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Elder Issues Regarding Fire Safety

    

This page is intended to provide a central location for accessing information regarding fire safety and prevention that concerns older adults. Maine is a state that has a large elderly population, and many of these folks live in their own homes. Elderly people and young children have a higher risk of injury or death from fire than the rest of the population. In the case of the elderly, it is often due to lack of mobility, impairment due to medications, forgetfulness, or a hearing or visual impairment. The resources listed below can provide information on how to reduce the possibility of a fire and tips on how to assist elderly people with fire prevention, detection and escape.


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Smoking and General Fire Safety

 

Seniors are at greater risk for injuries or death in a fire because they may have trouble hearing a fire alarm or be able to escape a building, and elderly people who smoke and use medical oxygen have a higher risk of significant injuries or death if a fire occurs. Please review the following documents for more information on general fire prevention and smoking concerns.

 

Heating Safety

 

Many elderly people have trouble staying warm during the winter, as heating costs increase. As a result, they may try to use electric blankets, cooking stoves, kerosene heaters, and other devices to warm their homes. Many of these devices can be dangerous to a person's health and home if they are improperly used. The following links provide more information on these devices and their potential for creating fire or health hazards .

The Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) has several programs that can assist low-income people with home weatherization and heating programs. Weatherizing a house can reduce the amount of fuel needed to keep it warm, which could prevent elderly people from resorting to alternative sources of heat (as described above) to stay warm. Select the link to go to the MSHA's Energy page.

**A note from Maine State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas: The Fire Marshal Office recommends that if shrinkable film is placed over windows to seal air leaks during the winter, he recommends the film be placed over the outside of the window, rather than the inside as is usually done. If a person needs to escape from a fire through a window with film over it, they can break through the film more easily if it is on the outside of the window.

 

Elder Abuse Concerns, Including Neglect and Financial Issues

 

Elder abuse in Maine, and around the nation, is a growing problem as our population gets older. The abusers may be family members, caretakers or friends; and abuse may take the form of physical or emotional abuse, exploitation of the elder's financial resources or neglect. Select the link to go to the National Center for Elder Abuse for more information about abuse, how to identify it, and how to stop it.

How does this topic concern the Fire Service?

Law enforcement agencies and other first responders may encounter situations where an elderly person has been abused or neglected. As a result, they can help that person connect with community resources to ensure their health and safety. Select the link to go to the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Pevention for more information on what constitutes neglect of an elderly person.

  • Fire departments may discover a hoarding situation if they respond to a fire and cannot easily rescue a person or put out a fire due to the large accumulation of items in a house or apartment. The firefighters may also get injured or trapped by the items.

Hoarding issues are difficult to resolve, but they are a dangerous situation for people to live in: they may trip or fall over items; become sick as a result of mold, dust or vermin accumulated in the home; or are unable to escape a fire because of blocked exits or if the hoarded material allows the fire to burn too fast for escape.

Hoarding could be an indication of neglect on the part of the person responsible for an elderly person's care. Select this link to go to an information sheet about hoarding: Hoarding and the Fire Service (2 pages, 931 KB).

  • An elderly person may use alternative forms of heat to warm their homes if they are being financially exploited or neglected. People often don't want to talk about these issues if they are experiencing them, due to embarrassment or fear of retaliation. Firefighters or other first responders may discover this issue at a home if they respond to a fire or medical call which was caused by improperly using devices for heat (see previous section titled "Heating Safety" for safety tips and heating assistance). First responders who are unsure if the person is being abused but are concerned about them, can contact Adult Protective Services with the phone numbers provided in the following link: financial exploitation.

 

Cooking and Fire Safety

 

Every year many elderly people are burned or killed in fires that started when something went wrong while they were cooking. Please review the following documents for information on cooking safety.

 

Disabilities and Fire Escape Issues

 

Elderly people may have disabilities that limit their ability to detect and escape fires. The following documents provide more information on how to prepare for a fire if you have disabilities.

 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also has a website that provides information on fire safety outreach materials for older adults. Select the link to to go to FEMA's older adult outreach materials.


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