Fire Prevention for Seniors and Family Caregivers

Related topics: Safety

Tips to help seniors prevent home fires

Older adults are at a greater risk for fires for several reasons. They may be less able to take the necessary quick action in a fire emergency. They may be taking medications that affect their ability to make decisions. And seniors are more likely to be alone when accidents happen.

Fires are often caused by forgetfulness. A pan of food is left cooking on the stove. A small appliance is turned on and forgotten. A cigarette or pipe is left somewhere where it can fall and ignite a rug, chair or mattress. Because forgetfulness is one of the predictable problems older adults face, fire is a major risk to their health and safety.

Whether a senior lives in a house, apartment or senior living community, here are steps they can take to lower the risk of fire:

Practice Cooking Safety. Most kitchen fires occur when food is left unattended on the stove. If you leave the kitchen while cooking, bring a spoon or potholder along to remind you to return to the kitchen. Avoid wearing loose sleeves that could come in contact with a burner.

Install Smoke Alarms. Be sure you have a working smoke alarm on every level of the home, outside sleeping areas and inside bedrooms. Replace the battery annually—perhaps while resetting clocks for Daylight Savings Time. And test all alarms once a month.

Practice Space Heater Safety. Buy only Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) approved heaters. Don't place electric space heaters in the bathroom or around other wet areas. Keep bedding and other combustibles away from space heaters, and don't dry or store objects on top of them.

Create a Home Escape Plan. Know at least two exits from every room. If you use a walker, wheelchair or other mobility aid, widened doorways and exit ramps add an extra margin of safety. And remember: in case of fire, exiting quickly is more important than trying to save possessions.

If You Smoke, Take Safety Precautions. Don't leave smoking materials unattended. Empty all ashtrays into the toilet or a metal container before going to bed. Never smoke in bed—and if you start to feel sleepy, extinguish smoking materials immediately.

Other tips include:

  • Place Fire Extinguishers in Kitchen and Hallways. Check them at regular intervals, and learn how to use them.
  • Store Hazardous Materials Safely. Combustible matter and flammable substances such as old paints and thinners should be removed or stored in appropriate containers. If you have questions about storing or disposing of hazardous materials, call your local fire department.
  • Check for Overloaded Outlets. See that outlets and extension cords are in good repair.
  • Have the Furnace and Fireplace Inspected Annually. Chimneys and flues should be cleaned from time to time and repaired if necessary.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, Americans over age 65 are one of the groups at greatest of dying in a fire—and fires at home are the most common. Take steps now to keep yourself and older loved ones safe.

Learn More

For more information, visit the website of the U.S. Fire Administration, which includes the Fire Safety for Older Adults campaign. FEMA reminds seniors: "Don't let your years of memories and your life today go up in flames."

October 6 – 12 is Fire Prevention Week. Visit the website of the National Fire Protection Association to learn more. This year's theme is "Prevent Kitchen Fires," reflecting the fact that more fires start in that room than in any other part of the home.

Photos: U.S. Fire Administration