As the population of older adults continues to grow, ensuring the safety and well-being of seniors in elder care facilities becomes paramount. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), between 2014 and 2018, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 5,510 structure fires in senior care, assisted living facilities, and other residential care facilities each year. Fire safety is a crucial aspect of providing a secure living environment for elderly residents. Elder care facilities may have unique fire safety challenges due to the vulnerability of the residents and potential mobility limitations. It is crucial to recognize the specific risks associated with the elderly population, such as decreased mobility, cognitive impairments, and the increased likelihood of medical equipment use. In this article, we will explore essential fire safety resources and guidelines specifically designed for elder care facilities.
Table of Contents
How Do We Prevent Fire in Elder Care Facilities in the First Place?
Preventing fires is a crucial aspect of fire safety in elder care facilities. By having your facility take a Fire Safety class you’ll learn about crucial aspects of Fire Prevention and Evacuation which is required in Georgia by Bright from the Start and the Georgia Fire Marshal.
In our Fire Safety class we talk about prevention by implementing things like the following fire prevention measures which can significantly reduce the risk of fire incidents:
Regular Inspections and Maintenance
Conduct regular inspections of the facility to identify and address potential fire hazards. This includes checking electrical systems, heating equipment, and appliances for any signs of malfunction or damage. Regular maintenance and repairs should be performed to ensure their safe operation. Additionally, ensure that fire safety equipment, such as smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, are in proper working condition and are being maintained properly.
Additionally, always ask yourself, “how could I make things better?” For example, if the fire extinguisher is hard to find, then moving it to a more visible location and potentially purchasing more so you can place them in more locations will make it faster to use if the situation were to arise.
Proper Storage and Handling of Flammable Materials
It is important to store flammable materials, such as cleaning agents and chemicals, in designated areas that are well-ventilated and away from ignition sources. Follow safety guidelines for their proper handling and disposal to minimize the risk of accidental fires. Properly label containers and ensure staff is trained in the safe use and storage of these materials.
Implement and enforce strict smoking policies within the facility. Designate designated smoking areas for residents that smoke that are equipped with proper ashtrays and have measures in place to prevent smoking in prohibited areas. Educate residents and staff about the importance of following these policies and the potential fire risks associated with smoking.
Electrical malfunctions can be a common cause of fires. Ensure that electrical outlets are not overloaded and that electrical cords are in good condition without any fraying or exposed wires. Encourage staff to report any electrical issues promptly, and engage qualified electricians to address them. Educate residents and staff about the proper use of electrical equipment and the importance of unplugging appliances when not in use.
Kitchen Safety and Elderly Residents
The kitchen is often considered the heart of any living facility, including elder care facilities. However, it can also be a potential hotspot for fire incidents. The kitchen and cooking appliances are the leading location for elder facility fires. Here are several ways to prevent residents from entering the kitchen area unsupervised:
- Restricted Access: In elder care facilities, it is important to restrict access to the kitchen area for elderly residents who may have cognitive or physical limitations that could increase their risk of accidents or fires. Install barriers or use access control measures to prevent unsupervised entry to the kitchen.
- Adequate Supervision: Ensure that the kitchen area is adequately supervised, especially during meal preparation times. Trained staff members should be present to monitor and assist residents in the kitchen to prevent any unsafe actions or situations.
- Safe Meal Preparation: Encourage residents to participate in meal planning and decision-making, but emphasize the importance of leaving the actual cooking to trained staff. Provide alternative activities and social engagements that keep residents engaged and entertained while reducing the desire to venture into the kitchen area.
- Clear Signage and Instructions: Display clear signage and instructions in the common areas leading to the kitchen, reminding residents that only authorized personnel are allowed in the kitchen area. Use visual cues and symbols that are easily recognizable to help prevent confusion or misunderstandings.
