Over 60s over-represented in 2012 fire fatality figures

Published: 20th August 2012

Fire has claimed the lives of more people over 60 this year than any other age group, the latest Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) statistics show.

With only a few months left before the end of the year, 62 per cent of all deaths from preventable fires in 2012 involved people aged 60 years and over. This group makes up more than 14 per cent of the NSW population.

FRNSW’s Community Safety Coordinator for Ageing and Disabilities, Melanie Rebane, said older people were the biggest ‘at risk’ group.

“Out of 13 preventable fire deaths in NSW this year, eight involved people over the age of 60,” Firefighter Rebane said.

“Just in the last few months there have been four fatalities involving elderly people, including an 80-year-old woman from Balmain who died after her nightgown caught fire from a candle, and a 79-year-old man from Cherrybrook who died after his lounge caught fire from a heater that was too close.

“This trend is expected to rise as the population ages and more and more people choose to remain at home. The simplest and best way to reduce fire deaths is to ensure people have a working smoke alarm.

“Other common dangerous habits include leaving cooking unattended, drying clothes to close to the heater and falling asleep while smoking or with an electric blanket on.

“The worst thing you can do is think that it won’t happen to you because it can,” Firefighter Rebane said.

Smoke alarms are required by law in NSW, but older people can find it difficult to climb a ladder to change the batteries. FRNSW firefighters can assist seniors who don't have access to family, friends or carers to help them through the Smoke Alarm and Battery Replacement (SABRE) program.

Other seniors fire safety tips include:

  • Make sure smoke alarms are installed and working - test them monthly and change batteries annually.
  • Have an escape plan in place, practice it and make sure your family/carer knows about it - it’s particularly vital for people with reduced mobility to practice their escape plan. Where possible, know two safe ways out of every room in your home. (www.homefiresafetyaudit.com.au)
  • When at home, leave keys in or near deadlocks so that you can quickly escape in an emergency.
  • If you have difficulty hearing, install special smoke alarms through the Smoke Alarm Subsidy Scheme (http://www.deafsocietynsw.org.au/smokealarms/) that have a flashing strobe light and vibrating pad that can be placed under a pillow and which activates when the smoke alarm sounds.
  • Don't fight the fire - get out and stay out and dial Triple Zero (000) immediately. Never assume that somebody else has done so.
  • Close internal doors when leaving your home to reduce fire spread.
  • Don’t leave cooking unattended.
  • NEVER go to sleep with the electric blanket on or with a wheat bag in your bed.
  • Smoking in bed is dangerous. NEVER smoke in bed.
  • Have an approved electrical safety switch (residual current device) installed.
  • Clean the lint filters on your clothes dryer.
  • Don't overload power points.
  • Switch off small appliances when not in use.