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Eight fire safety tips for elderly relatives

Government research shows that fire fatalities are more common in the elderly than any other age group.

April 04, 2022

Elderly man warming hands by fire

If you have an elderly relative who lives independently but is perhaps not as mobile or capable as they once were, their safety when you’re not with them can be a real worry.

Protecting your loved one from as many risks and hazards as you can, while still helping them to live as independently as possible can feel like a bit of a challenge. One of these areas of concern might be fire safety. UK government research shows that fire fatalities are more common in the elderly than any other age group.

The same data, taken from emergency fire service responses in 2019 to 2020, shows that the majority of fires in the home start due to a mishap with cooking appliances, faulty appliances and leads, misuse of equipment or appliances or from smoking or candles.

In this article, we look at some of the ways in which you can help your elderly relative put in place effective fire prevention precautions which can give you both greater peace of mind by reducing the risk of a fire breaking out in the home.

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Fire safety in the home for the elderly

There are a wide variety of different potential causes of a fire in the home; we look at some of the most common fire hazards and provide tips for how to minimise these risks for your elderly relative.

1. Taking extra care when cooking

Around half of all house fires start because of cooking or a cooking appliance, so it’s essential that care is taken when preparing and heating food. Talking to your relative about fire safety in the kitchen could help them become more mindful of potential hazards there, such as:

  • Leaving pans on the hob with their handles sticking out, where they could easily be knocked off the stove
  • Leaving pans on the heat or food under the grill unattended, even if just for a couple of minutes
  • Leaving potentially flammable kitchen items, such as tea towels or cleaning cloths, close to the hobs or other open flames
  • Accidently leaving the oven on when the cooking is finished
  • Having a build-up of fat and grease in the oven, on or near to the hobs or the grill, as this can ignite a fire
  • Using lots of fat or oil when cooking e.g., deep fat fryers or chip pans, which can easily splash hot fat or ignite suddenly if they get too hot

Frying pan fire risk

Taking simple precautions such as giving tea towels a designated hook away from the cooker, cleaning the cooking surfaces regularly and talking to your elderly relative about some of the potential dangers in the kitchen occasionally can help to minimise the risk of a fire starting in this room.


2. Fire safety for heating/fireplaces

Portable heater fire risk

When using portable heaters (such as electric, gas bottle or halogen heaters), or fireplaces with open flames or even wood burners, all it can take to cause a fire is something ignitable being placed nearby, which can easily happen if your elderly relative is trying to dry some laundry or places a heater too close to furniture or soft furnishings. Open fires can spit out burning embers if not appropriately guarded and a build-up of soot in a chimney can also cause a house fire.

It’s important for your loved one to be aware of these risks and follow some simple rules if they use portable heaters:

  • Always use heaters on a flat surface to minimise the chance they will fall over easily
  • Keep heaters at least a metre away from anything flammable, such as furniture, curtains, clothing etc.
  • Don’t sit or stand next to a heater – keep at least a metre of space between
  • Don’t ever use a heater that is damaged or faulty
  • Don’t ever use a portable heater to dry your laundry
  • Don’t ever cover a portable heater when it’s plugged in
  • When using a portable gas heater, having a carbon monoxide alarm in the same room is essential

The portable heaters with the lowest fire risk are oil-filled heaters, as these have no exposed heating elements, but extra care should still be taken when using them, and due to the risk of serious burns, they should never be moved until cold.


3. Check plug sockets aren’t overloaded

In some homes, especially where the electrics might be a little older and there perhaps aren’t as many plug sockets as in many modern properties, it can be easy to use electrical extension leads or adaptors to increase the number of things you’re able to plug in at once. However, overloading plug sockets with too many appliances or devices can be a fire risk, as the excessive electricity they draw carries heat that can cause ignition.

Overloaded plug fire risk

It's important to check that the appliances plugged into an extension lead or adaptor don’t exceed the maximum rating. This could be anywhere from 5 Amps to 13 Amps and should be clearly marked on the bottom of the lead’s sockets.