The video below goes over a few basic tips for seniors, whether they reside in facility care or home with their family:
Using the PASS Acronym for Extinguisher Operation:
Fire extinguishers are essential firefighting tools that can help control small fires. Understanding the proper operation of fire extinguishers is crucial. The PASS acronym provides a helpful reminder of the steps to follow when using a fire extinguisher:
- Pull the Pin: The first step of the PASS acronym is to pull the pin. This pin is usually located on the top of the fire extinguisher and is designed to prevent accidental discharge. By pulling the pin, you are preparing the extinguisher for immediate use, ensuring that it is ready to be deployed to suppress the fire.
- Aim at the Base of the Fire: Once the pin is pulled, the next step is to aim at the base of the fire. The base of the fire is the area where the flames are originating. It is crucial to direct the extinguishing agent at the base because that’s where the fuel source is located. By aiming at the base, you can effectively smother the fire and cut off its oxygen supply, aiding in its suppression.
- Squeeze the Handle: After aiming at the base of the fire, firmly squeeze the handle of the fire extinguisher. Squeezing the handle activates the discharge mechanism, allowing the extinguishing agent to be expelled. It is essential to maintain a steady grip on the handle while squeezing it to control the flow of the extinguishing agent.
- Sweep from Side to Side: While continuing to aim at the base of the fire, sweep the fire extinguisher from side to side. This sweeping motion ensures that the extinguishing agent covers the entire fire, effectively smothering it. By sweeping, you can prevent the fire from reigniting or spreading. It is important to cover the entire fire area with the extinguishing agent to ensure its complete suppression.
The following video show the steps above:
Remember, fire extinguishers are suitable for tackling small fires only. If the fire becomes too large or uncontrollable, immediately evacuate the area and call the fire department. Additionally, ensure that all staff members are trained in fire extinguisher operation and understand the limitations of fire extinguishers.
What Are the Fire Evacuation R.A.C.E. Steps?
In the event of a fire in an elder care facility, having a clear and structured response plan is crucial. The R.A.C.E. acronym provides a simple and effective framework for individuals to follow during a fire emergency.
Let’s explore the R.A.C.E. steps and understand their significance in ensuring the safety of residents and staff:
The first step in the R.A.C.E. protocol is to Rescue individuals from immediate danger. If it is safe to do so, assist residents in evacuating the affected area. Remember to prioritize those who have difficulty moving or require additional assistance. Encourage residents to move calmly but swiftly towards designated evacuation routes and gathering areas.
If you are evacuating residents from their rooms make sure to tag the doors so the next person knows the room has been evacuated.
Once individuals have been removed from the immediate danger zone, it is essential to activate the fire alarm system. Activate the nearest fire alarm pull station to alert other occupants and staff members about the fire. Promptly notifying everyone in the facility helps ensure a swift response and initiates the evacuation process.
You must also call 911 to alert them of the emergency. While the fire alarm should call 911 for you sometimes there can be malfunctions and you want to make sure they know of the emergency. It will also be helpful so you can provide any additional details you have.
After sounding the alarm, take steps to confine the fire. Close any doors or windows in the area if it can be done safely and without risking personal harm. Confining the fire helps limit its spread and provides more time for evacuation and the arrival of emergency responders. However, only attempt this if you can do so without endangering yourself or others.
Extinguish or Evacuate:
The last step in the R.A.C.E. protocol depends on the severity of the fire and the resources available. If the fire is small and can be safely extinguished using a portable fire extinguisher, follow the appropriate protocols for its use. However, remember that personal safety should always take precedence over attempting to extinguish the fire.
If the fire is large, spreading rapidly, or the situation becomes too dangerous, it is crucial to prioritize evacuation. Proceed with the evacuation plan established for the facility, following designated evacuation routes and assisting residents as needed. Evacuate to a safe location outside the building and await further instructions or the arrival of emergency responders. Remember, the R.A.C.E. protocol serves as a guideline for responding to fires in elder care facilities, but safety of the residents and personal safety should always be the top priority. If at any point you feel endangered or unable to follow the steps, focus on evacuating residents and yourself to safety while alerting emergency services.
While the R.A.C.E acronym has a priority order. Know that these should ideally be done at the SAME time by multiple staff members. By taking a divide and conquer mentality you will help insure the safety of the staff, residents, and even lower property damage.
