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Prioritize the Fire Safety Needs of Older Adults

It's Time to Prioritize the Fire Safety Needs of Older Adults

By Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.

Rhode Island Probate Services
Attorney RJ Connelly III

As the holiday season approaches, the Northeastern region of the United States is experiencing a gradual drop in temperature, and soon, the first snowfall is expected. With the arrival of colder weather, the risk of house fires increases, which poses a significant threat to seniors in the community.

"Seniors face a higher risk of fire-related incidents due to a host of factors that do not affect younger adults," stated professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "Physical weakness and a slower mental response make it challenging for seniors to identify and respond to a fire emergency. Cognitive changes can be more hazardous than physical ones because seniors may not even realize that they are in danger when a fire starts. Further, they often engage in behaviors that increase the risk of a fire, such as smoking or using electrical appliances without taking sufficient safety measures."

Alcohol use and the side effects of certain prescribed medications can further exacerbate the problem. "As most seniors are on fixed incomes, they often cannot afford the necessary improvements to reduce the risk of fire as they become more dependent on using devices and outside agencies to live independently," said Attorney Connelly. "Because of this, seniors require more assistance from family members to put safety measures in place and require more frequent check-ins to ensure their well-being."

During the winter season, we can safeguard the safety and well-being of seniors by taking necessary precautions and implementing safety measures. Let's review some safety issues seniors may face.

Massachusetts Probate Services
Home fires can be deadly


According to statistics, fires caused by smoking are the leading cause of death for seniors. It is essential to take measures to prevent such incidents, especially if a loved one is a smoker. One of the most crucial steps is to stress to them the importance of not smoking in bed. It is also vital to advise them never to leave smoking materials unattended, whether they are smoking indoors or outdoors. Additionally, all ashtrays that may be in the house must be deep and emptied on a regular basis to prevent any chance of fire. By taking these precautions, we can help ensure the safety of our seniors and prevent any tragic incidents from happening.


Cooking fires can be extremely dangerous, especially for older adults, as they are a major cause of fire injuries in this age group. It is crucial to emphasize to seniors that they must never leave cooking food unattended. Even if they need to step away for just a minute, they should turn off the stove to prevent any accidents from happening.

To be prepared in case of an emergency, keep lids nearby so that if a pan catches fire, they can quickly and carefully slide the lid on it and turn off the stove. Additionally, mounting a fire extinguisher in the kitchen is highly recommended. It should be checked monthly to make sure it is in good condition and has sufficient pressure.

Seniors should be reminded not to wear loose clothing when cooking. A dangling sleeve or scarf can easily catch fire, so it's best to wear close-fitting clothes. Additionally, towels and potholders should be kept away from the stove to avoid any accidental fires.

Finally, it's important to clean the exhaust hood and the duct over the stove regularly to prevent the buildup of grease and other flammable materials. This can significantly reduce the risk of a fire starting in the kitchen.

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Space Heaters

If you are using space heaters to heat specific areas of your home, there are some important safety precautions to keep in mind. First, ensure that your space heater has been tested and certified by a recognized safety organization. Additionally, you should never leave a space heater unattended while it's in use, and you should be sure to keep it away from flammable materials such as curtains, bedding, and furniture. Your space heater needs to be on a level, stable surface, and avoid using extension cords or power strips with your heater. Finally, make sure to turn your space heater off when you leave the room or go to bed, and don't use it as your primary source of heat. By following these guidelines, you can safely and effectively use space heaters to keep your home comfortable.

Smoke Detectors

Make sure that your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are in proper working condition to ensure the safety of your family and property. It is recommended to conduct regular checks on these devices and replace them every five years on average. To determine if your detectors are still functional, check the date of installation and replace them if they are past their recommended lifespan. Taking these simple steps can help prevent potential fire hazards and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
This sign should be posted

Oxygen Tanks

If you or someone in your household is using oxygen tanks or compressors, it is important to have a sign on your front door that clearly states that such equipment is in use. This will alert first responders and emergency personnel in case of an emergency, and they will be able to take necessary precautions to prevent any potential hazards or accidents. Oxygen tanks and compressors can be dangerous if not handled properly, and having a sign on your door can significantly reduce the risk of harm to both you and the first responders who arrive at your location. Ensuring that your sign is visible and clearly indicates the presence of such equipment is a small but important step in ensuring your safety and the safety of those around you.

Cleaning Products

It's important to remember that some cleaning products and hand sanitizers can contain flammable substances such as alcohol and other chemicals. Therefore, it's crucial to keep these items away from heat sources, such as stovetops, ovens, and candles, as well as other open flames like lighters and matches. Always store these products in a cool, dry place, and make sure to read the label before using them to ensure they're used safely.

Martha's Vineyard Probate Services
Keep the lint filter clean

Washer and Dryers

To ensure the efficient operation of your washer and dryer, it's essential to regularly check and clean the lint catcher in your dryer as well as the entire dryer venting system. This will prevent lint buildup, which can cause blockages and reduce the performance of your dryer. By cleaning these components regularly, you can also reduce the risk of a fire hazard and prolong the lifespan of your appliances. It's recommended to clean the lint catcher after each use and have a professional inspect and clean the venting system at least once a year.

