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By LAUREN J. MAPP

A major component of the American Dream is to buy a house that will become a forever home to raise a family and grow old in.

An AARP survey in 2018 found that 76 percent of adults over 50 would prefer to stay in their current home for as long as possible. The survey also found that only 46 percent of people thought they’d be able to do so. 

Melissa Dennison of Jewish Family Service said safety concerns are some of the main hindrances to older adults aging in place. Dennison is the coordinator for the organization’s Fix-It Service.

Falls in the home, for example, are a big problem. 

“If a person falls, they’ll be in the hospital for a while and they’ll be frightened to go back to their regular activities,” Dennison said. “Sometimes if they’re away from their social outlets — the centers where they go to play cards or games — they’ll lose their friends.”

According to the National Council for Aging Care, 80 percent of falls in the home happen in the bathroom. NCAC also reports that in general 30 to 50 percent of falls are caused by conditions like uneven surfaces, slippery floors and bad lighting. 

The Service’s Fix-It program can help seniors with a number of home safety modifications. The free program is available to adults who are 60 and older who live in central, eastern or southern San Diego County and have an identified caregiver. The number is (858) 637-3210.

Some of the installations JFS provides include grab bars in the bathroom, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, handheld shower heads and walkway lighting. For rental properties or spaces with fiberglass walls, non-invasive safety devices will be used instead of ones that need to be drilled into the walls, Dennison said. 

North County residents can get help from Interfaith Community Services by calling (760) 489-6380. 

A combination of traditional household safety fixtures and new smart technology might be key to helping people to remain in their homes as they get older. Here are some easy to use and install devices to incorporate into your safety plan at home. 

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As Americans travel short and long distances to their Thanksgiving dinner, thoughts will inevitably drift to: What will we talk about? What’s politically correct? How do I avoid mentioning politics? Or the wrong pronoun? Here’s a safe topic for discussion. In fact, it’s not just a safe topic, it may turn you into a Thanksgiving dinner hero. Ready?  ‘Cooking fire safety’. Wait!!!! It’s not nearly as dry as you might think. It really could make you a hero. The hero that helps prevent a fire before it even starts! So, have the cooking fire safety conversation with your friends, your family, your neighbors, your tenants, or yourself. Just have it.

With so many meals being prepared and served, kitchens across the nation will be buzzing at full tilt. Millions of Americans packed close together in one room (obviously not the same room), with lots of distractions… what could go wrong?  Sadly, too much.  Can it surprise any of us that American Thanksgiving is the peak day for home structure cooking fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2016, it was reported that U.S. Fire Departments responded to more than 1,500 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving Day alone. Now, if you think you or your tenants are safe because you all eat the day before Thanksgiving – that’s a high-risk day too. And don’t underestimate the scale of the risk. Cooking fires are the leading cause of all home or apartment fires and cause more than $1 billion in direct property damage each year. That could buy a lot of turkeys.

The Cooking Dangers

As the tenants in your property prepare for their Thanksgiving, now is a good time to prepare some messaging for them about cooking fire safety. Remind them that while kitchens can be hazardous at the best of times, they can be especially risky when filled with people and many distractions. With that in mind, let’s ask the key question: How do most cooking fires start?

Unattended Cooking

If your tenants have guests over for the holiday, distractions in the kitchen are very possible – if not likely.  Friends who share stories, gossip, and reminisce, while siblings call out scores, and children scream louder than dogs can bark: The reasons for distracted cooking are multiplied on Thanksgiving. And whatever the reason, unattended cooking is by far the leading contributing factor to cooking related fires, injuries and deaths.

Cooking Equipment

With so much food being cooked at once, it’s easy for your tenants and their guests to overlook a pan getting too hot, oil boiling too high, or other combustible items that are simply too close to the stove top. Cooking equipment was involved in almost half of all reported home fires and home fire injuries.Electric stove ranges accounted for the largest share of incidents, but (especially on Thanksgiving) frying poses the greatest risk of fire.

Too Close to the Heat

Even kitchens that are normally neat and tidy become a whirlwind of activity during Thanksgiving preparations. With pots and pans on stoves, and so many other items on countertops throughout the kitchen, it can be easy to overlook a potential danger. Two-thirds of home cooking fires started when food or other cooking materials caught on fire. Appliance cords get too close to burners, wooden utensils are left near flames, and dishcloths are left too close to the cooking area. Any and all of these mistakes can lead to Thanksgiving, quite literally, going up in smoke.

