Recently, an 89-year-old veteran died in a fire that swept through his house, which was located in the Mount Washington neighborhood of LA. According to news sources, the house didn’t have any functioning smoke detectors and the interior was described as having “pack-rat conditions.”
This tragedy is a stark reminder of the risks that seniors face from house fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), people at age 65 are two times as likely as the general population to perish or be injured in a fire. The risk becomes higher with advancing age.
What are some of the fire safety considerations that seniors and their loved ones need to make?
- Keeping a checklist of fire safety precautions in the home. Having a list handy can especially help seniors who are more absent-minded or experiencing some difficulties with memory. You can also help out by sweeping through their homes and looking for potential fire hazards (e.g. fraying wires, space heaters set up against upholstery). A local community center or volunteer group may also offer a fire safety education class for seniors.
- Planning exit routes from the home that account for a senior’s mobility. Seniors may need canes, walkers, or wheelchairs; they may not be able to move quickly or change positions as needed (e.g. dropping to the floor without sustaining injuries). How would they get out of the house in the event of a fire? Would they have everything they need handy, such as their eyeglasses, before exiting the house?
- Using a powerful alarm system. While, at minimum, there should be functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the home, you should look into getting an alarm system that would be connected to a 24/7 monitoring center and also signal first responders and other people who could come to the scene to assist (e.g. family members, caretakers). You also have to be sure that seniors can hear the alarm go off.
- Remaining realistic about individual capabilities and the possible need for supervision. Many seniors want to continue living in their own homes. However, depending on their cognitive and physical health, they may need to have someone live with them round-the-clock or at least care for them on a regular basis. Look out for signs that they may be endangering or neglecting themselves, such as by leaving stove burners on for hours or depositing cigarettes on the carpet or furniture. Ultimately, it may be safer for them to move to other accommodations such as an assisted living facility or nursing home.
In the aftermath of a fire, you may need to contact an experienced house fire attorney to help you handle insurance problems and receive advice on what actions to take if another person’s negligence contributed to the fire. But, as with many other traumatic events, prevention is the first course of action to take. Given their higher risk of sustaining an injury or dying during a fire, seniors and their loved ones need to give serious thought to fire safety solutions.