Cold snap serves as reminder for fire prevention

Posted Oct. 18, 2009, at 11:54 p.m.

Last week’s cold snap reminded us that another heating season is upon us. And while we’re reaching for sweaters and thinking about snow tires, it’s a good time to think about ways we can help our older neighbors stay safe.

The statistics are sobering. Compared with the rest of the population, people ages 65 to 74 are nearly twice as likely to die in fires. The figure rises to almost four times for those 75 to 84, and nearly five times for those 85 and older.

The U.S. Fire Administration is an arm of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. For the past several years, USFA has promoted what it calls “A Fire Safety Campaign For People 50-plus.” Northeast CONTACT applauds area fire service professionals who support such efforts, and we pass along some tips in the hopes that we all have a safe winter season.

Smoking is the leading cause of death and the second leading cause of injuries in people 65 and older. If you smoke, don’t smoke when you’re sleepy. It doesn’t take long — especially if you’re drowsy — to be overcome by smoke when a cigarette drops on a couch or other flammable material.

On a related note, use deep ashtrays and always make sure you have put your cigarette out completely. As you prepare for bed, you might put ashtrays in the sink and put water in them to drown any embers.

Never wear loose clothing when you’re cooking. It may be more comfortable, but long, loose sleeves can touch hot burners or open flames and catch fire.

Change your smoke detector batteries. Once a year is a minimum, and you should use the best-quality batteries you can buy. They will provide longer life (and more peace of mind) than a “bargain” brand. Test your smoke detectors every month, and replace them every 10 years. If you don’t own one, think seriously about adding a carbon monoxide detector.

If possible, install home sprinkler systems. Such a step may appear out of reach financially, but consider how many businesses have added sprinkler systems in recent years. What’s good for them could be good for you.

Keep heaters at least 3 feet away from flammable materials. It’s tempting to put wet clothes closer to dry them, but if they’re left after they are dry, they could catch fire. Make sure curtains, towels and any other flammables are a safe distance away. When buying a space heater, look for one that has a shutoff feature if it tips over.

Keep fires in the fireplace. Screens should be large enough to keep any popping cinders and flying ashes where they belong: away from you and anything that could catch fire.

Develop and practice a fire escape plan. Fire officials generally recommend figuring two ways to get out of each room in an emergency. You should also have a pre-determined meeting place outside your home. Practice your plan in good weather, so it will be automatic if you need it.

Keep clutter at bay. A cluttered home can hide potential sources of fire (frayed electrical cords and the like). The clutter could also block potential escape routes.

Have a working fire extinguisher, and know how to use it. If you have questions about fire prevention, don’t hesitate to call your local fire department.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or e-mail contacexdir@live.com.

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