Fire and the elderly: How to prevent a fire and keep safe

Adults over the age of 65 are more likely to die in a house fire, so here's what to keep in mind to keep everyone safe

Fire and the elderly: How to prevent a fire and keep safe

[ Fire Brigade]

Every year in Ireland, about 36 people will lose their lives to a fire in their homes.

Relentless and fast acting, most of those fires will start between the hours of 11pm and 7am, when people are fast asleep. Faced with the frightening reality of a fire burning through your home, having an escape plan can truly make the difference between life and death, and reacting quickly can make all the difference.

That is why fire is so deadly when it comes to the elderly. 2016 has been a bad year for loss of life to fire in Ireland, but it has been particularly bad for those over the age of 65. Several deaths could have been prevented.

When it comes to older family members, dealing with the effects of old age (decreased mobility, loss of vision or hearing, coping with Alzheimer’s or dementia) makes fire even more dangerous, and we all need to go above and beyond the traditional fire safety guidelines to keep everyone safe this Christmas.


Planning for an emergency and practicing how to react should a fire occur is an important responsibility that those caring for the elderly should ensure to do regularly. Remember, surviving a fire is all about taking a three-pronged approach to your safety. Here are the three things you need to remember to do to stay safe:

Be mindful of getting rid of fire hazards

Our homes are our safe havens, the place where we feel most comfortable. But the truth is very different when it comes to fire, as most fires that claim lives in Ireland take place in homes, and the room of the house where fires start is very often the bedroom.

In the bedroom...

  • Never smoke in bed, as this poses an extremely high risk of starting a fire.
  • In the cold winter months, be mindful of how you use electric blankets. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and pay attention to wear and tear. When storing away electric blankets, roll them up rather than folding them.
  • Keep a torch nearby so that you can get light in the case of an emergency.

In the kitchen...


  • Keep a fire blanket and a fire extinguisher in an easy to access place.
  • Wipe down greasy surfaces and make sure that electrical wires are kept away from gas rings and hobs.
  • Don’t dry clothes on a cooker, this is very dangerous.
  • Take care when cooking food, remembering to keep saucepan handles turned in, but not over the heat. If using a chip pan, never fill it more than one third, and if the oil catches fire, put it out with a fire blanket.

In the sitting room...

  • Smokers need to pay attention to their lit cigarettes, and be aware that hot ashes in trays can smoulder for hours.
  • Put a fireguard in front of open flames and make sure to keep the area around a fireplace free from newspapers, magazines, or other things that might catch fire.
  • Stick to one plug per socket, and where electrical wires have become frayed over time, ensure a qualified electrician carries out any repairs.
  • When using portable heaters, follow all the instructions provided and remember to keep the heater away from curtains and furniture. Do not dry damp clothes on the heater.

Install and test smoke alarms

It’s important to remember that most fires start when people are asleep, and smoke will not wake you up. Installing a smoke alarm on every floor of the house will mean you have a warning device that can offer you much needed time to react to a fire.

  • Make sure smoke alarms are properly installed and maintained, testing the battery once a week and replacing it every year.
  • Should a smoke alarm go off, always react and never assume it is a false alarm.
  • When an elderly person is hard of hearing, consider installing an alarm with a strobe light or using vibration equipment.

Make an escape plan – and remember to practice it

When a fire breaks out, it is hard to keep a cool head and panic can take over. That is why it is important to talk over how to react and to practice it with loved ones to keep them safe.

  • Plan an escape route from the kitchen, the bedroom, and the sitting room, and remember to practice them.
  • Remind each other to close doors behind you as you leave.
  • Make sure that older people with decreased mobility can fit walkers or wheelchairs through all escape routes.
  • Keep phones in different rooms of the house, and pre-programme emergency numbers into the speed-dial settings.
  • If an escape route is blocked, fill gaps under the doors with sheets or clothing. Keep low to the ground and move close to a window and try to attract attention.