Summary & Highlights
1. Install fire safety equipment such as fire extinguishers and smoke alarms and keep a working phone accessible on each floor.
2. Know your escape plan and emergency exits, practice regular fire drills, and let your local fire department know that an older adult is located at your address.
3. In case of a fire, stay calm and stay low to the floor to avoid smoke inhalation if it is safe for you to get out. If you cannot escape, keep the door closed, block all cracks to prevent smoke intrusion, and immediately call 911 and a neighbor.
4. Download our free safety checklist to inspect your own home for fire danger and risks.
Compared to the U.S. population, older Americans over 65 are twice as likely to be injured or killed by fires. Smoking is the number one cause of fire-related fatalities in seniors’ homes, and cooking is the most common cause of residential fires.
As we age, our physical and cognitive responses to the danger posed by fires slow down, resulting in a greater risk of harm to ourselves and others. Fire safety is essential, and seniors must be more vigilant than ever.
This article will discuss the importance of home fire safety for the elderly and the necessary fire safety equipment for older adults.
I’ll also share vital fire prevention tips and how senior citizens and elderly adults should respond to a fire.
Home Fire Safety Checklist
Senior Fire Safety and Fire Prevention Tips
Take proactive steps to prevent home fire hazards and keep yourself, your elderly parents, or other higher-risk people safe from unnecessary harm and home damage.
Consider some of the following tips:
- Never leave a heat source, including ovens, stovetops, candles, space heaters, curling irons, a lit cigarette, etc., or participate in unattended cooking.
- Keep flammable objects away from an open heat source (i.e., paper, fabrics, blankets, sheets, etc.)
- Have your wiring and electrical outlets checked and updated by a licensed professional to reduce the chance of electrical fires.
- Routinely clean your oven, stovetop, and vents to prevent grease fires.
- Never throw water on kitchen fires.
- Love candles? Only light open-flame candles that are sturdy and wide-based. A better option is battery-operated flameless candles.
- Don’t use a candle for emergency lighting; instead, use a flashlight or electric lantern.
- Consider using a space heater that automatically shuts off when knocked over.
- If you’re a smoker, never light a cigarette while in bed or when sleepy. Smoke outside and away from your home. Make sure smoking materials are fully extinguished.
- Keep a pot lid close by while cooking on the stove to smother cooking fires before they get out of control. Keep a box of baking soda nearby if you need to put out a grease fire.
- Regularly update your smoke alarm batteries and run tests. Replace old ones (anything ten years or older, malfunctioning, or broken).
- Have all open fireplaces and chimneys checked by a professional each year.
- Keep your home uncluttered and clean, especially around or near heat or electrical sources.
Begin implementing these safety measures today to minimize fire risks.
Importance of Home Fire Safety for the Elderly
As we get older, our physical and mental capacities may change, which can decrease the speed of our reaction time during emergencies. Ailments that may slow us down include:
- Reduced stamina or muscle strength prevents quick escape
- Poor vision and sight loss make navigation difficult
- Arthritis or other joint pain makes movement painful
- Cognitive changes (i.e., dementia) lead to poor safety awareness
- Sensory decline (i.e., smell, sight, taste, hearing, etc.)
- Decreased hearing makes hearing alarms difficult
- Decreased balance or postural stability decreases mobility
These common ailments may also lead seniors and elderly adults to have difficulty with household activities that can lead to fires. This may include:
- Cooking a stove-top meal for too long
- Dropping a lit cigarette
- Knocking a lit candle over
- Forgetting to turn off a space heater
- Not updating the batteries or running regular tests on smoke alarms
- Not checking old electrical cords and wiring for flaws
Some seniors may find themselves in a difficult position where they can’t trust their instincts.
When this occurs, it’s imperative to dedicate a regular amount of time to fire safety education and forming solid habits to prevent fire injuries.
Necessary Equipment to Keep Older Adults Safe From Fires
Older adults can add fire safety equipment to their vigilant plans to keep themselves and their homes safe. Legally, each home in most U.S. states must have the following:
Smoke alarms and detectors
Each room separated by a door must have a working smoke alarm. Detectors have test buttons for routine checks, and you can easily switch out batteries.
If you’re a senior who struggles with accessing your smoke detectors for regular inspections, call a family member or a home safety expert who can do it for you.
See our recommended smoke alarms for seniors and the elderly here.
Carbon monoxide detectors
One carbon monoxide detector for each floor near sleeping areas is highly recommended. This is especially important for older homes with a more significant carbon monoxide emissions risk.
Although not required, it may be beneficial to have the following available, especially if you live in an apartment building or facility with multiple residents or families:
Fire extinguishers should be available on each floor of multi-level buildings to quickly put out accidental fires. Check our list of the best fire extinguishers for seniors and the elderly for more information.
Public and residential buildings should also be equipped with a fire-sensitive sprinkler system to deter fires and allow people time to get safely out of the building.
Phones and Emergency Contacts
Lastly, always keep a working phone nearby.
If you prefer a landline phone, ensure one is accessible on every floor and in every sleeping area. Put a written list of emergency phones near each one. If you use a cordless phone, tape the list on the back of the handheld unit.
We have some recommended landline phones for older adults if you need a new one.
If you only use a cellphone, keep it charged and on your person.
If you are caught in a house fire and have no easy way to get out, your phone is the only line of communication.
Otherwise, you may need help to contact firefighters and other emergency personnel.
How Seniors and Elderly Adults Should Respond to a Fire Emergency
If a fire is beyond prevention and what you can safely extinguish, it’s time to set an escape plan in motion. Furthermore, it’s better to know your escape plan and emergency exits before the smoke even appears.
Here are a few ways to do just that:
- Contact your local fire department for basic fire safety information and how to create an escape plan for your home.
- Make sure each floor in your home has doors or large windows that can be easily opened and lead you to the outside.
- Have at least two escape routes for every room.
- Equip your window wells with small ladders or stepping stools.
- Practice regular fire drills to get out of your home safely.
- Stay calm and get to your nearest exit if a fire breaks out. Stay low to the floor to avoid smoke inhalation.
- Know where to go in advance. A few ideas include a neighbor’s house or a large tree on the edge of the property.
- Seniors residing in apartment and high-rise buildings, assisted living communities, or independent living homes should study their facility’s fire safety plan and know all possible escape routes.
- If you can’t get out of your home, do your best to block all cracks and crevices that let smoke into your room. Get 911 personnel on the phone immediately and be prepared to direct firefighters toward you.
Infographic: Fire Safety and Prevention for Older Adults
Share on Your Site With This Code: <a href="https://www.grayingwithgrace.com/fire-safety-tips-for-the-elderly/"><img style="width:100%;" src="https://www.grayingwithgrace.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Fire-Safety-and-Prevention-for-Older-Adults-infographic.jpg"></a><br>Design by: <a href="https://www.grayingwithgrace.com">Graying With Grace</a>
Summary and Final Recommendations
Fire safety should be a common practice for older people, just like any plan for medical issues or fall prevention.
Keep your home updated with all necessary fire safety equipment to reduce the chance of a fire casualty or fire-related deaths. Consult with your local fire department to receive the latest education for keeping yourselves and others safe.
- Fire safety for older adults. (2018). FEMA. U.S. Fire Administration. https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/fa_221.pdf
- National Fire Protection Association https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Specific-groups-at-risk/Older-adults
- Consumer Product Safety Commission https://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Older-Adult-Safety