These words can be haunting: “I never thought it would happen to me!” But these are the words of the visibly shaken, frail 78-year-old lady as she watched the firefighters rush into her burning home. Although this was one of the worst days of her life, she had escaped the fire with no injuries. As a firefighter and serving in the fire service for 30 years, I would hear this phrase many times while serving the community. Hearing this phrase and seeing the destruction of home fires created a passion for preventing home fires and resulting deaths and injuries.
Knowing what to do in the event of a fire is particularly important for older adults. At age 65, people are twice as likely to be killed or
injured by fires compared to the population at large. And with numbers growing every year (adults age 65 and older make up about 12 percent of the population), it’s essential to take the necessary steps to stay safe and prevent fires from happening.
To increase fire safety for older adults, the National Fire Protection
Association (NFPA) offers the following safety tips and guidelines:
Keep it Low If you don’t live in an apartment building, consider sleeping in a room on the ground floor in order to make emergency escape easier. Make sure that smoke alarms are installed in every sleeping room and outside any sleeping areas. When looking for an apartment or high-rise home, look for one with an automatic sprinkler system. Sprinklers can extinguish a home fire in less time than it takes for the fire department to arrive.
Sound the Alarm Your ability to get out of your home during a fire depends on advance warning from smoke alarms and advance
planning. The majority of fatal fires occur when people are sleeping, and because smoke can put you into a deeper sleep rather than waking you, it´s important to have early warning of a fire to ensure that you wake up.
Do the Drill Conduct regular fire drills to make sure you know what to do in the event of a home fire. Fire drills are also a good opportunity to make sure that everyone is able to hear and respond to smoke alarms.
Open Up Make sure you are able to open all doors and windows in your home. Locks should open easily from inside. (Some apartment and high-rise buildings have windows designed not to open.) If you have security bars on doors or windows, they should have emergency release devices inside so that they can be opened easily. Check to be sure that windows haven’t been sealed shut with paint or nailed shut; if they have, arrange for someone to break the seals all around your home or remove the nails.
Stay Connected Keep a telephone nearby, along with emergency phone numbers so that you can communicate with emergency personnel if you’re trapped in your room by fire or smoke.
The mission of North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) is to provide “help for the journey” to individuals 65+ in ways that help them maintain their independence and enjoy quality of life. As part of our Priority #1: Prevention initiative, NCBAM offers smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to adults 65+ through a FEMA grant, Fire and Fall Prevention workshops, and Disaster Preparedness workshops.
Contact the NCBAM Call Center 877-506-2226 to schedule a workshop, fire prevention resources, or to request smoke alarms. With FEMA-funded alarms, NCBAM is available to help your church develop a smoke alarm ministry to your community.
Angie Gryder Gregg serves as far west regional director for North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry. She joined NCBAM after serving 30 years in the fire service with Blowing Rock Fire Department and the NC Office of State Fire Marshal and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Written by Angie Gryder Gregg, West Regional Director, North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry