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Senior Lifestyles

Fire safety important for seniors

7/4/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

The kitchen is the most important place to have a smoke alarm, according to Akron Fire Department Capt. Al Bragg, but he also recommends putting one in every bedroom, since that is the second most common place for a fire to start.
Photo courtesy of MetroCreativeConnection
GREATER AKRON — Older adults are more likely to die in a fire than any other age group, which public safety officials said makes it very important for them to be prepared in case of a home fire.

According to the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) April 2013 report on home fires, which looked at statistics from 2007 to 2011, people 85 and older were 3.6 times as likely as the overall population to die in a home fire. For all people 65 or older, the relative risk was 2.4 times that of the overall population. Adults in the 50-64 age group were 1.4 times as likely to die in a home fire as the overall population, according to the NFPA.

Capt. Al Bragg, fire marshal with the Akron Fire Department (AFD), said older adults are at risk for several reasons.

“Older adults may not be able to respond or they need extra time, and that’s a critical element,” Bragg said. “Another issue older adults face is they may have certain medical conditions that make them more susceptible to the products of combustion, such as smoke and deadly gases.”

Bragg said older adults could also face more serious problems from even a small burn compared to younger people.

Bragg and Copley Fire Department fire/medic Jeff Varga, who heads up that station’s community outreach, said working smoke alarms are one of the best defenses against home fires.

Varga said if a homeowner does not have smoke alarms, they should add them, with at least one per floor recommended. It’s also recommended that smoke alarms be placed in all sleeping areas of a house.

Bragg said the kitchen is the most important place to have a smoke alarm, but he also recommends putting one in every bedroom, if possible, since that is the second most common place for a fire to start.

“By not having a smoke alarm in a bedroom, you are putting yourself at risk,” he said. “People have electric blankets, space heaters; they iron clothes, have a television, lamps, curling irons — all those things start fires. Yet most people don’t have a smoke alarm there, and they have been proven to more than double your chances of surviving a fire.”

Homeowners should test their smoke alarms monthly, Varga said, and the batteries should be replaced twice a year. He recommends replacing batteries when clocks are changed twice a year.

For those who do have smoke alarms, Varga said it’s important to replace them after a few years, even if it appears they are in good condition. It’s best to go by the manufacturer’s recommendation, he said.

“You never want to go over 10 years, but normally it’s a five- to seven-year mark,” he said. “There are sensors in there and they get dirty, and you can’t always get them clean. So even if looks good and sounds good, you need to replace them.”

Varga recommended looking for photoelectric smoke alarms over ionized.

“They are shown to react quicker,” Varga said.

In the past there have been some programs that distributed alarms free to senior citizens. Varga said Copley Health Center donated 75 smoke alarms to the township, and he has been giving them to elderly homeowners who need them. He said he has a few left.

Varga also recommended having a fire extinguisher or two in the home.

“If you have an extinguisher, you can slow fire down or try to put it out,” he said.

The ones sold at local hardware stores are inexpensive and specially made for home use, he added, and do not need servicing. They are good for a few years.

Bragg said the AFD presents a program in the community for seniors called “Avoiding Recipes for Disaster” that focuses on safe cooking practices to help avoid a fire.

“Cooking fires are by far the No. 1 cause of fire,” Bragg said. “We put this together to basically teach seniors how to cook safely.”

The program presents tips such as never cook after taking a medication that can cause drowsiness. For more information on having the program presented for a group, call 330-375-2211.

Bragg also recommends that seniors remember the “3-foot rule.”

“Anything that can burn should be at least 3 feet away from anything that can cause it to burn, such as a furnace, water heater, clothes dryer or stove,” he said.

In addition, he recommended that younger family members work with older adults to practice exit drills in the home.

To view the NFPA report, go to www.nfpa.org/homefires.

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