As soon as I learned the city of Naperville was offering a new “Senior Home Fire Safety Survey,” I called to arrange an inspection. I believed I’d taken care of everything I needed to do to avoid falls, prevent a house fire, or deal with a small kitchen fire, but I figured this kind of check would give me fodder for my writing and information to share with my widow friends in church. Imagine my surprise when I learned I had overlooked something important and life-threatening—a problem the firefighters had anticipated and fixed before they left.
Regardless of your age or where you live, I urge you to use my adaptation of the Naperville Fire Department’s checklist below to perform a survey of your home, office, or workshop to make sure it’s as safe as you think it is. Considering the statistics, it would certainly be prudent to do so. In 2018, fire departments in the U.S. responded to an estimated 1,318,500 fires that resulted in 3,655 civilian fire fatalities and 15,200 civilian fire injuries. And more than a million people go to the emergency room every year for slips and falls, so taking steps to prevent accidental falls in your home is as important as being proactive where fire protection is concerned.
Barbara’s Adaptation of the
Naperville Fire Department Checklist of Hazards to Avoid
(Points are shown as questions,
with some links to informative articles.)
( ) Do steps have proper handrails?
( ) Are steps cracked or uneven?
( ) Do house lights in the front and back work, and are they on at night)?
( ) Do throw rugs have rubber backing?
( ) Is garage secure? Covering on window (to deter access)?
( ) Any trash piling up?
( ) Do stairs or steps have secure railings or handholds?
( ) Are there smoke alarms on each level?
( ) Is there at least one working carbon monoxide (CO) alarm in your home?
( ) A working smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm in place?
( ) Adequate lighting?
( ) Clear path to bathrooms?
Living Room/Family Room
( ) Sliding glass door? Security bar?
( ) Electric wiring behind TV -- is it orderly? Power strip?
( ) Are all electrical cords out of the flow of foot traffic?
( ) Any pinched cords underneath furniture or carpeting?
( ) All cords in good condition, free of fraying, cracking, and staple holes?
( ) Are extension cords used properly? (Tips for safe use.)
Laundry Room/Heater/Hot Water Header
( ) Do you empty the lint trap after every load? (Why this is a fire hazard.)
( ) Is there a three-foot clearance around the heater and hot water heater? (Heating equipment is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire deaths. Eight tips here,)
My Personal Home Inspection
and Lessons Learned
A team of two firefighters came to my home with an intern in tow and a big “Goodie Bag” stuffed with products that would have cost me a considerable amount of money had I purchased them myself. Below is a summary of what I learned from this experience and what the firefighters did to fix my fire safety issues.
* Smoke Alarms. I scored high in steps I’d taken to prevent a fall, but fell short where fire was concerned. Somehow I’d failed to note the dates when I needed to replace my smoke alarms and small kitchen fire extinguisher. I don’t know how I could have forgotten to do this, because I’ve always been a meticulous record keeper. (I rely heavily on my annual spiral calendar I check every day for important reminder dates, deadlines, and countless other details related to both my personal and home business life.)
Although I’d been faithfully changing the 9-volt batteries in my three smoke alarms every year—always testing to be sure they were working—all three had expired. In fact, the hallway alarm nearest my bedroom had expired in 2010. Imagine the shudder I gave when I thought I was protected because I’d faithfully changed the batteries every year. The other two 5-year alarms expired in 2015, so why I replaced those two in 2010 and not the one in the hallway will forever remain a mystery to me. Worse, of course, is that I didn't replace them after that. (Remember the point I made last month about the need to find balance in a too-busy life? If you don't, a lot of details like this might fall through the cracks.)
Thankfully, my fire inspectors replaced both the upstairs alarms with the two Kidde “Lifesaver” sealed battery smoke alarms included in my Goodie Bag. Now I have ten years of worry-free protection upstairs, with a reminder note to pick up a new smoke alarm for the lower level. (You may want to read “Types of Smoke Alarms and Detectors,” since different types work best for the three different kinds of fires.)* Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarm. I did have one upstairs, with a reminder note on my calendar that it needed to be replaced in November, 2024. But since my Goodie Bag included a First Alert, 5-year battery operated alarm, and the firefighters said it was wise to have one on both levels of my home, they set that one up downstairs. (And yes, I now have a calendar reminder to replace it in five years.) Note that the First Alert website includes a chat with Taylor Kinney, star of the Chicago Fire TV show. He shares a personal fire story that could have been prevented with a smoke alarm.
