MCFRS News Release
Reduce the Risks in 2006
Older Residents may be in Danger!
Addressing the increasing death rate among seniors in fires, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan recently signed an Executive Order creating a Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force charged with making recommendations to help solve issue of seniors dying in fires.
Before an audience of senior public safety activists, Commission on Aging members and Fire and Rescue (MCFRS) officials, including County Fire Chief Tom Carr, Duncan said, “Any loss of life is tragic, but it is even more so when that death could have been prevented. Prevention and safety first is what this task force is all about.”
“Since the beginning of 2005, up to the present, we have had six (6) fire-related deaths in Montgomery County,” Duncan said, “and all six victims were over the age of 75. This is why I’ve established the Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force that will put people to work addressing this specific problem and troubling trend.”
Retired Montgomery County Chief John Best will serve has staff liaison for Task Force. Best, who retired from the then Montgomery County Division of Fire and Rescue Services (DFRS) in 1994, most recently served as fire chief at Disney World in Orlando, FL until his recent retirement and return to Maryland.
Consisting of up to 25 members, the Task Force will be tasked with submitting to the County Executive and County Fire Chief recommended strategies and procedures designed to reduce the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries to senior citizens in the county.
The Task Force will have up to 25 members, with the majority of the public members being senior citizens. Members will serve for two-year terms, and the chair and vice chair will be appointed by the Executive. The membership will include County government representatives from the Fire and Rescue Service, Commission of Aging, the Department of Health and Human Services, Housing Opportunities Commission, the Commission on People with Disabilities, Department of Liquor Control and the Offices of the County Executive. The remaining members may include representatives from: The Burn Center at Washington Hospital Center, Apartment Owners and Builders Association, management of major senior housing complexes in the county, senior citizen organizations, public relations and/or media outlets, and county residents.
Montgomery County, Maryland had five fire deaths in 2005 and all five victims were over the age of 75. Fire deaths in the County in the last several years have established a trend which clearly show older adults are at higher risk.
Senior citizens (those 65 years and older) are the fastest growing demographic group in the U.S. population. Nationwide, seniors have a fire death rate nearly twice the rate for the population as a whole; for those over 75, the fire death rate jumps to three times the national average.
A senior resides in 21% of all Montgomery County homes. A significant percentage of seniors live alone. 32% of seniors over 65 have a disability. Physical limitations may mean that many of the actions a senior can take to protect themselves from fire dangers could require help from a care-giver, neighbor, or other outside source.
There are currently no life safety standards that provide for adults living on their own unassisted with health and disability impairments that put them at risk for fire injury or death.
Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force
The Task Force must advise the Executive and the Fire Chief on strategies and procedures designed to reduce the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries to senior citizens in the County. This includes providing advice on:
- Approaches to reduce fire risk, injury, and deaths among senior citizens;
- Demographic and community changes (such as housing density) that affect safety of the elderly;
- Educational efforts to be undertaken to improve awareness among senior citizens and their caregivers of fire injury and death prevention strategies;
- Resources needed to reduce fire risk among senior citizens in the County;
- Legislation at State and County levels to reduce fire risk, injury, and deaths among seniors.
- Encouraging the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to write standards for senior citizen housing.
The best protection a family can have in order to survive a home fire is the combination of a residential sprinkler system and working smoke alarms. For the past year all newly built single family homes in Montgomery County have been required to have residential sprinkler systems. It is recommended that a smoke alarm be installed on every level of a home and families have and practice a home escape plan. The simplest thing a family can do to protect themselves is to have a working smoke alarm and an escape plan. Get out and stay out!
The leading causes of fire are cooking, careless smoking and/or improperly discarded smoking materials, electrical, heating equipment (including those associated with space heaters and fireplaces), and arson (not necessarily in that order). Improperly discarded smoking materials and/or careless smoking was the leading cause of fire fatalities in 2005, resulting in four deaths, followed by cooking, effecting one death. All five (5) residential fire fatalities occurred to persons older than age 75. So far in 2006 there has been one residential fire fatality and improperly discarded smoking materials was the cause of a fire that resulted in the death of a 84 year-old Rockville man.
The facts speak for themselves: Montgomery County, Maryland residents over the age of 65 are one of the groups at greatest risk of dying in a fire. For that matter, on average, nearly 1000 Americans age 65 and over die in fires each year. People over the age of 80 die in fires at a rate three times higher than the rest of the population. Of the five (5) fire fatalities in Montgomery County this past year and the one (1) this year, all were over the age of 75 years old, two were 80 years old and two were over 90 years old. However, there are a number of precautionary steps older Americans can take to dramatically reduce their chances of becoming a fire casualty.
Quick Facts: Montgomery County, Maryland
Since year 2000 - 34 Total Residential Fire Deaths (all ages), 17 were Seniors, 7 of those were improperly discarded smoking materials, 6 Undetermined (however, several believed to be smoking material), 3 Cooking related;
- 50% (17 of 34) have been senior citizens - age 65 or older - the national average is 34%.
- In 2005 in Montgomery County - 100% (5 of 5) of residential fire fatalities were senior citizens over age 75.
- Seniors represent about 12% of population in Montgomery County. They reside in 21% of homes.
NOTE: smoking materials was the cause 80% (4 of 5) residential fire fatalities in 2005.
In 2006 - One (1) residential fire fatality this year - senior citizen age 84, - smoking material the cause.
UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS
Why Are Older People at Risk?
Older Americans are at risk for fire death and injuries for a number of reasons:
- They may be less able to take the quick action necessary in a fire emergency.
- They may be on medication that affects their ability to make quick decisions.
- Many older people live alone and when accidents happen others may not be around to help. What Fire Hazards Affect Older People?
- Cooking accidents are the leading cause of fire related injuries for older Americans. The kitchen is one of the most active and potentially dangerous rooms in the home.
- The unsafe use of smoking materials is the leading cause of fire deaths among older Americans and the leading cause of fire fatalities in Montgomery County in 2005 and 2006 to date.
- Heating equipment is responsible for a big share of fires in seniors' homes. Extra caution should be used with alternate heaters such as wood stoves, electric space heaters and fireplaces.
- Faulty electrical wiring is another major cause of fires affecting the elderly. Older homes can have serious wiring problems, ranging from old appliances with bad wiring to overloaded sockets and misuse of extension cords.
SAFETY TIPS FOR OLDER AMERICANS
- Kitchen Fires. Most kitchen fires occur because food is left unattended (or forgotten) on the stove or in the oven. If you must leave the kitchen while cooking, take a spoon or potholder with you to remind you to return to the kitchen. Never cook with loose, dangling sleeves that can ignite easily. Heat cooking oils gradually and use extra caution when deep-frying. If a fire breaks out in a pan, put a lid on the pan (put a lid on it). Never throw water on a grease fire. Never use a range or stove to heat your home.
- Smoking. We prefer that you don’t smoke at all, but if you must - Don't leave smoking materials unattended. Use ''safety ashtrays'' with wide lips. Empty all ashtrays into the toilet or a metal container every night before going to bed. Never smoke in bed. Don’t smoke when drowsy.
- Finally, having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. And remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your friends and family.
Recent fires throughout Montgomery County have often been the result of food left cooking unwatched, candles left burning unattended, combustibles too close to a heating system, discarded smoking materials, misplaced fireplace ashes and a malfunction with heating systems. Improperly discarded smoking materials and careless smoking have been the primary cause of this year’s fire deaths. Many of these fires could have been prevented.
It is important that all residents know to have a working smoke alarm on each level of a home, have an escape plan (know how to get out quickly) and call the fire department from a safe area, preferably a neighbor’s house. Do not delay!