’Tis the season to review fire prevention, safety tips

Posted Nov. 05, 2008, at 6:45 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:52 a.m.

As the weather turns colder and the holidays approach, we tend to inch up the thermostat and spend more time cooking and using lights to decorate. So, ’tis the season for fire prevention and safety tips.

First of all, smoking is a major cause of fire deaths among the elderly. Decreased senses, which can prevent a senior from immediately smelling smoke, inattention and medications that cause drowsiness or confusion may all be culprits.

A cigarette could be dropped and start smoldering before the person realizes it. It may not necessarily be a big fire, but victims can die from smoke inhalation.

If you smoke, check around furniture for discarded cigarettes that may have fallen, and use large, deep ashtrays. Before tossing the contents in the trash, soak the ashtray to be sure all smoking materials are extinguished — and never smoke in bed.

Cooking is another cause of fire-related injuries among seniors. The most common problem is leaving the area to do other things. Keep an eye on what you’re cooking so you can react quickly if necessary.

Here are some tips to make cooking safer:

• If you need to leave the stove, turn it off first.

• Should a grease fire occur, smother it with the lid of a pot. Never try to extinguish it with water, and it’s best not to use baking soda, which can splash back. Sometimes people panic and throw anything white on the fire, such as flour or sugar. Small five-pound fire extinguishers are available and are a good investment.

• Keep burners free of spills, grease buildup, even a teakettle. It is easy to turn on the wrong burner or forget to fill the kettle with water.

• Wear tight or short sleeves to prevent igniting your clothes on a burner. Also, keep towels, potholders and wooden spoons away from burners as they can easily ignite. And it can happen fast. My favorite wooden spoon now has a very short handle due to my lack of attention. If your clothes ignite, remember to stop, drop and roll.

• Working smoke detectors are crucial to fire safety. Models are available with flashing lights for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals. It is also important to have a carbon monoxide detector.

• If you do call 911, make getting to your aid easier for emergency crews by putting large, highly reflective, numbers on your house that are visible from the street. Call Eastern Area Agency on Aging for information on the Penobscot County TRIAD Coalition House Numbering Project. The signs come completely assembled and cost $12.

There is nothing more frustrating than going by the place and having to turn around and go back when visiting someone. Imagine a firetruck or ambulance. If they can’t find you readily, your life or home could hang in the balance. Get your house sign. They are inexpensive and make a great holiday gift for a loved one.

Just a few final points:

• Have an escape plan and make sure visitors, especially grandchildren, are aware of it.

ä Candles can add ambience and fragrance to a room, but it is safest to burn them on the stovetop — and never leave them unattended.

• Make sure that wood stoves are properly installed and maintained. Also, make sure they are operating correctly. When installing a new one, check with the fire department for local codes pertaining to wood stoves.

• And remember to have chimneys inspected yearly, at least. The alleged “cleaning logs” advertised on television are not a substitute for a good cleaning of the chimney.

• If there is a fire, get out and then call the fire department. No fire is too small to call 911.

A few safety precautions can ensure a happy season.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at EAAA. E-mail Carol Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865 or toll-free 800-432-7812, or log on www.eaaa.org. For TTY, call 992-0150.

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