7 Fire Safety Tips for Senior Residents

fire safety


Is Fire Safety Important in Senior Living Community Management?

Older Americans are a strong demographic in multifamily and senior living growth, but those 65 and older are particularly fragile when it comes to fire risk. With the holiday season upon us, properties that specialize in senior housing or have a large base of older renters may especially want to brush up on fire safety education.

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) says that older adults face the greatest relative risk of dying in a fire. In 2013, older adults represented 14 percent of the United States population but suffered 36 percent of all fire deaths. Also, older adults had a 2.5 times greater risk of dying in a fire than the total population. Ages 85 and over were 3.6 times more likely to die in a fire than the total population.

Fire safety officials say older adults have the gravest risk of dying or being injured by home fires. In recent months, the USFA and the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) has initiated campaigns to educate older adults and their caretakers.

Physical and mental limitations heighten risk of death, injury to fire

In an article published by a Michigan newspaper, guest columnist and fire safety instructor Lt. Tom Kiurski of the Brighton Area Fire Dept. says physical limitations and the decline of physical or mental capabilities can heighten the risk of older adults. Medication that affects alertness can compound the threat of danger.

Kiurski, a 30-year veteran of fire service, wrote that cooking can be particularly dangerous because older adults may forget they are working around a stove or oven and become distracted. They may also rest for a minute, find a cozy couch or chair and fall asleep.

He recommends that older adults stay in the kitchen while cooking or set a timer when walking away to let food simmer or bake. They should also take a spoon or spatula with them when leaving the kitchen to remind that they’re cooking.

Physical limitations and medications are also a factor, Kiurski says. Even if an older adult is in great shape, the ability to climb out of windows or jump to safety when an apartment unit or structure is on fire is usually more difficult than for a younger adult. USFA says that older adults are more likely to die in home fires, and that they may move more slowly or have trouble hearing a smoke alarm because of hearing loss.

fire safety

Education resources are available for protecting older adults

A number of educational resources are available that suggest tips to reduce the risk of deaths and injury to older adults because of fire. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) offers the Home Fire Safety for Older Adults Program Toolkit as well as videos and community education and outreach presentations. The importance of smoke alarms and fire escape planning are also reinforced.

USFA also has a comprehensive program to educate older adults. Below are suggested safety tips aimed specifically at older adults, and a great resource for multifamily and senior housing properties for educating residents:

1.Be a fire-safe smoker

Smoking is the No. 1 cause of home fire deaths across the country. You can prevent fires caused by cigarettes and other smoking materials. Also, smoke outside, don’t smoke in bed and never smoke after taking medicine that makes you tired. Do not smoke around medical oxygen because it can explode if a flame or spark is near.

2. Test smoke alarms

Without a smoke alarm, you may not wake up from the smoke, and it can kill you in your sleep. This is why home fires are the most dangerous at night or when people are sleeping. Test your smoke alarms once a month.  Use the test button to make sure your smoke alarms are working.

3. Make sure you can hear your smoke alarm

The standard smoke alarm sound does not wake some people. If you cannot hear your alarm, you may need an alarm that has a different sound or one that comes with a bed shaker or strobe light.

4. Make an escape plan around your abilities

You may have less than three minutes to get out of your home if there is a fire. It is important to have an escape plan before a fire occurs, so everyone is prepared and ready to act.

5. Think about your needs

If you need to use a wheelchair or a cane, make sure you can get to them easily and get out quickly. If you wear a hearing aid or eyeglasses, put them next to your bed while you are sleeping. Have a phone near the bed in case of an emergency and know the local emergency number in case of a fire. If you are trapped and cannot get out of your bedroom, you will need to call for help.

6. Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food

Use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.

7. Don’t overload electrical outlets or extension cords

More on electrical safety here.

For property managers, the focus of fire safety shouldn’t entirely be on older adults and other groups that are at risk – it should be on every resident. A number of other safety tips are available online and through your local fire department.


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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