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FIRE SAFETY FOR OLDER ADULTS: EXPERT TIPS FROM LONDON FIRE BRIGADE

In this post we ask some expert solicitors about granting Powers of Attorney over someone if or when they are unable to make decisions themselves. This brief overview will help explain some concepts and some important considerations that may need to be considered.

Fire safety around the home is a top priority for older adults. It requires careful consideration of the unique challenges that older people can face, such as reduced mobility, sensory impairments, and medical conditions. In this post, we’ll answer some common FAQs about fire safety around the home and include top safety tips from Darren Long of the London Fire Brigade.

Heaters

Portable heaters can offer a much-needed source of heat around the home. They are generally safe to use, but only if they’re in good condition and are used correctly

Can you use portable heaters to dry clothes?

No, portable heaters are not safe to use for drying clothes.

Darren advises never covering them with anything (e.g. clothes) as this can block the airflow to the device, which could cause overheating and result in the clothes or the device catching fire.

Portable heaters are safest when they’re at least a metre away from flammable objects or materials (such as furniture, curtains, clothing, etc.) and from anyone using them, as they can cause burns if someone is too close to them for too long.

Is it safe to use wall-mounted radiators to dry clothes?

Generally, wall-mounted heaters such as radiators are much safer for drying clothes than portable heaters.

However, Darren would encourage using airers or a clothes horse instead. Although not a fire safety issue, Darren suggests that drying clothes on radiators can increase moisture levels in the air, which can create mould quicker than when items are air dried.

Chargers and extension cables

Extension cables and devices left on charge can cause a potential fire safety risk if misused.

Extension adapters and cables

The older, square block adapters can be particularly hazardous. They’re more prone to damage with constant use and can cause arcing (which generates sparks and can lead to a fire). Darren says that the London Fire Brigade discourages members of the public from using block adapters.

Instead, flat extension cables are safer, so long as they’re being used correctly. However, they present a fire safety risk when they are overloaded. This can happen when too many devices are being used at once or when a chain of extension cables has been created (where extension cables are plugged into each other).

Is it safe to leave devices on charge overnight?

No, Darren advises against leaving devices to charge overnight where possible. When items are charging, they emit heat and can become a fire risk. This is especially true for devices that have been left to charge near clothing, bedding, or other flammable materials.

Darren recommends only using the correct charger from the correct brand or manufacturer. He also suggests avoiding buying cheaper alternative chargers and cables, as these are often the culprits when devices overheat and cause a fire.

Overnight safety

In addition to not leaving devices to charge overnight, Darren has some other fire safety tips for ensuring that older individuals are safe when they go to sleep.

Unplug portable heaters

Portable heaters shouldn’t be left on overnight. Some heaters can only be used for a certain number of hours at a time and can pose a risk of overheating if left on for too long. There’s also the risk of burns and flammable materials, such as bedding or curtains catching fire while an individual is asleep.

Are electric blankets safe to use?

Electric blankets are a safer alternative to portable heaters for keeping an older adult warm overnight. Darren advises regular testing to ensure the blanket is safe. It’s also essential to store electric blankets correctly – gently rolling them up instead of folding them tightly – to prevent damaging the heating filaments. Hot water bottles shouldn’t be used with electric blankets.

Turn off electrical items

Unplugging devices that don’t need a constant supply of electricity overnight is a good step to take to prevent overnight fire hazards. Items such as TVs, radios, DVD players, etc., as well as anything on charge, should be turned off at the plug (or unplugged completely) to prevent them from overheating during the night.

Whilst it’s advisable that devices aren’t left on charge overnight, having a charged mobile phone in the bedroom at night is a good idea in case the older individual needs to call for help or assistance.

Ensure cigarettes and candles are properly extinguished

Leaving a candle burning or a cigarette smouldering in an ashtray can pose a severe fire risk. Ensure the candles have been properly blown out and cigarettes have been extinguished before the older individual goes to bed. It’s also worth considering rinsing an ashtray out rather than tipping it in the bin, as there could still be enough heat to start a fire in the rubbish.

Close internal doors

Closing internal doors, for example, to the main living space, kitchen and bedroom, can help slow the spread of a fire if one starts.

In the kitchen

Cooking can become particularly hazardous for older adults, especially if they have issues with strength, mobility, or cognitive impairment. Here are the top tips for fire safety in the kitchen.

