Fire Safety Month offers helpful reminders for seniors

Posted Oct. 04, 2012, at 10:05 a.m.
Last modified Oct. 04, 2012, at 10:57 a.m.

October is Fire Safety Month. It’s good timing as we gear up to heat our homes and start contemplating holiday lighting. We also spend more time cooking. Let’s face it, there is nothing like warm soups and stews when the temperature dips. And 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 dropped between sofa cushions can 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 everything is 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 don’t use baking soda which can splash back. Small five-pound fire extinguishers are available and would be a good investment.

• Keep burners free of spills, grease build-up, 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 could easily ignite. Tragically, sometimes people are injured or killed when their clothing ignites while cooking.

Working smoke detectors are crucial to your safety. Models are available with flashing lights for those with hearing difficulty. It is also 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. They 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 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 because they’re operated by batteries or electricity.

• Make sure that wood stoves and chimneys are properly maintained. The so-called cleaning logs advertised on television are not to 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. And come to the free Senior Health and Safety Fair at Spectacular Event Center, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Oct. 25, and visit with the Old Town Fire Department’s table. They are bringing their Hazard House which is an impressive display.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865 or log on EAAA.org.

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