Escape Planning

Creating an emergency escape plan is critical in ensuring the safety of seniors during dangerous situations. This is particularly important for seniors with disabilities, as they may need extra time to evacuate a hazardous area. A well-designed escape plan should take into account the senior's mobility limitations, as well as the potential hazards in the environment. In some cases, it may be helpful to label the escape route to make it easier for the senior to navigate. The plan should also include a designated meeting place where the senior can reunite with family or caregivers after leaving the hazardous area. It's important to review and practice the escape plan frequently to ensure that everyone involved knows the procedure well and can act quickly in case of an emergency.

Fire Extinguishers

Have fire extinguishers readily available in case of a fire emergency. It is important to be familiar with the proper usage of fire extinguishers. However, it is essential to keep in mind that if the fire is too extensive, the use of fire extinguishers may not suffice, and it would be safer to evacuate the premises. It is recommended to have an action plan in place in case of a fire emergency, including the establishment of safe escape routes and the designation of a meeting point outside the house.

Appliance Checks

Please ensure to inspect any older appliances that you plan to use, and also check the extension cords that will be used to power them. Verify that both the appliance and the extension cords are in good working condition to avoid any potential safety hazards.

Boston Probate Services
A clean heating system is important

Heating System

To ensure that your primary heating system operates at peak performance, conduct yearly maintenance and cleaning. This involves checking and replacing air filters, inspecting and cleaning ducts and vents, examining all mechanical components for wear and tear, and testing the efficiency of the system. By taking proactive measures to maintain your heating system, you can extend its lifespan, save money on energy bills, and ensure a comfortable living environment during colder months.

If a Fire Starts

In case of a fire emergency, it's critical to act fast and prioritize your safety above all else. Do not attempt to fight the fire on your own, as fires can grow rapidly and become overwhelming in a matter of seconds. Instead, immediately call 911 and give them your location and a brief description of the situation. If possible, exit the building and seek shelter at a safe distance from the fire. If you cannot safely exit, try to seal yourself in a room with a door and a window, and use a wet towel or clothing to block any gaps in the door to prevent smoke inhalation. Do not panic. Stay low to the ground and wait for assistance to arrive. If you have neighbors nearby, you may seek their assistance, but ensure that you prioritize your safety above all else.

Fall River Probate Services
Know what to do if a fire strikes

Elderly Housing

If you find yourself in elderly housing during a fire, avoid using elevators. Instead, use the stairs to evacuate the building as quickly and safely as possible. Elevators can be extremely dangerous during a fire, as they can malfunction or become trapped, leaving you stranded and unable to escape. In addition, elevators can quickly fill with smoke, which can be deadly. By using the stairs, you can avoid these dangers and get to safety much faster. Remember to stay calm and follow the instructions of any emergency personnel on-site.

Clothing Fire

In the event that your clothes catch fire, do not run or use your hands to try and pat out the flames. Running will only fan the flames and cause them to spread more quickly, potentially leading to more severe injuries. Additionally, using your hands to pat out the flames can result in burns to your hands and fingers. Instead, it is important to remember the "Stop, Drop, and Roll" technique. This involves stopping where you are, dropping to the ground, covering your face with your hands, and rolling over and over to smother the flames. This technique can help to extinguish the flames quickly and prevent further injury.

Rhode Island Probate Services
Burns on seniors need treatment


If you happen to get burns from a fire or a kitchen accident, take the necessary steps to avoid further damage and prevent infection. The first step is to run the affected area under cool water for at least 10 to 15 minutes. This will help to cool the burn and stop further damage from occurring. After that, gently pat the burn dry and cover it with a clean and sterile dressing. It is important not to apply any ointment, grease, or butter to the burn, as this can trap heat and make the burn worse.

Even if the burn seems minor, it is important to take extra precautions, especially for seniors who may have a compromised immune system. Seeking medical attention as soon as possible after a burn can help to reduce the risk of infection and ensure that the burn is properly treated. Remember, burns can be serious and should not be taken lightly.

A Final Word

"Fire incidents are a serious concern for older adults in the United States," said Attorney Connelly. "As our loved ones age, they face difficulties in maintaining their physical, mental, and emotional abilities, which makes it challenging for them to stay safe from fires. Unfortunately, age-related complications can increase the chances of an elderly person accidentally starting a fire and lower their survival chances should a fire occur. Making sure the home is safe and teaching them regularly about the dangers of fires and what to do if one occurs should be a part of providing comprehensive care for them."

As the number of older people in the country grows, the number of fire deaths among them is also likely to increase unless necessary steps are taken to reduce the risks associated with this group. Those who provide services to seniors in the home, such as caretakers, home health aides, social workers, and others, need to prioritize the fire safety needs of older adults to avoid a potential tragedy.

Rhode Island Probate Services

Please note that the information provided in this blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The content, materials, and information presented in this blog are solely for general informational purposes and may not be the most up-to-date information available regarding legal, financial, or medical matters. This blog may also contain links to other third-party websites that are included for the convenience of the reader or user. Please note that Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. does not necessarily recommend or endorse the contents of such third-party sites. If you have any particular legal matters, financial concerns, or medical issues, we strongly advise that you consult your attorney, professional fiduciary advisor, or medical provider for advice.

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