Fire and Burn Safety for Older Adults

12 Oct Fire and Burn Safety for Older Adults

Older adults experience more life-threatening fire and burn injuries than any other age group. The issue of fire and burn safety for seniors is a good news- bad news scenario.  The bad news is that everyone will inevitably grow old.  “Nothing is certain, except death and taxes,” as the saying goes.The good news is that advances in health care, economic prosperity, and injury prevention all contribute to a longer life span.   Numbers provided by the American Burn Association (ABA) tell us that approximately 3,000 older adults are injured during residential fires each year.  More than 1,200 Americans aged 65 and older die each year as a result of fire. Adults over 65 have twice the fire death rate of population as a whole. The age group above 85 is growing the fastest. Adults over 85 have a fire death rate of 3.5 times that of the general population.

This means that as you enjoy your “golden” years, you’re 3 ½ times more likely to die from a fire. Why are these rates so much higher than for the general population?

Progressive degeneration in physical, cognitive, and emotional capabilities present unique challenges in the fields of fire protection, prevention, and safety for older adults. Often these are compounded by dangerous attitudes about fire.  “It won’t happen to me!” “It’s my house, I can smoke here if I want to!” and “My dog will save me,” are just a few examples of these attitudes.

Poverty has long been associated with an increase in fire risk for the older adult population. Approximately 20% of the older adult population live at or below the poverty line, compared with 10% of the population aged 18 to 64. Those living below the poverty line are less likely to be able to afford or maintain safe heating systems and malfunctioning equipment. Low-income older adults preoccupied with meeting basic needs for food, shelter, health care, and personal security often cannot focus on fire and burn safety hazards.

Key causes and points for prevention of fire and burn death and injury for older adults are:

SMOKING – Don’t smoke when drowsy

COOKING – Wear safe, protective clothing

SCALDS – Set water heater thermostat to keep temperature from exceeding 120F/38C

ELECTRICAL WIRING – Repair or replace damaged wires, switches, plugs, appliances

HEATING – Keep flammable liquids outside the household

Smoking is not the most frequent cause of fire injury, but it causes the most deaths. While carelessly discarded cigarettes have long been the most frequent cause of death among older adults, smoking and oxygen therapy is another rising category of concern, both in the home and in public.

After smoking, cooking is the most common source of burns to older adults.  Many types of injury can occur in the kitchen:  grease fires, scalding injuries, contact burns from picking up a hot dish. Slipping and/or falling in the kitchen can compound all of these injuries. Safety suggestions for the kitchen include maintaining a safe, uncluttered workspace, wearing protective clothing when cooking, and most importantly, paying active attention to your cooking.

Cooking and scald injuries are less lethal although far more frequent. Fires and burns from electrical wiring and portable or fixed heating sources are common in the older adult population.

Many fire and burn deaths among older adults could be prevented by educating potential victims. As caregivers, we must recognize older adults as our most treasured natural resource, and give them the safety they deserve.

Anyone of any age, who has sustained a serious burn injury should consult with an attorney experienced in this area of the law as soon as possible to determine whether a personal injury claim should be pursued. The onus is on the burn survivor to pursue his or her legal rights by choosing an attorney with all the qualifications, expertise, and winning track record on behalf of burn survivors and their families.

For more information about burn injuries, please visit our website,

To contact attorney Robert A. Brenner directly call 800-669-7700 or email [email protected]

To learn more about attorney Robert A. Brenner, please visit his website