireplaces to contain sparks. Have the chimney cleaned annually.

19.) Keep candles away from kids, pets and curtains.

20.) One of the major causes of household fires is flammable liquids. Store them safely away from heat sources and children.

Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at

© 2011 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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