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Playing With Fire

Lessons on Protecting Your Home

By Trena Winans, Director of Education & Outreachsmoke-alarm

When we think of risks to older adults, fire related accidents may not immediately spring to mind, however, as of 2008, people age 65 and up accounted for 30% of all fire related deaths nationwide even though they made up only 13% of the population as a whole. The American Red Cross responds to a disaster every eight minutes and nearly all of these are home fires, making fires by far the biggest disaster threat to American families. It leaves one to wonder what some of the causes and precautions might be.

There are several important fire prevention messages the National Fire Protection Association would like you to know. Through our partnership with the Midland Fire Department to offer Remembering When programs and home visits, Senior Services has learned some helpful suggestions you might consider.

  • —If someone in the home smokes, make sure they smoke outside. This is especially essential if medical oxygen is used by anyone living or visiting there. Make sure ash trays are sturdy, deep, have sand in the bottom, and are plentiful.
  • —Most of us are using cheap extension cords that are inadequate for most uses and are especially not recommended for space heaters. Make sure you use extension cords that have a nice thick cord and surge protection. Never wind your cord around objects. This can cause a buildup of heat and eventual fire danger.
  • —Don’t leave the stove when you are frying food. Make sure to turn off the burner and move the pan to a cool spot. Also have a good lid at the ready while you fry food. Wear sleeves that are close fitting or short and use a timer, especially if you will be stepping out of the room.
  • —If the worst happens and your clothes catch fire, it is essential to fight the urge to run. Ideally you should stop, drop and roll, but dropping to the ground may be difficult for some older adults. If possible, practice getting down and back up in advance. Once you’re on the floor, cover your face and roll back-and-forth. If getting down to the ground is impossible, the next best option is to grab a nearby blanket and try to smother the flames.— If you do suffer a burn, make sure to use cool water for a solid 3 to 5 minutes. Unfortunately, burns will keep cooking under the surface until the skin is cooled thoroughly. Any burn that is larger than the size of your fist requires medical attention.
  • —Smoke alarms are critical. It is amazing how many times we go into a home and find that although the owner has alarms, they have pulled out the batteries or otherwise disabled them. Other times, the alarms are  yellowed and clearly past their 10-year lifespan. Few people have enough alarms to be up  to code even if they are all working. In addition to having an alarm on every level of the home, and one outside sleeping areas, there should be a smoke alarm inside every bedroom. All alarms should be tested monthly.
  • —Make sure to not only plan two escape routes out of every room, but actually practice your escape plan and test if it works. For example, can you, in reality, help your spouse get out a window if that is part of your plan? If not, the plan needs to be altered. Keep your phone next to your bed in case you are trapped in the room by a fire during the night. You cannot call if the phone isn’t in the room! Ideally in an emergency, you should escape first and call second.
  • —Fill out and place a Vial of Life on the refrigerator. A Vial of Life holds a record of your conditions and medications and should be attached by a magnet to the outside of your refrigerator so it is easy to spot. If anything happens to you and you can’t speak for yourself, first responders are trained to look for this vital information in that location. Make sure to update the record after every medical appointment. If you don’t have a Vial of Life, or need a new insert on which to write updated information, you can contact Senior Services and we would be happy to provide you with what you need.

Are you interested in learning more fire and fall prevention techniques? Watch for offerings of the Remembering When program. These are offered at various locations in the community and address both fire and fall prevention suggestions specifically for older adults. An abbreviated session will be at the Senior Expo on October 12, 11:00-11:30am at the Midland Mall. You can also request a visit from a Remembering When home visit volunteer who will come to your home and give suggestions as well as provide smoke alarms to get your home closer to code. Call 633-3700 for more information and stay safe!