It has been over a week since the tragic Camp Fire roared through the town of Paradise, CA, "...with more than one-quarter of its residents 65 or older." Of the 71 victims who died, 47 were found dead in homes or buildings. Since this was a retirement community haven, many victims and the additional 1,000 still missing, were seniors without cellphones or social media accounts. This is not an isolated event, as it follows on the heels a year later after the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, CA last October. 62 nursing home residents were left at a facility after no fire evacuation plan had been practiced. Emergency responders evacuated the residents with the brave son of one of the patients after all the staff had left.
The Camp Fire was a very specific situation that was well publicized, but there can also be fire safety issues for seniors here locally. Local fire safety authorities in White Plains, NY and Westchester County recognize the dangers for senior residents and often provide details on local ordinances as well as contact information for residents with questions. On the Westchester Government website you can find a fire safety checklist, and on the NYC Government website they provide a fire safety document specifically for seniors. In addition, the Stamford, CT Fire Department provides fire safety seminars that you can attend along with other resources such as Escape Planning on their website.
older adults face the greatest relative risk of dying in a fire
In 2015, seniors:
- Represented 15% of the US population, but suffered 40% of all fire deaths.
- Had a 2.7X greater risk of dying in a fire than the total population.
- Ages 85+ were 3.8X more likely to die in a fire than others.
For senior citizens and those with reduced mobility, sight and hearing, it is important to plan for emergencies and natural disasters in advance. Focus on enhancing your in-home emergency alert tools and services.
Be sure to have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that are updated at least every decade. Change the batteries twice a year when the clocks change.
For the hearing impaired, consider installing pillow or mattress vibrators and flashing lights that help wake sleeping residents in the event of an emergency.
Prepare for and practice safe evacuation from your residence yearly. If your residence has one, know a backup exit route. Ask your local fire department or building supervisor for advice on recommended escapes, door access, elevator or ramp usage.
Depending on your location, emergency responders will keep a record of residents with mobility challenges to facilitate assistance.
Keep rechargeable lights near your bed and along your escape routes such as the American Red Cross Blackout Buddy H2O light sold for $10 each. These serve as a nightlight or portable flashlights.
Leave immediately in the event of a fire or carbon monoxide alarm. For larger emergencies where you have time to gather items, keep a 3-day supply of food, water and medications packed and ready to go.
Have an accountability plan with your family or friends to meet at a designated safe area near your home, such as a neighbor’s porch or mailbox. A little pre-planning and easy preparation can save your life, or make it more comfortable in the event of an emergency.
FEMA OFFERS THE FOLLOWING TIPS FOR PREVENTING FIRES IN YOUR HOME
IF YOU SMOKE
- Never smoke when you are lying down, drowsy, or in bed. Smoking is the #1 cause of home fires that kill older adults.
- Use large, deep, tip-resistant ashtrays and place them on a flat surface. This will keep ashes from falling onto a nearby area that might burn.
- Wet cigarette butts and ashes before emptying them into the trash.
- Smoke outside, if possible.
- Never smoke near oxygen tanks.
IF YOU COOK USING A STOVE
- Keep an eye on what you fry. Most cooking fires start when someone is frying food. • Wear short sleeves or roll them up so they don’t catch on fire.
- Move things that can burn away from the stove.
- Don’t cook if you are drowsy from alcohol or medicine.
- Use oven mitts to handle hot pans.
- SeIf a pan of food catches fire, slide a lid over it and turn off the burner.
IF YOU USE A SPACE HEATER
- Keep the heater 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including you.
- Unplug heaters when you aren’t using them, including when you leave your home or go to bed.
- Consider getting heaters that are designed to turn off if they tip over.
IF YOU USE A FIREPLACE
- Have a professional clean and inspect your fireplace, wood stove, or coal stove once a year. Look in the phone book under “chimney cleaning” to find a professional near you.
- Do not burn green wood, artificial logs, boxes, or trash.
- Use a metal mesh fireplace screen to keep sparks inside.
- If your fireplace has glass doors, leave them open while burning a fire.
It may be time to consider engaging in a home care agency, who can provide you with a Caregiver to insure safety and peace of mind. STEPS Home Care provides free RN assessments of which a large part is dedicated to a home safety assessment. Give STEPS Home Care a call @ (855) 548-1797 if you live in Fairfield County, CT, Manhattan, or Westchester and Nassau Counties, NY, and would like to meet with one of our RNs. You can learn more about us by reading our Client Reviews. If you would like a more comprehensive home safety assessment, you can also call us and one of our Care Coordinators will find the right partner with which to connect you.