I was reading some information put out by the United States Fire Administration on fire deaths in the age group of 50 years or older. I hit the big 5-0 this month, and I was wondering how much I changed in a year that put me in this high-risk category. Plus, because recent fire deaths in Savannah and the surrounding area included older adults, I dived in a little deeper.
My first thought was everyone in the USFA was a young college intern who thinks anyone over 30 needs help crossing the street. But I found the real reason is that at age 50, we are likely to be caring for an elderly parent or relative, which is why the fire service targets this large population in its fire safety campaign.
Each year, about 1,100 people age 65 and older die in fire-related deaths nationwide. In a study covering 1989-1998, the USFA found those age 65 and older are three times more likely to die in a home fire. In Georgia, that same figure is slightly higher at 3.5 times more likely. I thought that study was a little old, so I looked up some statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and did not find any good news. In 2005 — the latest data I can find — I stopped counting fire deaths at more than 1,500 for this age group.
Careless smoking was the leading cause of fire deaths and the second-leading cause of burn injuries in the 65-and-older population. Smoking was followed by cooking or kitchen fires, with cooking as the leading cause of burn injuries. The fire fatalities resulted from falling asleep during cooking or unattended cooking.
So how do we lower these statistics and have a safer home? I like to start with the basics: early detection. Install a smoke alarm on every floor of your home and, ideally, in every sleeping area, but most importantly make sure they work properly. Change your detector batteries twice a year; a good reminder is to change the batteries when you change your clocks for daylight savings time.
Of course, never leave the kitchen with the stove on and unattended, but also keep flammable towels and fabrics away from the burners. When you cook, avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing that can touch the burners and ignite. Unfortunately, this is the leading cause of burn injuries.
Have a fire extinguisher handy in every floor of the home, including the garage, and know how to use them. The fire department can provide training on how and when to use a fire extinguisher.
For a more comprehensive fire safety checklist, visit the fire station on Timber Trail in Richmond Hill, or check out the fire safety resources at www.usfa.fema.gov
Forelenza is a Richmond Hill firefighter.