Never leave cooking unattended

Leaving something on the stove, no matter the cooking method, can be a serious safety risk. If a distraction arises, such as the phone ringing or someone at the door, the hob should be turned off and the cooking placed safely to the side.

Keep the oven area clear

If an older person struggles with mobility, they may be tempted to keep their utensils and cooking accessories within reach when using the hob. While this may seem practical, anything flammable being kept too close to the oven presents a fire risk. Ensure items such as tea towels, aprons, wooden spoons, oven gloves, etc., are stored safely away from cooking appliances. Nothing flammable should be left to dry on top of the grill (or over any other heated kitchen appliance).

Consider additional safety measures

Some older individuals may live independently but only be safe to cook with aid or supervision. In these instances, additional safety measures may be required to ensure they cannot operate the oven or other kitchen appliances when they’re alone. Darren recommends speaking to an electrician to see if a lock or safety switch can be implemented as an additional safety measure.

Which fire safety equipment should you have around the home?

Prevention is a crucial step in minimising the risk of a fire. However, safety equipment should be implemented around the home in case a fire were to start.

Smoke detectors and alarms

Darren recommends having a smoke alarm on each level of the house. For example, on the ground floor, first floor, etc.

Alarms should be fitted in areas such as hallways and at the top of the stairs. They should be placed centrally on the ceiling if fitted in a room.

Avoid fitting a smoke detector in the kitchen area, as this will likely set off the alarm unnecessarily. Instead, a heat detector can be fitted in the kitchen, which sets off the alarm when a certain temperature is detected.

Are there alarms for individuals with hearing impairments?

Yes, if an older individual suffers from hearing loss or impairment, specialist devices are available.

Some alarms can set off strobe lighting to signal to the homeowner that smoke has been detected. There are also devices that can be placed under a pillow at night to set off a vibration alert, as well as strobe lighting.

Individuals themselves can purchase these sorts of devices, or you can contact the London Fire Brigade to arrange for them to be installed.

What about carbon monoxide detectors

Darren recommends that every household have a carbon monoxide detector, especially if the property’s boiler is old and needs replacing. The detectors should be placed near the boiler.

How often should you check fire alarms and detectors?

Ideally, all fire alarms and detectors should be checked weekly. As the devices are typically up high or on the ceiling, it may be best for the older individual to ask a care assistant or family member to check for them. Something like a broom handle or an umbrella can be used to press the button to check the device is working.

Should older adults have fire extinguishers and fire blankets in their homes?

Advice about having fire extinguishers and fire blankets in the home has changed over the years. Darren and the London Fire Brigade no longer encourage people to have these in their homes. This is because people who are not confident using them can become injured while trying to do so. For older people, attempting to tackle a fire themselves could waste valuable time in terms of getting to safety.

Darren advises leaving the room with the fire, shutting the door to the room if possible, making your way out of the property to safety and calling the fire brigade.

Escape routes

Older individuals must have a clear and safe escape route out of a property in the event of a fire. If they are physically able to escape, they should do so.

Keeping door keys close by at nighttime, such as on a nightstand, is also vital to aid a swift escape in an emergency.

If an individual has mobility issues and is trapped (for example) in their bedroom, Darren advises shutting the bedroom door, calling 999, and awaiting rescue from the fire brigade. If they can do so, the individual should block any gaps at the bottom of the door to prevent smoke from entering the room. It is advisable to make their way over to a window and open it to allow fresh air in if possible.

Should older adults try and escape through a window?

Darren advises that older individuals shouldn’t try to exit their properties through a window, especially if they are on the first floor (or above). Once called, the London Fire Brigade aims to attend a fire within five to eight minutes and can assist older and vulnerable adults in exiting the property safely.

What’s the best way to inform the fire brigade about vulnerable adults living at a property?

The best way to notify the fire brigade that a vulnerable older adult lives at a property is by requesting a home fire risk assessment from the London Fire Brigade. Smoke alarms can be fitted, and general safety tips can be provided as part of the assessment.

If an older resident has mobility issues or a hearing impairment, this can be noted during the assessment and added to the fire brigade’s database. In the event of a fire at the property, the fire brigade will be fully aware of the individual’s vulnerabilities.

You can call the London Fire Brigade’s fire safety team on 0800 0284428 to arrange a risk assessment. If necessary, the assessment can be conducted with a carer or family member present.

If you’re worried about a loved one’s long term welfare, do get in touch with a care professional at Comfort Care At Home.

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