Every night on the news it seems as if we hear about yet another deadly blaze and all too often it’s the elderly who are victims. Older people, who often have decreased mobility, are particularly at risk of injury. Once you’re over 65, your chances of dying in a fire increase dramatically over the rest of the population. But there are steps you can take to keep you and your home much safer from fire.
Most fires occur at night, when you’re sleeping. This is why a smoke detector with an alarm loud enough to wake you is so vital; it can cut your risk of dying in a fire by half. Have it just outside your bedroom and test it monthly, as well as at least one on each floor of your house (make sure the alarm has a British Kitemark and conforms to BS 5446). Replace them every 10 years.
It’s tempting to keep electrical flexes against the wall, but be careful – they can get hot and start a fire. If you like a portable heater to warm up your bedroom, keep it three feet away from any fabric and make sure you always turn it off before you go to sleep.
Electric blankets give a wonderful feeling, but they wear out. Replace them every ten years. Check them regularly too and if there’s any fraying, an exposed element, scorch marks, or anything that looks even slightly wrong, replace them – it’s a lot better than having them start a fire. Turn the blanket off before you get into bed unless it can specifically be left on.
Kitchen fires are one of the leading causes of death for people over 65 and the majority of house fires begin in the kitchen. Make sure you keep a smoke detector there and test it regularly. Always have both a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket handy. Make sure anything fabric, like tea towels and particularly your own sleeves, stay clear of the burners; it only takes a second for something to ignite.
It’s easy to forget to turn off the stove or the hob, or just leave a pan sitting on the burner. The best advice is to use a timer when you’re cooking. If you’re taking medications that leave you drowsy, don’t cook after taking them.
Don’t panic if a pan catches fire. Turn off the burner and slide a lid on the pan (always use a pot holder). Keep the lid there until everything cools. If it’s your chip pan, never use water on it. Instead, smother the flames with a damp towel – or preferably the fire blanket – then call 999 and leave the house.
The golden rule is – don’t overload plugs or extension cords. If one of your plugs smells strange or starts giving off smoke or sparks, shut it off and call an electrician. Always make sure cords are in places where people won’t trip over them.If an appliance overheats, shut it off, then have someone qualified come and take a look at it – do the same if your fuses start blowing for no obvious reason. Make sure you turn off all non-vital appliances before bed (leave the fridge on, of course). Finally make sure every appliance has the proper fuse.
If you use a fireplace, have the chimney cleaned annually and keep a fire guard on the hearth to stop burning embers igniting your carpet.
With central heating, have the boiler checked every year and bleed the radiators regularly. Portable heaters should be kept at least three feet from anything combustible.
We all know smoking is dangerous, but the fires it can start are the main cause of death for seniors. Use deep ashtrays and empty them often – and carefully. Never smoke in bed and never smoke whilst drinking alcohol or on medications that make you drowsy.
In case of fire, you need to know two ways out of your property. Develop an escape plan and practice it often enough that it’s imprinted on your mind – during a fire you might not have time to think clearly. If you do need to get out during a fire, go on all fours – the air’s clearer near the floor and smoke kills more people than burns. After you’ve got out, don’t think about going back in for anything.
Night Time Checklist
Every night before you go to bed, check you’ve switched off and unplugged everything you should (check the cooker too) and that all cigarettes are properly out. If you have a fireplace, make sure the guard is in place. Turn off your electric blanket and be certain all candles (if you use them) are doused. Close room doors to slow the spread of a possible fire.