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9 Tips to Keep Seniors Safe from Wildfires

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WildfirePreparedness.jpgMany older adults, already feeling isolated due to COVID-19, are now facing the threat of wildfires. In the United States, nearly 45 million homes border or intermingle with wildlands and more than 72,000 U.S. communities are currently at risk.

If you live in an area at risk for wildfires, now is the perfect time to review your safety plans on behalf of the senior in your life. Because seniors may be hearing impaired, have mobility issues or other underlying conditions like heart disease and COPD, they are more at risk from fire death than the general population. In fact, in 2015 older adults represented 15 percent of the United States population but suffered 40 percent of all fire deaths, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).

By taking steps ahead of time to prepare for a wildfire event, family caregivers can help keep the aging loved ones safe.

Before a wildfire, take these steps, as recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency, to make sure older adults in your life are prepared.

9 Wildfire Preparedness Tips for Seniors & Family Caregivers

  1. Check with the doctor about what to do during smoke events for an older adult with heart or lung disease, including asthma. Have a plan to manage the condition.
  2. Stock up so no one has to go out when it’s smoky. Have several days of medications on hand. Buy groceries that do not need to be refrigerated or cooked because cooking can add to indoor air pollution.
  3. Buy a portable air cleaner before there is a smoke event. Make sure it has high efficiency HEPA filters and it is the right size for the room.
  4. Create a “clean room” in the home. Choose a room with no fireplace and as few windows and doors as possible, such as a bedroom. Use a portable air cleaner in the room.
  5. Know how to get alerts and health warnings, including air quality reports, public service announcements (PSAs), and social media warnings of high fire risk or an active fire. Purchasing an emergency radio may also be a good idea in case of a power outage.
  6. Ask an air conditioning professional what kind of high-efficiency filters to use in the home’s system and how to close the fresh-air intake if the central air system or room air conditioner has one.
  7. Have a supply of N95 facemasks and learn how to use them. They are sold at many home improvement stores and online. (Check with a doctor ahead of time to make sure the facemasks are a good choice for the senior in your life.)
  8. Organize important items ahead of time, including financial and personal documents. Pack an emergency kit with prescription medicines and important documents for quick access. Keep must-have items such as glasses, hearing aids and medical supplies nearby in case of emergency.
  9. Know evacuation routes, both out of the home and out of the neighborhood, and where to go if evacuation is required. Be sure to consider the older adult’s mobility and pets. An evacuation plan for an upstairs room may require a fire escape ladder. Consider moving your loved one to a ground floor if this is not feasible. Finally, don’t forget to prepare your aging loved one when making an evacuation plan.

USFA Recommendations for Older Adults When Creating an Evacuation Plan:

  1. Ensure easy and quick access to assistive devices like a wheelchair or a cane.
  2. Keep eyeglasses, hearing aids, keys and a phone within reach or next to a bed.
  3. Know two ways out of every room. Practice using both ways.
  4. Remove any items that may block the way out of the room or home. It might also be a good time to review how to reduce fall risks for older adults.
  5. Discuss the planned fire escape route with family and neighbors. Contact the building manager or fire department to discuss the plan if extra help may be needed to escape.
  6. Practice home fire escape drills twice a year.
  7. The fire department can help you with an escape plan. Ask emergency providers to keep your special needs information on file.
  8. Elderly homeowners should consider installing interior and exterior sprinkler systems.
  9. For anyone who suffers from hearing loss, install smoke alarms with flashing lights or vibrating signals.

For more general fire safety tips for older adults, visit the USFA website to find the Fire-Safe Seniors Program.

Author: Lakelyn Hogan

Lakelyn Hogan is Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate for Home Instead Senior Care. Lakelyn has been with Home Instead for five years, starting in the local franchise working one-on-one with seniors and caregivers. Now, her role at the Global Headquarters is to educate professionals, families and communities on Home Instead’s services and the issues older adults face. In partnership with the American Society on Aging, Lakelyn facilitates a monthly webinar series for professionals in the aging field. She also hosts monthly family caregiver live chats with Alzheimer’s and dementia experts from across the country.


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