* Fire Extinguishers. The two heavy, all-purpose fire extinguishers my late husband bought and regularly maintained expired long ago and were gathering dust when the firefighters arrived and said they couldn’t be recharged and needed to be properly disposed of. I'd figured as much, but I was taken aback when they told me my little 5-year kitchen fire extinguisher had also expired. (I thought I’d bought it only a couple of years ago and wondered where the last five years had gone and why I didn’t even think to check if it had an expiration date.) My Goodie Bag included a First Alert “Tundra” small fire extinguisher, which has a simple push-button spray. Later I turned up this video, which illustrates how well it works. (Stay on this site, since the next video that came up was a great review of several types and brands of fire extinguishers.)
Other Useful Items in My Goodie Bag
These small inexpensive items would make nice gifts for a friend or family member: * “Fire Safety & Burn Prevention for Older Adults.” This booklet is available as a PDF download from the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance website. (Other resources, including a fire safety prevention booklet for those with disabilities, is also available on this page.)* Two LED panel night lights by Globe (plug in; always on. Lasts up to 100,000 hours; costs pennies a year to operate). Easy to find a use for them.
* “The Oven Stick.” I’d never seen this push-and-pull oven rack stick before, but it’s a handy gadget that might prevent an oven burn. It would make a good conversation piece and fun gift for someone who has invited you to a home-cooked meal. The fancy one I got looks like this, but here’s how to make one of your own.* Four-inch long LED keychain light. I found an immediate use for this small but very powerful light that runs on one AA battery. It’s perfect for keeping on my nightstand so I can turn it on in the middle of the night to see what my new cat, Liza, has just done in the bedroom to wake me up. Lately she has been pawing two pictures on the wall, messing behind the TV screen, playing with papers on a table, and jumping into shelves in my ceiling-to-floor bookcase. I can stop whatever she may be doing by shining the flashlight on her and loudly commanding, GET DOWN, which she does, except that she tends to come back a few minutes later. Then I repeat the process and throw a soft rolled-up sock ball at her, which seems to be working. (We’re still in training mode here. After only six weeks, Liza has become confident in her surroundings and obviously thinks this is her house now.)
For More Lifesaving Information
The Fire Department didn’t ask me this question, perhaps because it’s obvious, but do you have your furnace inspected each year and regularly change the filter? I was blessed many years ago to be referred to a retired fireman with a sideline heating/air conditioning service business. He has added an extra measure of security to my life by annually inspecting my furnace, water heater, air conditioner, and sump pump.
More important, he insisted that I always carry my Tracfone in my jeans pocket and also install a Knox Box that will give rapid access to the Fire Department if I need to dial 9-1-1 and can’t get to the door. (Sorry I haven’t had time to write about the Knox Box before, but I highly recommend this extra layer of protection for seniors and those with disabilities.
)After the Knox Box was installed, I signed up for Smart911 and have a profile there that the Fire Department would be able to access in response to a 9-1-1 call for assistance. This free service is also accessible with an app on your phone, and it’s now available to 45 million people nationwide and growing.
Seniors in Naperville can arrange for a home safety fire check from the Naperville Firefighters by emailing Soraya McLaughlin, Public Education Specialist for the City of Naperville at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention my name and this Bulletin when you do, and be patient as you wait for a reply or an appointment for an inspection. At present, only two firefighters are doing these inspections two days a month, but they hope to soon have several teams to serve the city.
Everyone on this list surely knows a senior who would benefit from a free home fire safety check. When I Googled “free fire department inspections of seniors homes,” I turned up 122,000 results, suggesting that many other cities have a service similar to that of Naperville. But the best way to find out if this is available in your area would be to simply call your local Fire Department, or your city, which might have a “Public Education Specialist” like mine that could answer that question.
AS ALWAYS . . . Feel free to forward this issue to anyone who might benefit from its content. New readers are invited to join my mailing list here.
I’d love to get your feedback on what you may have learned from my mistakes or from a check of your own for the safety issues outlined in the Fire Department’s checklist. Your personal experience tips are invited.
P. S. Only 78 percent of you had time to read my illustrated December Bulletin, “Finding Balance in a Too-Busy Life, with a “Godwink Christmas Story” about my recent cat adoption. If you have time now, you can read this issue online.
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