Older Adults Must Consider Environmental, Physical Challenges When Escaping a House Fire

SFMO Provides Tips to Ensure Older Adults are Prepared Should Disaster Strike

Being prepared for a home fire is particularly crucial for adults aged 65 and over. Statistics suggest this segment of the population faces increased risks for fire-related deaths and injuries. The Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) urges older adults and their caregivers to take necessary steps to stay safe from fire dangers.

“We often think of children when it comes to fire safety education,” said Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak. “With the increasing prevalence of multi-generational households, we must ensure older adult family members also know what to do in the event of a fire.”

Despite only 16% of Tennessee’s population being 65 years old or older, data from the SFMO shows that this age group made up 41% of fire fatality victims in 2017. During this same time, nearly 51% of fatal structure fires had at least one victim who was 65 or older (28 fires).

Older adults are at a greater risk of fire death and injury because reduced mobility may slow their escape time and diminished hearing could make it difficult to detect the sound of the smoke alarm. In addition, some older adults may have hoarding tendencies. Collecting or keeping large amounts of items in the home can not only hinder a person from escaping a fire, but can deter first responders from being able to reach them in an emergency. In recent years there have been six fatal fires in Tennessee where hoarding was a contributing factor to the fire or to the spread of the fire according to state data.

To help the older adults in your life be prepared and protected from fire dangers, share these fire safety guidelines from the National Fire Protection Association:

Fire Safety Tips for Older Adults

  • Keep it low: Consider sleeping in a room on the ground floor in order to make emergency escape easier. When looking for an apartment or high-rise home, look for one with an automatic sprinkler system. Sprinklers can extinguish a home fire in less time than it takes for the fire department to arrive. 
  • Sound the alarm: The majority of fatal fires occur when people are sleeping. Smoke can put you into a deeper sleep rather than waking you, therefore it’s important to have an early warning of a fire. You should have smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement. Install smoke alarms in hallways leading to bedrooms and inside every bedroom of your home. Ensure that you can hear the alarm by utilizing the test button. Test your smoke alarms regularly and replace the batteries once a year or consider alarms with long-life batteries. Smoke alarms that are over 10 years old need to be replaced. If anyone in your household is deaf or if your own hearing is diminished, consider installing a smoke alarm that uses a flashing light or vibration to alert you to a fire emergency.
  • Do the drill: Have a home fire escape plan with two ways out of every room and a designated meeting place outside. Practice your plan regularly. If you or someone you live with cannot escape alone, designate a member of the household to assist. Fire drills are also a good opportunity to make sure that everyone is able to hear and respond to smoke alarms.
  • Clear the way: Remove any items that may block your way out of the room or your home. Remember, your exit routes may change as new items are brought into the home.
  • Open up: Make sure that you are able to open all doors and windows in your home. Locks and pins should open easily from inside. If you have security bars on doors or windows, they should have emergency release devices inside so that they can be opened easily. Check to be sure that windows haven’t been sealed shut with paint or nails.
  • Stay connected: Keep a telephone near your bed, along with emergency phone numbers, so that you can communicate with emergency personnel if you’re trapped in your room by fire or smoke. Have glasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs, or canes nearby if applicable.
  • Cook with care: Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking. Don’t leave cooking unattended on the stove. Use a timer to remind you of food in the oven. Check to see that the oven and stovetop are off before going to bed each night. Never use the oven to heat your home.
  • Give space heaters space: Keep space heaters three feet from anything that can burn, including furniture, blankets, pets, and yourself. Turn space heaters off when you leave the room and when you go to bed at night.
  • Eliminate careless smoking: Never smoke in bed or when drowsy. Refrain from smoking near an oxygen source, gas stove, or other flammable objects. Use deep, sturdy ashtrays and extinguish cigarette butts completely with water or sand before disposal.

For more information on how to make your home fire-safe, print the State Fire Marshal’s home fire safety checklist and escape grid.

Source: Tennessee State Fire Marshall's Office