The fire death rate trend for older adults (ages 65 and older) decreased 23% from 2005 to 2014. Though the trend in fire deaths has decreased for the older adult population, older adults face the greatest relative risk of dying in a fire (U.S. Fire Administration, 2014).
In 2014, older adults had a 2.6 times greater risk of dying in a fire than the population as a whole. Adults ages 85 and over were 4.1 times more likely to die in a fire than the total population (U.S. Fire Administration, 2014).
In fiscal year 2014, the Senior SAFE grant program was created in Massachusetts to address fire safety for older adults. The program was approved by the state legislature and is funded through the Fire Standard Compliant Cigarette Program.
This program provides funding to local fire departments to improve fire and life safety for older adults through education that addresses the unique fire risks of this age group. The Massachusetts Department of Fire Services lists 212 cities, towns and fire districts that are SAFE Grant Communities (Department of Fire Services, 2016).
Physical and mental changes that occur during the aging process may limit the ability of older adults to react quickly in an emergency. Changes in vision, hearing, sense of touch, memory, cognitive ability and mobility may impact safety (Department of Fire Services, 2016). Fire risks for this age group include:
- Use of home oxygen
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of residents in the United States what are 65 and older increased 9.7% between 2000 and 2010. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, “residential” was the leading property type for fire deaths (75.0%), fire injuries (78.0%) and fire dollar loss (52.1%) in 2014. People ages 85 or older have the highest fire death (44.5%) and injury (68.5%) rates (U.S. Fire Administration, 2014).
The Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills (COMM) Fire Department is one of five fire districts within the town of Barnstable, located on Cape Cod. Of the 42,000 residents who live in Barnstable, approximately 24,000 live in Centerville, Osterville or Marstons Mills. The percent of people age 65 and older is 29.2% (Town of Barnstable Census, 2016).
COMM FD has been providing fire protection and emergency services for the villages for over 85 years. The department has two firefighters assigned fulltime to fire-prevention duties. The department decided to expand its fire-prevention services; making it a goal to provide education and fire-prevention services especially to our senior population.
In 2014, the department applied for and received the Senior SAFE grant from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services. The expansion of services involves a home-safety visit for residents age 65 or older without charge. During a visit, the fire-prevention officer will provide any or all of the following services:
- Install battery operated smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
- Change batteries in alarms
- Install house numbers
- Check home for general fire safety
- Check home for slip and trip hazards
- Help residents organize their emergency medical information (File of Life)
- Provide residential lockboxes ($64.10) with information and order forms
Senior SAFE offers several benefits (Department of Fire Services, 2016):
- Training reduces anxiety and empowers older adults so they can react correctly to emergency situations.
- Fire departments and senior agencies partner together to help older adults stay safe in their homes and live more independently.
- Fire burns and deaths are reduced.
- Medical costs due to burn injuries and falls are reduced.
In the beginning of the program, COMM fire-prevention officers (FPOs) would visit the homes in the early evening, after normal business hours. Some homes required minimal installation of detectors and inspection and other homes required 1-2 hours to complete.
Because of this, they started scheduling an initial inspection during business hours so they could plan exactly what was required for the main visit. The FPOs are compensated at their overtime rate for doing inspections after hours. Here are the current results of the program:
- FY 2015
- Home visits: 122
- Smoke alarms installed: 46
- CO detectors installed: 74
- Lockbox installation: 40
- FY 2016
- Home visits: 144
- Smoke alarms installed: 69
- CO detectors installed: 90
- Lockbox installation: 40
- 2015 batteries replaced: 210
In the United States, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week on October 4-10, 1925. It’s observed on the Sunday through Saturday period that October 9 falls in, commemorating the Great Chicago Fire, which began October 8, 1871, but did most of its damage on October 9th. More than 250 people were killed (NFPA, 2017).
This month, take the time to look at what your department is doing for fire-prevention activities. Programs like Senior SAFE are just one activity we can take to make a difference in our communities.