Loyola University Burn and Shock Trauma Institute, Injury Prevention Program
As people begin to prepare for cooler weather it is also a good time to think about fire prevention. Many people will be turning on their furnaces for the first time or building a fire to take the chill out of the air. National Fire Prevention Week (October 7-13) reminds us to take time to prevent fires in the home.
October is also the month where we celebrate Halloween and review safety issues with our ghouls and goblins.
Breakpoint will also focus on pedestrian safety. International Walk Our Children to School Day (October 2) allows us to take time to walk for health and safety. Last year over 47 states and 3 countries participated in the activities to make our communities more walkable
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Thousands of students live in college campus dormitories many students take fire safety for granted. During National Fire Protection Week it is important to discuss fire safety with college students.
Smoking is the third most frequent cause of dorm fires. Nationwide, flames or toxic smoke from smoldering mattresses and sofas kill 1,500 people annually, injuring another 7,000.
With binge drinking on the rise at college campuses, alcohol abuse plays a role in many college fire deaths.
Students smoking or cooking in rooms regularly disable alarms so nearly 10 percent fail to signal dorm blazes. Even when alarms work, students accustomed to false alarms ignore real danger. Cooking in dorm rooms accounts for about 18% of dorm fires.
When discussing fire safety with college students, it is important to reinforce the fact that careless behaviors can contribute to fire hazards such as smoking in dorm rooms, cooking in non-designated areas and alcohol abuse.
Here are some additional tips to discuss:
- Make sure the non-smoking ban in college dorm rooms is enforced at the school.
- Look at the electrical outlets to see that computers, lamps and hair dryers do not overload them.
- Go over the escape route of the dorm so the student knows the appropriate exit out of the building and an alternate exit in case of fire.
- Know the location of the fire alarms and the placement of fire extinguishers on the floor.
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Older adults represent one of the highest fire risk populations in the United States. As a result of progressive degeneration in physical, mental and emotional capabilities, older adults present unique challenges in the fields of fire protection, prevention and safety. The chances of survival from a fire decrease with age. As the nation’s elderly population grows, the fire death toll will likely rise in direct proportion to that growth unless measures are taken to decrease the risks associated with this age group.
Over 1,200 Americans over the age of 65 die as a result of a fire each year with 30 percent of those deaths occuring in the home. Residential fires injure an average of 3,000 older adults each year.
Fires caused by smoking are the leading cause of fire deaths in the elderly. Fires caused by cooking are the leading cause of fire-related injuries in the elderly.
Older adults pose a greater risk for fire-related injuries and deaths because:
- Approximately 30 percent of older adults live alone.
- Many older adults take multiple medications, the interaction of which can cause a variety of side effects, including confusion, that may alter the decision-making process and increase the potential for fire-related incidents.
- The impairments caused by the combination of alcohol and prescription drugs in older adults can be significant. Such impairments may lead to an increased likelihood of starting a fire, not detecting a fire and not being able to escape a fire.
Here are some safety tips broken down into three sections: before the fire, during the fire and fire prevention. While these tips may promote fire safety, the U.S. Fire Administration considers smoke alarms to be the single most important piece of fire safety equipment available. Exit planning is also extremely important, especially for individuals who may have difficulty exiting a burning building.
Before the Fire:
- Identify the nearest exit
- Install smoke alarms. Ask friends or family members to help test the batteries in the smoke alarm monthly and to change the batteries twice a year.
- Have a fire extinguisher and learn how to use it.
- Live near an exit. If you live in an apartment building, try to get an apartment on the ground floor. If you live in a house, try to make a bedroom on the first floor.
- Plan and practice escape plans.
During the Fire:
- Get out and Stay Out! Do not try to gather personal possessions or attempt to extinguish the fire. Once you are out of the house, do not go back inside!
- Test the doors before opening them. Use the back of your hand to feel the door, the doorknob and the frame. If anything feels hot, keep the door shut and use an alternative exit. If it feels cool, slowly open the door and exit as close to the ground as possible if smoke is present.
- Know what to do if you are trapped. Fill cracks in doors and cover all vents with a damp cloth to keep smoke out.
- Stop, Drop and Roll. If any part of you catches fire cover your face with your hands, drop to the ground and roll over and over.
Fire Prevention for Older Adults:
- Cooking. Never leave the stove unattended while cooking. Wear tight fitted clothing when cooking over an open flame, and keep towels and potholders away from the flame. If food or grease catches fire, smother the flames by sliding the lid over the pan and turning off the heat. Do not try to use water to extinguish a grease fire. Do not put foil in the microwave. Make sure the stove is clean and free of grease build-up. Turn pot handles away from the front of the stove so they can’t be knocked off or pulled down.
- Electrical safety. Electric blankets should conform to the appropriate standards and have overheating protection. Older adults should avoid the use of electric blankets due to the decrease sensitivity to the lower extremities leaving them at a higher risk for burn injuries.
