Fire prevention tips for seniors

By Kieran C. O’Sullivan

Fire prevention & seniors

As a teenager, I witnessed a fire rage through a dwelling back in my native Kerry. A young child died tragically in the fire. I remember the heroic efforts of bystanders who tried to enter the house. The nearest fire engine was twenty miles away manned by part time staff. Bystanders who tried to act were beaten back by an inferno of flames and smoke and we were stunned by the loss of life and how quickly the fire grew and with such violent force.

In the US, every year over one thousand people over the age of 65 die as a result of a home fire. Compared to the rest of the population, the following facts are compelling:

· People between 65 and 74 are nearly two times as likely to die in a fire
· People between 75 and 84 are nearly four times as likely to die in a fire
· People age 85 and over are more than five times as likely to die in a fire.

These figures were published by “Prevent Fire Save Lives,” a fire safety campaign for people over the age of fifty. With simple enough steps, seniors can reduce the risk of death or injury from fire.


Careless smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths and the second leading cause of injuries among people ages 65 and older. Cigarettes when not properly extinguished continue to burn. When a resting cigarette is accidentally knocked over, it can smolder for hours before a flare-up occurs. The following are some simple suggestions:

• Never smoke in bed.
• Put your cigarette or cigar out at the first sign of feeling drowsy while watching television or reading.
• Use deep ashtrays and put your cigarettes all the way out.
• Don’t walk away from lit cigarettes and other smoking materials.


Heating is the second leading cause of fire death and the third leading cause of injury to people ages 65 and older. As we approach the fall and colder winter the following information is worth taking into consideration. During winter months, there are more home fires than any other time of year. Heating devices like space heaters and wood stoves make homes comfortable, but should be used with extreme caution. Many are intended only as a temporary source of heat, and may be dangerous to leave on for extended times or when sleeping.


Cooking is the third leading cause of fire deaths and the leading cause of injury among people ages 65 and older. It’s dangerous to wear loose clothing, walk away from a cooking pot on the stove, or leave flammable materials, such as potholders or paper towels, around the stove.

• Never leave cooking unattended. A serious fire can start in just seconds.
• Always wear short or tight-fitting sleeves when you cook. Keep towels, pot holders and curtains away from flames.
• Never use the range or oven to heat your home.
• Double-check the kitchen

Safety Tips:

• Smoke Alarms: Install a smoke alarm on every level of your home, test batteries every month and change them at least once a year.
• Home Fire Escape Plan: Develop and practice a fire escape plan regularly, at least twice a year. Always keep exits clear of debris.
• Home Fire Sprinklers: It is suggested that if at all possible, install residential sprinklers in your home. However this is perhaps an expense many seniors can ill afford.

Authors note: Some information in this article was previously published by the US Fire Administration/FEMA.