As season sets in, time to consider fire safety

Posted Oct. 18, 2010, at 6:03 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 10, 2010, at 6:04 p.m.

October is Fire Safety Month, and rightly so as we gear up to heat our homes and think about holiday lighting. We also spend more time cooking — there’s nothing like warm soups and stews when the temperature dips. Then there are the decorative candles, which can prove disastrous if left unattended.

So, ’tis the season for fire 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 between sofa cushions and start smoldering pretty quickly. It may not necessarily be a big fire, but injury or death can be caused from smoke inhalation.

So 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. Small, 5-pound fire extinguishers are available and are a good investment.

Keep burners free of spills, grease build-up and even teakettles. It is easy to turn on the wrong burner or forget to fill the kettle with water.

Wear tight sleeves or short sleeves to prevent igniting your clothes on a burner. Also, keep towels, potholders and wooden spoons away from burners, as they could easily ignite. Tragically, an elderly man recently died when his clothing ignited while cooking.

Working smoke detectors are crucial to our safety. Models are available with flashing lights for those with hearing difficulty. It also is important to have a carbon monoxide detector.

If you do call 911, make coming to your aid easier for emergency crews by putting large, highly reflective numbers on your house that are visible from the street. Call your town office for information on the TRIAD House Numbering Project or call Eastern Area Agency on Aging.

It is very frustrating for emergency crews to be unable to locate the scene of the emergency. If they can’t find you readily, your life or home could hang in the balance. Get your house sign. These signs are $12 and make a great holiday gift for a loved one.

Just a few final points:

Space heaters need three feet of space all the way around. Do not place them near anything flammable such as papers or clothing.

Have an escape plan and make sure that visitors, especially children, are aware of it.

Candles may add ambience to a room, but it’s safest to burn them on the stovetop, or better yet, get flameless or “wickless” candles. They have great fragrances and are not dangerous as they are operated by batteries or electricity.

Make sure that wood stoves and chimneys are properly maintained. The so-called cleaning logs advertised on television should not be substituted for a good cleaning.

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 Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, e-mail info@eaaa.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

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