Seniors and House Fires

The holidays will soon be upon us and here in the Northeast the cold weather is making its return. There is nothing more traditional in New England than a warm house as the winter snows pile up outside. But along with frigid temperatures come the dangers of house fires and no group is affected more by these tragedies than our seniors.

Seniors face more risk factors when it comes to fire that do not affect younger adults. Because they become physically weaker and mental responses slow down, this can make it harder to identify and respond to a fire emergency.

Cognitive changes can be more hazardous than physical ones because a senior may not even realize that they are in danger when a fire starts and they often engage in behaviors that increase the risk of a fire. Alcohol use and the side effects of certain prescribed medications can add to that problem.

As most seniors are on fixed incomes, they often cannot afford the improvements necessary to decrease the fire risk as they become more dependent on using devices and outside agencies to live independently. Because of this, seniors will need help from family members to put safety measures in place and require more well-being check-ins.

Let's take a look at the major causes of senior fire deaths and injuries.


Fires caused by smoking are the leading cause of deaths for seniors. If a loved one smokes, stress to them the importance of not smoking in bed. Advise them to never leave smoking materials unattended and that all ashtrays that may be in the house are deep and emptied on a regular basis.


Cooking fires are the number one cause of fire injuries among older adults. Emphasize that they must never leave cooking food unattended. If they need to step away, they should turn off the stove. Keep lids nearby so that if the pan catches fire, they can carefully slide the lid on it and turn off the stove. Mount a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and check the pressure gauge monthly. Also, remind seniors not to wear loose clothing when cooking: a dangling sleeve can easily catch fire. Keep towels and potholders away from the stove. Clean the exhaust hood and the duct over the stove regularly.

Space Heaters

If you are using space heaters to heat areas of your home, here are some things to be aware of:

  • Make sure the heaters that you purchase are certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory

  • Before using the heater this year, do a close inspection of the device. Look for broken plugs, loose connections and frayed or worn wire.

  • Make sure your heater has an automatic shutoff in case it tips over. Older heaters do not have this and should be replaced for your safety. With the new generation of space heaters, they are inexpensive and worth the small expenditure.

  • Plug the heater directly into the outlet. Do not use extension cords.

  • Do not use space heaters in damp areas such as the bathroom unless they are specifically made for such use

  • Never leave a space heater unattended

  • Allow three feet of space around a heater and make sure there are no flammable items in the area

  • Never use the oven or stove-top burners as heating sources should the furnace malfunction

Watch this video for some tips on using electric space heaters.

Here are some other tips;

  • Check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are working. These devices need to be replaced on average every five years. Check the date on your detector.

  • If you are using oxygen tanks or compressors, have a sign on your door stating that such equipment is in use. It can save the life of a first responder!

  • Cleaning products and hand sanitizers can sometimes contain flammable products. Keep them away from heat sources or open flames.

  • If you have a washer and dryer, make sure the dryer lint catcher is checked on a regular basis as well as the dryer venting system

  • Develop an emergency escape plan. This is especially important for seniors as leaving a dangerous area may take some time if they have a disability. In some cases, labeling the escape route may be a good idea

  • Have fire extinguishers present and make sure you know how to use them. However, make sure to understand that if the fire is too big, leave the house.

  • Check old appliance an extension cords

  • Make sure the main heating system is in good shape and has had its annual cleaning

If there is a fire, remember this;

  • Don’t try to fight it. Call 911 or go to a neighbor’s residence and ask for help. Fire grow rapidly, and you could become overwhelmed quickly

  • Get out fast and stay out. Do not return to gather property

  • Once you leave the burning area, close the door behind you to prevent a rapid spread.

  • If the house if filling with smoke, drop to the ground and crawl out. Put your hand over your mouth

  • If you are trapped, close all the doors between you and the fire and call 911

  • If you are in elderly housing, don’t use elevators.

If your clothes are on fire, do the following;

  • Don’t run or use your hands to try and pat out the flames. Running fans the flames and can spread the injury to other parts of your body

  • Drop to the ground and roll

  • Cover your face with your hands

If you have burns from a fire or a kitchen accident, do the following:

  • Run the burn under cool water as soon as possible. This stops further damage from occurring

  • Put a clean towel or rag on the burn.

  • Do not apply ointment, grease or butter to the burn

  • No matter how minor the burn is, seniors may have compromised immune systems and an infection could develop rapidly. Seek medical attention as soon as possible after a burn.

Connelly Law Office has developed a checklist and information packet to prepare should a fire or a natural disaster strike. This kit contains the most important information you will need to recover from such an event.

Please click on the form below to download your free packet for preparing for home emergencies and recovery planning kit from Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.

Let’s hope you never need it but it is always important to be prepared.

Attorney Connelly practices in the area of elder law. This area of law involves Medicaid planning and asset protection advice for those individuals entering nursing homes, planning for the possibility of disability through the use of powers of attorney for the both health care and finances, guardianship, estate planning, probate and estate administration, preparation of wills, living trusts and special or supplemental needs trusts. He represents clients primarily in the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) in 2008. Attorney Connelly is licensed to practice before the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Federal Bars.

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