It’s also important not to plug an extension lead into another extension lead, and never use a socket or extension lead that is damaged or shows any sparks, smoke, melted plastic, scorch marks or if a burning smell is noticed.


4. Take extra care if your relative is a smoker

Smoking cigarettes or pipes is a fire risk as it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether it has completely gone out when finished. Smoking in areas of the home close to furniture and soft furnishings is especially high risk, such as smoking in bed or while seated in the living area, as one tiny ember that hasn’t been stubbed out can easily cause a fire. It’s not uncommon for some elderly people to fall asleep before they have put out their cigarette properly in these settings, or a fire can also ignite if an ash tray is emptied into a bin whilst there are still lit embers.


Simple fire safety checks for elderly relatives

As well as trying to limit the risks of the most common fire hazards in your loved one’s home, there are also some straightforward checks that should be done to ensure that if a fire does start, there are clear and early warnings and that the fire is less likely to spread quickly.  These can include:

5. Check that there are adequate smoke alarms fitted

There should be a smoke alarm fitted on every floor of your elderly relative’s home to help ensure that if there is a fire, they are alerted as quickly as possible to enable them to get out of the property.

Smoke alarms should be regularly tested to ensure they are working properly, and batteries should be replaced when needed, usually anywhere between every 12-months to every few years, depending on the model.

If your elderly relative has mains-powered smoke alarms, they should have a backup battery so they will still work in the event of a power cut.

For those who have hearing or vision loss, there are options available for smoke alarm assistive devices. For example, a vibrating alarm for under the pillow that is designed to wake someone with hearing loss if their smoke alarm goes off at night.


6. Check if they might benefit from monitored smoke alarm systems

Smoke alarm

If you’re worried about your loved one perhaps not being able to hear a smoke alarm or are concerned about the risk if no one is at home when a fire could start, monitored smoke alarms could be an ideal solution.

A monitored smoke alarm service means that the alarms installed in the property are connected to the 24/7 emergency resolution team so if smoke is detected, the alert is automatically raised. The batteries last for up to 10 years and will notify the Taking.Care’s team when they require replacing.

When combined with a personal alarm, worn around the neck or wrist, that the elderly person can use if they ever need assistance, suffer a fall or have any kind of emergency, the monitored home sensors and alarm can provide additional peace of mind for the individual and the wider family.

We also offer additional safety sensors including home temperature monitors, which can raise the alert if the temperature of the home increases beyond what is normal, as would happen should a fire break out.


7. Check for clutter that might increase the risk of a fire spreading quickly

If the worst happens and fire does break out in someone’s home, having lots of flammable things close together can help the fire spread more quickly, so making sure that cluttered areas are always cleared can help reduce this risk and could buy vital time for your relative to get out of their home and away from danger.

Ensuring that any hallways, corridors and the stairs are free from obstructions and trip hazards can also be a huge help if there is a fire and your loved one needs to get out of the house quickly and safely, as well as reducing the risk of a fall at home in normal daily life.

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8. Ensure your relative knows what to do if there is a fire

In the event of a fire, it’s essential that your loved one knows what they need to do in order to get out of the property as quickly and safely as possible. This will depend on the specific layout of your family member’s home and where the fire is located, but it’s vital to have an escape plan that they are familiar with so that they can take action if needed.

The Leicestershire Fire Service have a useful guide that you can talk through with your loved one to work out the best plan for the fire emergency exit route.


Help create a safe home environment for elderly relatives

The safety of your elderly relative’s home environment can be a very real concern for family members, especially if they live alone. Taking steps to minimise any fire risks and other hazards that could cause them harm is one way to help. Another way could be talking to your loved one about getting a personal alarm which might help them feel more confident going about their normal life independently, knowing that assistance is right there at any time of the day or night if it’s needed.

Combining a personal alarm with home sensors and monitored smoke alarms can add another layer of protection to provide more peace of mind, with the knowledge that you’re doing everything possible to help your loved one safely live life on their own terms in the environment that they are most comfortable in.

Home monitoring systems

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure