Americans Recognize Risk Of Fire To Older Adults

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BETHESDA, Md. – Older adults are more vulnerable to a number of risks including fire, either at home or in assisted living facilities such as nursing homes. In a recent nationwide survey conducted by the Society for Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), Americans correctly identified adults age 65 and older as the most at-risk group.

Thirty-nine percent of Americans named older adults as the most at risk of fire danger, while 26 percent of respondents indicated that infants and toddlers were most at risk. At the same time, 63% of Americans stated they think about fire less than once a year.

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“I’m not surprised that Americans recognize the increased risk of fire to older adults. People with limited physical and cognitive abilities, especially older adults, are at a higher risk of death from fire than other groups,” says Chris Jelenewicz, Engineering Program Manager at SFPE. “At the same time, it’s dismaying that most people don’t think about fire even once a year when over 3,000 people die each year as a result of fire. Without a doubt, the public does not fully understand the enormity and seriousness of the fire problem.”

While fire is a noteworthy risk for people of all ages, federal government statistics cite older adults to be almost twice as likely to die in a fire as compared to the rest of the population. Older adults are more likely to suffer from reduced sensory abilities and mental capacities as well as physical disabilities. Moreover, medical devices, cooking equipment and electrical products can pose serious fire risks to older adults.

There are numerous ways that fire protection engineers play an essential role in designing safe facilities that house the aging population. For example, fire protection engineers analyze how buildings are used, how fires start, how fires grow, and how fire and smoke affects people, buildings and property.

Additionally, they use the latest technologies to:

  • Design systems that control fires, alert people to danger and provide means for escape;
  • Evaluate buildings to pinpoint the risks of fires and the means to prevent them;
  • Conduct fire safety research on consumer products and construction materials;
  • Investigate fires to discover how fire spreads, why protective measures failed, and how those measures could have been designed more effectively.

As part of National Engineers Week, Feb. 14-20, SFPE is publishing a list of ways that fire protection engineers enhance the safety of public and private buildings and what American should look for in their loved ones living facilities at www.sfpe.org.

The society seeks to increase the public’s awareness of how science and technology is used to protect people from fire.

“Whether they live in a small house or a large assisted living facility, it’s critically important to take the time to evaluate your loved ones fire risks and ensure the best technology is available to protect them from fire, “ said Jelenewicz. “There life may depend on it.”


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