Firefighters, COA’s Work To Keep Seniors Safe At Home

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Aging

Local fire departments and councils on aging collaborate to provide senior home safety assessments using programs based on the National Fire Protection Association’s “Remembering When” campaign. COURTESY NFPA

It’s no secret that most seniors want to remain at home as they age, but it’s important to make sure that home continues to be a safe place as the years pass. To that end, local fire departments and councils on aging are collaborating to provide home safety assessments, even during the pandemic.

In Chatham, the assessments are part of a community risk reduction program, and residents or concerned family members can schedule a home hazard assessment by calling the senior center, Deputy Fire Chief Justin Tavano said. The assessment is based on “Remembering When,” a campaign by the National Fire Protection Association, which focuses on fire and fall prevention for seniors.

“On top of doing the routine testing of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and changing batteries, a trained member of the department will assess each room of the home and the surrounding landscape with a checklist and identify areas of concern relating to potential fire hazards as well as trip hazards,” Tavano said. “The goal of the program is to keep our seniors living safely in their home independently for as long as they desire.”

Harwich provides a similar program for its seniors.

“In light of COVID, we are providing this service in a modified format,” a Harwich Council on Aging notice reads. “In an effort to minimize both the number of people coming into your home and the duration of the visit, only members of the fire department will come out for the assessment. They will test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are working properly and are not out of date. If needed, they will replace your batteries or install new detectors at cost.”

In Harwich, firefighters and senior center staff hope to resume full-scale safety assessments as soon as the pandemic allows.

“In the interim, fire department staff will refer back to the COA to assess any unmet needs and help connect you to local resources,” the notice reads.

A similar collaboration exists in Orleans, though their Senior Fire Education (SAFE) program focuses largely on group safety seminars delivered in conjunction with council on aging services. Topics include general fire safety within the home, along with an emphasis on safe cooking for older adults, smoking dangers, and home escape planning. Presenters can also speak about the File of Life program and the importance of a medical alarm system for seniors who live by themselves.

Learn More:

Orleans: Call Leslie Vasconcellos at 508-255-0050
Chatham: Call Mandi Speakman at 508-945-5190
Harwich: Call Emily Mitchell at 508-430-7550

A key focus, particularly when the weather starts getting cold, is having working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

“This time of year can be the most dangerous for carbon monoxide poisoning. Heating systems and alternative power sources like portable generators are common sources of carbon monoxide,” the Harwich notice reads. “As the cooler weather and winter storm season approach, it's important to make sure you have working detectors to alert you to this dangerous gas.”

Orleans SAFE program presenters explain the proper placement of smoke and CO detectors and talk about the availability of special smoke and CO alarms for people who have hearing loss. The Orleans Fire Department also provides in-home visits where a trained fire and life safety educator will test and check smoke and CO alarms, while looking for other hazards.

“The importance of this collaborative program was highlighted by the death of one of Chatham’s residents following a carbon monoxide incident in which there were no carbon monoxide detectors in the home,” Tavano said. In Chatham, the assessments are conducted by Captain David Ready, who has been specially trained and works closely with the council on aging. Also helping is Lieutenant Ryan Clarke, the department’s new public education coordinator.

But the hazards around the home aren’t limited to smoke and carbon monoxide.

“Many of our older residents unintentionally accumulate items throughout the years and either do not have the means to get rid of them, don’t want to ‘bother’ anyone by asking for assistance, or do not realize that their living situation presents potentially hazardous conditions,” Tavano said. “The home safety assessment will also recommend additional safety measures including lighting, removal of area rugs, areas where grab bars should be installed, etc.”

It’s important for seniors to understand that the safety assessment is voluntary is is not an “inspection.”

“There is no punitive action associated with the assessment. It is purely an avenue to help these folks eliminate hazardous conditions that they might not recognize,” he said.

To learn more about home safety assessments, call the council on aging or the fire department’s business line.