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You should be alarmed: can older people escape a fire?

<p>Over a third of residential house fire fatalities are people over the age of 65, nationally. [Source: Mediacast]</p>

Over a third of residential house fire fatalities are people over the age of 65, nationally. [Source: Mediacast]

Key points:

  • Conservative estimates show that as few as one person living in Australia will die from a residential fire per week
  • Half of Australians are concerned for their relatives, fearing they may not be able to escape a residential fire in time
  • A quarter of study participants believe an older relative may sleep through a smoke alarm

 

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — Australia’s ageing population may be at risk of a house fire during the winter months, as heaters, electric blankets and appliances rack up significantly more electricity than they would when the sun beams down in the summer. The downside to these creature comforts, however, is an increase of 1,100 residential infernos each year. In most instances of senior fire fatalities, the deceased were asleep or resting.

To keep families fire safe this winter, Brooks Australia has encouraged Aussies to take appropriate measures, upgrade their fire safety gear and check in on their older relatives. Participants of a recent research study felt that mobility limitations and auditory conditions were their biggest concerns, with many feeling that their relatives would not be capable of escaping a house fire.

Jim Tsanidis, whose older parents live together independently, expressed that he felt constant concern for their safety in the cooler months — a time which some consider to be safer due to the diminished risk of heatstroke.

“My 70-year-old mother still lives on her own and suffers from hearing loss and bad mobility. She doesn’t hear when her phone goes off and relies on the vibrations to know someone is calling. I constantly worry that if a fire alarm goes off, she wouldn’t know there’s any danger until she could smell the smoke or feel the heat, at which point it may be too late,” Mr Tsanidis said.

Fire safety expert and Chief Executive Officer [CEO] of Brooks Australia Cathy Brand told David McManus Jr, a journalist from Talking Aged Care, that she found the lack of preparation to be alarming. The CEO said the research should inspire the 58 percent of Australians who haven’t discussed an escape plan with their families.

“Escape plans may sound like catastrophic thinking, but it’s a necessary part of keeping our families safe and should only take a five-minute conversation. Everyone needs to know how to get out of the house safely and where to meet for a roll call, especially our older relatives,” Ms Brand said..

The CEO shared that one in six Australians were affected by hearing loss, but over half don’t wear their auditory support devices whilst sleeping, meaning the loud alarms aren’t enough to save vulnerable people.

“Smoke alarms are the first step in saving lives, but for those who are hard of hearing or deaf — alarms are ineffective at alerting them. Thankfully, there are a number of solutions designed to keep the deaf, hard of hearing and elderly Australians safe,” the CEO continued.

“A house fire can engulf an entire room in less than three minutes, that’s not a lot of time.”

Ms Brand clarified that the higher prevalence of cigarette consumption in older Australians and the common association with house fires was not the concern, as the majority of house fires occur at night, during periods when those at risk are already asleep. She added that Brooks Australia had introduced a new strobe and vibrating device for those concerned about the safety of their older relatives, as a multi-faceted solution to auditory impairment.

“These deaf and hard of hearing alarms signal an audible warning simultaneously; the alarm activates a high intensity strobe light and a vibrating pad which is located beneath the sleepers’ pillow,” she said.

“They can also be linked with other smoke alarms in the home, so when any other alarm senses smoke, the strobe light and vibrating pad would be activated to wake the sleepers up.”

The expert encouraged people to check in on their older relatives or neighbours to ensure that their existing smoke alarms were working and up to State and Territory laws. However, she said each region of Australia has respective laws outlining what needs to be done in order to ensure adequate safety, however — whether it’s property damage or loss of life, the message was clear — you can never be too safe and three minutes is enough to lose a room, but five minutes may just be enough to save a life.

If you’re keen to ignite some insight and protect yourself, your parents or a person you hold close, visit Brooks Australia for safety guides and action plans.

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