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 survey conducted by the Society for Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), people correctly identified adults age 65 and older as the most at-risk group.
Forty-two percent of those surveyed named older adults as the most at risk of fire danger.
At the same time, more people (63 percent) believe natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados and floods are more likely to cause harm to their families when compared to fire. .
“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 SFPE President Carl Baldassarra. “At the same time, it’s dismaying that most people don’t recognize that fire is a greater risk to people than natural disasters.”
While fire is a noteworthy risk for people of all ages, older adults are more likely to die in a fire as compared to the rest of the population.
Moreover, nursing homes have long been recognized as a fire safety challenge. For example, on January 23, 2014, a devastating fire in a Quebec nursing home left 32 people dead or missing.
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 protective measures to either prevent them or assure protect people exposed to 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 Engineers Week, February 16-22, 2014, SFPE is publishing a list of ways that fire protection engineers enhance the safety of public and private buildings and what people should look for in their loved ones living facilities.
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 SFPE Engineering Program Manager Chris Jelenewicz. “Their life may depend on it.”
The survey commissioned by the Society for Fire Protection Engineers and conducted in February 2014 by Ipsos, polled more than one thousand American adults.
TIP Sheet – Fire and the Elderly
Each year in the United States more than 3,000 people die, tens of thousands are injured and billions of dollars are lost as a result of fire. In addition to the direct costs from fire, there are indirect costs such as the cost of business interruption.
The fire death rate is higher for older adults than any other segment of the population. Normal physiological changes as well as medical conditions are more common with increasing age. As such, the older population is more likely to have difficulties with hearing, vision, smell, mobility, memory, and decision-making.
Fire protection engineers use science and technology to protect our aging population from fire. Fire protection engineers enhance the safety of facilities that house the elder by designing:
Active Fire Protection Systems. Fire protection engineers design active fire protection systems such as fire detection systems, sprinkler systems, notification systems and means of egress systems. These systems detect fires, control fires, alert people to danger, and provide means for escape.
Passive Fire Protection Systems. Fire protection engineers design passive fire protection such as fire barriers, smoke barriers, and fire doors that block the spread of smoke and fire in a building. In an assisted living facility, passive systems also provide an area of refuge for people who are not mobile.
Testing and Maintenance Programs for Fire Protection Equipment. Once fire protection systems are designed and installed in a building, the facility must have an inspection, maintenance and testing program for these systems. Records for all testing, maintenance and inspection activities should be available at all times.
Emergency Planning. Every assisted living facility should have a documented emergency plan that addresses the many types of emergencies that can occur including fire. This plan should include an evacuation plan and a plan for exit drills. Exit drills are necessary so that occupants and staff will know how to make an efficient and orderly escape. Moreover, the plan should be coordinated with the local fire department. All staff should receive periodic training and understand their responsibilities in implementing the emergency plan.
What is a Fire Protection Engineer?
According to the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, a fire protection engineer applies science and engineering principles to protect people, homes, workplaces, the economy and the environment from the devastating effects of fires. Fire protection engineers analyze how buildings are used, how fires start and grow, and how fires affect people and property. They use the latest technologies to design systems to control fires, alert people to danger, and provide means for escape. Fire protection engineers also work closely with other professionals, including engineers of other disciplines, architects, state and local building officials, and local fire departments to build fire safe communities. Fire protection engineers are in high demand. The number of available jobs far exceeds the supply.
About the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (www.sfpe.org)
Organized in 1950, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) is a global organization that represents engineers engaged in fire protection. Through its membership of over 5,000 professionals and 65 international chapters, SFPE advances the science and practice of fire protection engineering while maintaining a high ethical standard. SFPE and its members serve to make the world a safer place by reducing the burden of unwanted fire through the application of science and technology.