If an electric appliance begins to smell or emit smoke, unplug it immediately. Replace all frayed or broken electrical cords. Never use an appliance with exposed wires. Never overload extension cords. Only use UL-listed electrical appliances.
- Space heaters. Keep heaters at least 3 feet from any combustible material. Follow all manufacturers instructions prior to use. Do not use heaters or other heating devices to dry clothing.
- Heating. Have your heating systems and chimney checked and cleaned annually by a professional. Never store fuel for heating equipment in your home. Keep fuel outside or in a detached storage area or shed.
- Fireplaces. Open fireplaces can be hazardous; they should be covered with tempered glass and guarded by a raised hearth 9-18 inches high.
To obtain the book:
Fire Risks Series
Fire Risks for Older Adults
For more information contact:
The United States Fire Administration
Office of Fire Management Programs
16825 South Seton Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
Or visit the USFA website:
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Halloween is a cherished tradition but the excitement of the night can cause children to forget to be careful.
There is no real "trick" to making Halloween a real treat for the entire family. The major dangers are not from witches or spirits but rather from falls and pedestrian/car crashes. Many communities officially designate “trick or treat” times usually in the daylight hours to prevent injuries. Check with your local community to see if there are designated times for Halloween activities.
Both children and adults need to think about safety on this annual day of make-believe.
- The National Safety Council urges motorists to be especially alert on Halloween.
- Watch for children darting out from between parked cars.
- Watch for children walking on roadways, medians and curbs.
- Enter and exit driveways and alleys carefully.
- At twilight and later in the evening, motorists should watch for children in dark clothing.
Before children start out on their "trick or treat" rounds, parents should make sure that:
- An adult or an older responsible youth will be supervising the outing for children under age 12.
- Plan and discuss the route trick-or-treaters intend to follow. Know the names of older children's companions.
- Instruct your children to travel only in familiar areas and along an established route.
- Teach your children to stop only at houses or apartment buildings that are well lit and never to enter a stranger's home
- Only fire-retardant materials should be used for costumes.
- Costumes should be loose so warm clothes can be worn underneath.
- Costumes should not be so long that they are a tripping hazard. (Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injuries on Halloween.)
- If children are allowed out after dark, outfits should be made with light colored materials. Strips of retro reflective tape should be used to make children visible.
- Masks can obstruct a child's vision. Use facial make-up instead.
- When buying special Halloween makeup, check for packages containing ingredients that are labeled "Made with U.S. Approved Color Additives," "Laboratory Tested," Meets Federal Standards for Cosmetics," or "Non-Toxic." Follow manufacturer's instruction for application.
- If masks are worn, they should have nose and mouth openings and large eyeholes.
- Knives, swords and other accessories should be made from cardboard or flexible materials. Do not allow children to carry sharp objects.
- Bags or sacks carried by youngsters should be light-colored or trimmed with retro-reflective tape if children are allowed out after dark.
- Carrying flashlights will help children see better and be seen more clearly.
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The Injury Prevention Program will team up with Chicagoland SafeKids Coalition and FedEx to observe International Walk Our Children to School Day on October 2nd.
Walk our Children to School Day was initiated in 1997 when Mayor Daley headed a walk to emphasize safety for school aged children and to make our communities more walkable.
By the year 2000, children, parents, teachers and community leaders in 47 states joined 2 million walkers in 20 different countries to celebrate the first International Walk to School Day. The reasons for walking have grown just as quickly as the event itself.
Whether your concern is safer and improved streets, healthier habits, or cleaner air, Walk to School Day events are aimed at bringing forth permanent change to encourage a more walkable America - one community at a time.
This year we will be walking with the students of Emerson Elementary School in Maywood. The combined efforts of the Injury Prevention Program, Chicagoland SafeKids and FedEx will provide “mock road hazards” to teach children how to navigate the city streets safely.
The children will also be asked to complete a walkability checklist. This checklist will provide us with information on the community so changes can be made and make the streets safer for pedestrians.
Copies of the walkability checklist can be downloaded at the Partnership for a Walkable America. www.nsc.org/walkable.htm
Everyone is encouraged to take a walk through your community and fill out the checklist. If you have questions about this event or the walkability checklist, please call the Injury Prevention Program at: 708-327-2455
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The Official Halloween Safety Game
This safety game reviews steps children will need to have a safe “trick or treat” outing. First children will read the safety tips and then proceed to play the game.
U.S. Fire Administration
This site has useful information on safety tips for adults and a section for fire prevention for older adults.
There is excellent information about what to do if a fire occurs and the steps that help the recovery period after the fire.
USFA Kids Page
Kids can navigate through an interactive game to teach them about fire safety.
The Parent / Teacher Lounge will help you guide children through the Kids Page. It includes discussion points for talking about fire safety and prevention with your kids offline, lesson plans, answers to the online quizzes, educational resources, and the Kids Page Feedback Form.
Partnership For A Walkable America
An excellent source for information on walking for health and safety. Obtain a walkability checklist to complete in your community.
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