Too Many Appliances

Thanksgiving preparation in a small space, such as an apartment, means that several appliances may be plugged into limited electrical sockets. Electric frying pans, slow cookers, griddles, and coffee makers might all be plugged in simultaneously. Pair that with other family members drying their hair or charging their phones, and it’s easy to see how outlets might get overloaded. This could put everyone in the building at risk of an electrical fire.

Safety Measures

As your tenants prepare for their Thanksgiving dinner with their friends and families, safety isn’t always at the forefront of their minds. As a property manager, you might be thinking how you can help prevent cooking fires? While you can’t control your tenants’ actions, you can remind your tenants to be cautious and safe while preparing for the festivities. Sharing the following tips and being prepared yourself can help decrease the risk of fire and ensure everyone has a joyous and safe holiday.

  • Test Smoke Alarms – Ensure fire alarms are securely in place and the batteries are working when conducting property inspections. Encourage your tenants to do a quick test themselves before they begin kitchen preparations for the big day.
  • Clean Before Cooking – It’s important that tenants make sure their ovens and stove tops are free of grease before they begin cooking their mashed potatoes and green bean casseroles. It’s also important to check that their kitchen vents are functioning properly.
  • Don’t Leave Cooking Unattended – Remind your tenants to stay in the kitchen when using the stove top. If they have to step out of the kitchen – even for a brief moment – they should turn the heat down or off, or have someone take their place until they return. They should also stay inside the home when cooking the turkey and check on it often.
  • Keep a Watchful Eye Out – It’s important that your tenants pay attention, not only to the food, but to the area around the stove. Items that can catch fire should never be carelessly tossed aside or left too close to the cooking area. Keep oven mitts, electrical cords, dishcloths, wooden utensils, and even shirt sleeves at a safe distance.
  • Turn Handles –Turn pot and pan handles inward and away from the edge of the stove. This will prevent them from being jostled and knocked off.
  • Prevent Electrical Fires – Ask your tenants to limit the number of appliances they use simultaneously. If plugging in multiple items at once, tenants should use approved power strips to reduce the risk of electrical-related problems or an electrical fire.
  • Always be Prepared – One simple thing you can do, as a property manager, is remind tenants of the emergency/fire exits, and ensure that they are kept clean.
  • Install fire prevention technology – Above all else, the best way to ensure safety during this time of the year is to install the right technology that prevents fires before they happen in the first place. Products such as the SmartBurner and the SmartElement are beneficial as they have been designed to prevent burners from reaching temperatures in which cooking oils can ignite. Other preventative products, such as the SmartMicro or SmartRange, prevent fires by turning off the microwave at the first sign of smoke or the glass top stove at the first sign of cooking fire risk. No fires, no injuries, no property loss.

Cooking fires are real and pose a serious threat, especially on Thanksgiving. This holiday season, it’s important that you, as a property manager, keep your tenants safe by informing them of the dangers and providing them with adequate tips for a safe holiday. Staying current on trends and technology that can be used to help prevent the risk of cooking fires, is another way you can help keep your tenants, and your property safe.

As a property owner or manager, you want to make sure your property is protected and safe. With October being National Fire Prevention Month, now is a good time to assess the fire safety of your property and determine what – if any – upgrades or changes should to be made.

You Might Not Know About Fires on Your Property

Unfortunately, it’s not always evident when a fire has occurred in one or more of your apartments until after the tenant has moved out.

The  U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that millions of home structure fires go unreported every year. In fact, it is believed that for every reported fire, another 30 to 50 fires are unreported. As with all fires, whether they are reported or unreported, cooking is the number one cause, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

For this reason alone, it is imperative that property owners/managers be proactive when it comes to protecting their assets from cooking fires. But there are many other reasons to be vigilant with fire safety.

The Costs of Residential Fires

The costs of cooking fires, both to the bottom line and to reputation, can be crippling to property owners.

