According to fire safety experts, the recent string of fires in senior living communities across the country is a stark reminder that protecting residents and staff comes down to education, cooperation and integrity.
Last month, a woman living in the Golden Pond Retirement Community in Sacramento County, Calif., died after falling asleep in her courtyard and receiving severe burns from a cigarette that fell on her blanket, according to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. Staff put out the blaze before the fire brigade arrived and no one else in the community was affected.
Improperly discarded cigarettes caused a fire in a resident’s room last month in Morada Rogers, an independent living community in Arkansas, according to the Fire Department. The room’s sprinkler system contained the fire until firefighters arrived.
According to Stan Szpytek, president of Fire and Life Safety Inc. and frequent contributor, both fires provide an opportunity to highlight fire safety strategies that can be adopted by the elderly living and care community. McKnights Senior Living and its sister media brands.
Szpytek said McKnights Senior Living One of the greatest fire threats in residential areas and health care facilities is ‘hidden smoking’, which attempts to hide evidence of smoking.
“People have to respect smoking regulations,” he said. “Facilities must have clear policies and procedures in place regarding smoking. Looking away does nothing for residents, staff, or anyone else.”
Szpytek said the fires in the community were caused by cigarettes dumped from balconies igniting landscaping materials and combustible materials on the balconies below. He has also seen doors left open because residents and staff secretly smoked and then forgot to close them, raising security concerns in addition to fire safety concerns. is occurring.
“Staff need to be on alert at all times,” he said, adding that nursing assistants, clinical technicians and housekeeping staff in “boots on the ground” find hidden evidence of smoking, such as ash and burn marks on carpets. He added that the alarm could be sounded when the “You are not benefiting residents or voters or the rest of the population by turning a blind eye to such things.”
Some communities allow smoking, Szpytek said. In such cases, he recommends providing access to non-combustible ashtrays or ash cans in designated smoking areas. He said it should be left alone.
Senior living communities can also adopt strategies used in memory care communities and behavioral care facilities. This entails specifying a specific smoking time and locking the ignition source, such as a lighter or matches, and the cigarette in a lock box.
Broken system and open door
Other recent senior residential fires have highlighted additional fire safety concerns.
A deadly fire on Dec. 29 at the Fields Like Home Senior Lifestyle Residence in Memphis, Tennessee, was aided by a disabled sprinkler system following a ruptured pipe that led to a drop in water pressure. Fire lanes to the building were also blocked, limiting access for firefighters.
The building was declared a total loss with an estimated $1 million property loss and an estimated $500,000 loss of contents. memphis fire department.
In the fall of 2022, in Oakland, California, a fire spread through an open door from a resident’s apartment in Great Lake Gardens and into the hallway of a senior living community. A resident who fled the unit and left the door open said the power strip was sparking and set the sofa on fire.
Three residents were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and one firefighter was injured in the four-alarm fire. Szpytek said the scenario would have been less damaging if the occupants had closed the door when they fled the unit.
Federal law mandates full watering in nursing homes, but many assisted living and independent living communities are regulated by state and local ordinances, which vary. According to Szpytek, the lack of a sprinkler system, or the disabling or failure of the system in the community, creates a “great vulnerability” and is a constant factor in fire damage in multi-family settings.
The bottom line, Szptek said, is that senior living communities need to work with residents and staff members to create a community approach to fire safety.