FEDERAL REPORT Age increases risk of death by fire



By taking precautions, senior citizens reduce their risk of deaths due to fire.
SCRIPPS HOWARD
WASHINGTON -- Adults age 65 and older faced three times the risk of dying in a home fire during the 1990s than younger people, according to a new report released by federal safety officials.
Careless smoking, heating and cooking were the leading causes of 1,100 home-fire deaths among the 65-plus sector, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Between 1989 and 1998, 31 percent of home-fire fatalities were among the elderly.
"People in this age group face a dramatically increased risk of dying in a home fire," said Michael Brown, undersecretary of homeland security for emergency preparedness and response.
"With America's older population larger than ever, and still growing, it's important that we take steps to reduce this public health problem."
The risk of fire deaths rises with age. It increases to nearly four times the national average for people 75 to 84, and to more than five times the average among those 85 and older, according to the report released today.
Due to reduced mobility and limited vision and hearing, seniors can be less likely to notice the beginnings of a fire and be less able to escape, officials said.
During that same 1989-98 period, 13 percent of fire deaths were among people between age 50 and 64.
Why this is important
More than 4,000 Americans -- of all ages -- die each year in fires, and 25,000 are injured. Eighty percent of all fire deaths occur in the home.
Fire Administrator R. David Paulison said the report was part of a new fire-safety campaign aimed at people 50 and older.
"This is about alerting people to the risk and letting them know how to reduce it," he said. The effort includes fact sheets and broadcast announcements.
Smoking is the top cause of fire deaths among the elderly, Paulison said. People smoke in bed or in flammable chairs and fall asleep or become drowsy due to medicines or alcohol.
Heating devices like space heaters and woodstoves are the second-leading cause of fire-related deaths. Most such fires occur when flammable materials, including clothing, come in contact with flames or heating elements, or when ovens are used for home heating.
The third major cause is related to cooking and kitchen mishaps. The elderly are cautioned not to leave stoves and burners unattended, not to wear clothes with loose sleeves that can catch fire, and to keep towels, curtains and potholders away from heat sources.
Seniors, along with everyone else, are urged to install smoke alarms on every level of their house -- having them doubles the chances of survival -- and to have an escape plan worked out and practiced in advance of an emergency.

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