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Expert tips to protect elderly loved ones from deadly house fires


House fires pose a terrifying risk for all Australians, but elderly individuals face amplified dangers that make them disproportionately vulnerable.

To learn more about specific risks and how we can better safeguard our ageing loved ones, Healthcare Channel has spoken with fire safety expert and Brooks Australia CEO Cathy Brand.

As she explained, “They are more vulnerable as a third of fatalities in residential fires are people aged over 65 years old. Often those in this age bracket are hard of hearing and often sleep without hearing aids, with over half (64.3%) of house fires occur between the hours of 8pm-8am the vulnerability is increased.”

Cathy emphasised the inability to smell smoke while asleep as a key factor, noting “So if they can’t hear the smoke alarm and can’t smell the smoke, it really places the elderly in a very dangerous situation.”

On top of potential mobility and cognitive limitations associated with ageing, these compounding risks create a perilous scenario requiring proactive planning and preventative measures.

So what steps can families take to protect elderly loved ones?

Related: Research reveals concerns over elderly safety during housefire amid winter season

Cathy stressed the importance of practice, making escape plans routine to enable quick responses amidst crisis. She advised, “Testing your smoke alarm so you know and trust it is not a false alarm and you know what the sound is.”

With less than 10% of Australians testing monthly, there is massive room for improvement.

Visual and physical alerts are also critical considerations, with Cathy noting, “A residential small fire has the ability to engulf an entire room in as little as three minutes, leaving very little time to escape. We need to have the earliest warning possible.”

The importance of both physical and visual alerts in the home, especially in the bedroom, could mean the difference between life and death.

“You can’t smell smoke while you’re sleeping and almost three-quarters (72%) of fatal house fires start in the bedroom or living area and only one in two have smoke alarms installed in their bedrooms,” Cathy said.

Innovative alarms like strobe lights and vibrating pads linked to smoke detectors allow precious extra seconds to wake up and escape, making all the difference for vulnerable groups. Simple proactive steps today could prevent tragedy tomorrow.

In terms of practical tips, Cathy recommended the following to ensure fire safety at home:

  • Install a wall test locate button on the wall so elderly individuals can test smoke alarms monthly without having to try and reach the ceiling. Only working smoke alarms save lives.
  • Install a smoke alarm in the bedroom, the elderly are very vulnerable at night
  • Install a portable or hardwired visual alert
  • Have a written and routinely practised home escape plan
  • Don’t overload power points and power boards
  • Regularly checking electrical leads for damage and faults
  • Turn off electric blankets and heaters when you’re not at home and before getting into bed
  • Turn off unused electrical appliances

By enacting these common-sense steps and having open discussions with our elderly loved ones, we can dramatically improve their safety during fire emergencies.

Let us all take action to protect those most vulnerable. Their lives may depend on it.

Read also: Chronic pain: The hidden health crisis impacting millions of Australians


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