State Fire Marshal urges home fire safety during bitter cold

House in winter

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV) With the winter of 2015 wearing on with increasingly frigid temperatures, State Fire Marshal Richard Miller urges fire safety for all Michiganders, especially the elderly who are most at risk when it comes to fire.

“It is so important to talk about fire safety with our elderly parents, grandparents, friends or neighbors,” said Miller. “Start with making sure they have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Go over fire safety practices and develop a fire escape plan with them. These are the things that will have the greatest impact on their ability to prevent or survive a fire.”

Miller said non-working or missing smoke alarms were the common reasons for many of Michigan’s home fires and related fatalities, and noted that having working smoke alarms may reduce the risk of dying in a fire by as much as 60 percent.

“Install smoke alarms next to sleeping areas and on every level of the home. Interconnect them so when one sounds, they all do,” said Miller. “Test alarms monthly and change batteries annually. For the deaf or hard of hearing, consider installing smoke alarms that use a flashing light or a bed shaker to alert them of a fire emergency.”

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, adults over age 65 are more than twice as likely to die in fires. Seniors over age 85 are more than four times as likely to die in a fire. Older adults are at higher risk because their ability to respond to or escape a fire is often slower due to physical limitations.

Many precautions can be taken to help ensure fire safety, including:

Smoking safety

  • Smoking is the number one cause of home fires that kills older adults.
  • Smoke outdoors when permissible and never smoke when using medical oxygen or near the presence of oxygen tanks.

Cooking safety

  • Fires caused by cooking are the leading cause of fire-related injuries in the elderly.
  • Never leave cooking unattended.
  • Wear short sleeves or roll them up so they don’t catch on fire.
  • Never lean over a lit burner.
  • Keep anything that can burn away from the stove.
  • If a pan catches fire, slide a lid over it and turn off the burner.
  • Turn off the stove if you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time.

Electrical safety

  • Have a licensed electrician inspect the electrical system to be sure it is safe and meets the applicable Michigan Electrical Code requirements.
  • Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the lamp or light fixture.
  • Plug major appliances directly into a wall outlet.
  • Do not use cracked or worn extension cords; do not overload cords.

Heating safety

  • Have the furnace inspected by a professional every year.
  • Never use the oven or stove to heat your home.
  • Unplug a space heater if you leave the room or go to bed; keep it at least three feet away from anything that can burn.
  • Make sure the heater has an automatic shut-off if it tips over.

Candle safety

  • Never leave candles unattended.
  • Place them in sturdy holders away from anything that can burn.
  • Never use them in bedrooms or where medical oxygen is being used.
  • Always use a flashlight, not a candle in an emergency.

Practice an escape plan

  • Know and practice two ways out of every room in your home.
  • Practice unlocking and opening the windows and doors.
  • If you use a wheel chair or walker, check all the exit routes in advance to be sure you can get through doorways. If not, map out acceptable escape routes and discuss your escape plans with your family, the building manager or neighbors.
  • Keep eyeglasses, keys, hearing aids, and a phone within reach next to your bed.
  • Your first priority in fire is always to get out and stay out. Do not stop to call the fire department until you are safe outside.
  • Never try and fight the fire yourself and do not stop to gather personal belongings.
  • If there’s smoke, stay as low to the floor as possible and cover your mouth.
  • If in an apartment building or nursing home, always use the stairways to get out – never use the elevator.
  • Call for 911 if you cannot escape or are attempting to get out.

Adults over age 60 comprise 20 percent (20.2%) of Michigan’s population. More than 32 percent (32.8%) of all Michigan households have someone age 60 or older living in them.

If you know of someone who is in need of a free smoke alarm or have questions about smoke alarms, email

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