As the weather cools down, now is the time that we start reaching for our electric blankets and pulling our heaters out of storage. While it’s important to stay warm in winter, we also need to make sure that we stay safe – and help protect our loved ones – from fires and burns.
According to Fire and Rescue NSW, the number of home fires rises by 10 percent during the cooler months, with more incidents due to the use of heaters and electric blankets in the home.
Seniors are particularly vulnerable, as close to one in three fire fatalities involve people who are over 65 years’ old. This is especially the case with people who have dementia, as confusion, memory loss and disorientation can mean they require extra support to stay safe.
Here are some fire safety tips to help you and your family stay safe this winter.
Heaters in the home
Heaters are a common way to keep a house warm during winter, but it’s important to be safe when using them. Here are some safety measures to keep in mind:
- Check your heater at the beginning of each winter – inspect your gas or electric heater for wear and tear, frayed cords or any damage at the start of each winter. If you aren’t sure what to look for, ask your carer or a family member for help. If you suspect something is faulty, have the item checked by a qualified repairer or replaced.
- Make sure your heater is in a stable position – accidentally knocking over a heater can cause a fire, so make sure it is placed in a safe location that is not in the way, and cords are not a trip hazard.
- Never use a heater to dry clothes – it’s important to keep all flammable materials such as curtains, tablecloths and clothes at least a metre away from the heater.
- Don’t sit too close to a heater – older adults lose body heat faster than younger people, which makes them feel the cold more easily. Make sure you don’t sit too close to the heater, and be careful if you are wearing loose-fitting garments (such as a dressing gown or cardigan) as this could be a fire risk.
- Ensure the heater is monitored by a carer – if you are living with someone with dementia, it may be best to ensure that it is only in use when it can be monitored by a carer or a family member. You may also want to consider models that turn off automatically after a set period, or turns off when knocked over.
What to do in an emergency
Accidents can happen at any time. It’s important to be prepared so that if the unthinkable happens, you’ll know how to handle the situation.
Firstly, make sure you and your loved ones know two safe and clear ways out of every room in your house. Have a written escape plan in case of a fire and practice it regularly with family members, especially at the start of winter. Ensure everyone knows to call 000 in case of an emergency.
The following tips also help:
- Keep a fire extinguisher and fire blanket in a location near the exit of your kitchen in case of hire
- Make sure all the keys to locked doors are easy to access in a hurry
- Familiarise yourself with what to do in case someone has a burn or scald. Here is a helpful fact sheet from St Johns Ambulance Australia.
- Wheat bags, hot water bottles and electric blankets are not recommended for people with dementia, as they can pose a burn or fire risk. Consider avoiding them in favour of other heating methods, such as extra blankets and doonas.
It’s also important to make sure your smoke alarms are regularly tested. Legally, you must have at least one working smoke alarm on each level of the home, placed between bedrooms and in living areas.