Carol Higgins Taylor
Eastern Area Agency on Aging
October is Fire Safety Awareness Month. There is a definite chill in the air and as we gear up to heat our homes in the coming colder seasons, fire safety should be first on our minds. We also spend more time cooking, using the dryer instead of hanging clothes on the line and decorating with holiday lights. 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, put water in the ashtray to be sure all smoking materials are extinguished. And never ever smoke in bed.
Cooking is another cause of fire-related injuries among seniors. Here are some tips to make cooking safer:
• If you need to leave the stove, turn it off first. Unattended pots are just inviting disaster.
• Wear tight or short sleeves to prevent igniting your clothes on a burner. Tragically, there have been news reports of seniors being severely burned when sleeves caught on fire over a burner. Also, keep towels, potholders and wooden spoons away from burners as they could easily ignite. I lost my favorite wooden spoon that way.
• 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 on anything white such as flour or sugar. 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.
Have your dryer vent checked for lint build-up. Even though you thoroughly clean the lint trap each time you use it, the vent itself could be clogged and dangerous. Recently a home burned down and the cause was the dryer vent.
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.
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 can add ambience to a room but it is safest to burn them on the stovetop or better yet get flameless or “wickless” candles. They have great fragrances and pose no danger as they are operated by batteries or electricity.
• Make sure that wood stoves and chimneys are properly maintained. The cleaning logs advertised on television are not a substitute for a good cleaning. Have your furnace cleaned regularly too. It will help with your heating bills.
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. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, or EAAA.org.