How to Evacuate Seniors at Different Levels of Ability?
Every senior has a different level of physical and mental ability. Understanding this level of the seniors in your facility is important because it should influence the way you evacuate them. As you see in the infographic, you can see how to break down resident evacuation based on residents’ ability. Understanding this will help you to evacuate most effectively and help you prepare for evacuations better. This understanding of your residents’ needs only comes through relationships. You must spend time with the residents to understand their needs.
What Is a Point of Safety in an Elder Care Facility?
During evacuations, you need to have every resident and staff member to a point of safety within 3 minutes, but what exactly is a Point of Safety? Let’s explore this critical aspect of emergency preparedness in elder care facilities.
Definition of a Point of Safety
- A Point of Safety is a designated location within an elder care facility where residents can gather during emergencies.
- It serves as a secure area away from potential hazards and helps ensure the orderly evacuation and accountability of residents.
- This is usually an area behind fire doors and walls that buy you time in case of a fire. This depends on your building but some common points of safety are memory care unit, bedrooms, and wings of buildings.
Purpose and Importance
- The primary purpose of a Point of Safety is to provide a centralized gathering place for residents during emergency situations, particularly in the event of a fire.
- It allows staff to efficiently account for all residents, ensuring that no one is left behind or unaccounted for.
- Having well-defined Points of Safety enhances the overall safety and emergency preparedness of the facility, providing peace of mind to both residents and staff.
Key Characteristics of a Point of Safety
- Accessibility: Points of Safety should be easily accessible to all residents, considering mobility limitations and potential obstacles.
- Clear Signage: Proper signage and markings should be in place to guide residents and staff towards the designated Points of Safety.
- Sufficient Space: The area should be large enough to accommodate all residents and staff, allowing for safe distancing and comfort during emergencies.
Establishing Protocols and Conducting Drills
- Facility administrators should establish clear protocols and procedures for evacuations and gathering at Points of Safety.
- Regular training drills and exercises should be conducted to familiarize residents and staff with the designated Points of Safety and evacuation procedures.
- Mock scenarios can help identify any potential challenges and refine emergency response plans, ensuring a swift and coordinated response in real emergencies.
What Do All Elder Care Staff Need to Know for Fire Evacuation?
To summarize, here are the things we discussed about Fire Safety in an elder care environment.
Fire Prevention Education:
Staff members should receive comprehensive training on fire prevention strategies, including proper handling and storage of flammable materials, regular equipment maintenance, and the importance of maintaining clear pathways and exits. This knowledge empowers staff to proactively identify potential fire hazards and take preventive measures, significantly reducing the risk of fire incidents. Learn about our Fire Safety training options here.
Fire Safety Protocols:
Training should cover specific fire safety protocols tailored to the unique layout and features of the facility. This includes understanding evacuation routes, operating fire alarm systems, and utilizing fire extinguishers, if appropriate and safe to do so. Regular practice drills allow staff to become familiar with these protocols, enabling them to respond quickly and confidently in the event of a fire emergency.
Regular evacuation drills should be conducted to familiarize staff with evacuation routes, emergency exits, and the proper procedures for assisting residents during an evacuation. They should be done quarterly on each shift to make sure everyone is getting adequate practice. These drills help ensure a coordinated and efficient response during a real emergency. Practicing these evacuation procedures enhances staff members’ confidence and preparedness, allowing them to guide residents safely to designated assembly areas. Make sure to always document how you did and plan for how you can do better next time.
Do You or Your Elder Care Facility Need to Take Fire Safety In Georgia?
In Georgia, all staff members of an elder care facility are required to take a Fire Safety course every 3 years by Bright from the Start and the Georgia Fire Marshal guidelines.
We have provided Fire Safety training in Georgia for over 23 years that is catered to senior care professionals. We have in person and online options to get Fire Safety certified. If you would like to host a Fire Safety class, click here. If you would like to join a class or sign up your team for an online or in person class, click here.