The NFPA estimates that every year cooking fires cause:

  • An average of 530 civilian deaths;
  • An average of 5,270 civilian injuries; and
  • An average $1.1 billion in direct property damage.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), cooking is the leading cause of multifamily residential building fires.  In fact, almost 3 out of every 4 multifamily building fires are cooking fires!  From 2013 to 2015, property loss from fires in multifamily buildings totaled $1.4 billion. Add in reputation loss, relocation costs, and restoration stress and cooking fires are a problem best avoided.

An Ounce of Prevention

The best way to prevent these expenses is to focus on the source and ensure that a property’s fire safety strategy includes cooking fire prevention. It could help save money, property and even lives.

Smoke Alarms/Fire Extinguishers

A fire can start and be in an “out of control” state in under two minutes.  Cooking fires can happen even faster.  Exponentially faster if a tenant tries to extinguish a cooking oil fire with water. You can’t always rely on your tenants to monitor their smoke alarms and replace the batteries when needed. Further, if you have a non-functioning smoke detector and one of your tenants is injured (or worse) as a result of a fire, you may be held liable.

The NFPA reports that over half of fire-related deaths occurred in residences where there was no functioning smoke alarm. Further, it found that 43 percent of non-operational smoke alarms were due to missing/disconnected batteries and 25 percent were due to dead batteries. This illustrates why it is necessary for property managers to check every smoke alarm on their property, regularly.

The NFPA suggests a smoke alarm be outside of every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level of the property, including the basement. Be sure kitchen alarms are at least 10 feet from appliances to avoid nuisance alarms. This will help reduce the risk of tenants removing the batteries or disabling the unit.

As you are inspecting smoke alarms, inspect fire extinguishers as well. Ensure they are not outdated and, if so, have them replaced immediately. Be sure there is a fire extinguisher in kitchens, as well as common areas such as hallways or lobbies.

Inspect Electrical Wiring

According to the NFPA, electrical fires were the second leading cause of U.S. home fires from 2012-2016 with 39 percent occurring during the winter months.

Be sure you have your electrical wiring up-to-date and talk with the occupants of your property to find out if they have noticed any strange electrical disturbances. If you are not sure, contact a professional to assess the wiring of your property for potential dangers.

Upgrade Equipment

With cooking fires posing the greatest threat of a fire to property owners and tenants, it makes sense to upgrade your units with equipment that can help prevent a cooking fire from starting in the first place.

Technology, such as the SmartBurner™ and SmartElement™ have been designed to reduce the risk of cooking fires on electric coil stoves, by preventing burners from reaching the temperature at which most cooking oils or household items ignite. The technology used in both SmartBurner and SmartElement has been installed in hundreds of thousands of apartment and institutional kitchens without a single confirmed cooking fire. No fires. No property loss. No cooking fire injuries.

Other product solutions that property managers should consider upgrading their cooking appliances with include the Safe T Sensor™ and the SmartRange™. To prevent cooking fires in microwaves and, more commonly, to avoid nuisance alarms from burning food that can result in building evacuations, Safe T Sensor shuts off the microwave at the first sign of smoke. SmartRange performs a similar function for electric stoves. It is especially recommended for glass top and induction stoves. Essentially, SmartRange measures the overall temperature of the cooktop, as well as the rate of increase in temperature of the cooktop. If a dangerous cooking situation is detected, an alarm will sound attracting the tenant’s attention. If the tenant does not respond to the alarm the range will be automatically shut off before a cooking fire occurs.

Rather than opting for suppression devices that help put out a fire after it has started, property owners and managers should consider using technology that can prevent cooking fires from starting in the first place. Prevention can significantly reduce the risk of cooking fires, property damage, and fire related injuries.

When you consider all of the costs associated with a multifamily building fire, it’s easy to see why property owners and managers should stay on top of the latest technologies to help keep their properties, tenants and employees protected.

Every occupation brings degrees of safety risk. At the fire scene, on the way to or from a fire, or while training, firefighters face the chance of suffering an injury and possibly death. Each year, tens of thousands of firefighters are injured while fighting fires, rescuing people, responding to emergency medical and hazardous material incidents, or training for their jobs.

Annually, from 2015 to 2017, there were an estimated 63,000 firefighter injuries resulting from all types of firedepartment duties.1,2 Of these injuries, 25,975 occurred on the fireground or were considered to be fire related (includes structure fires, vehicle fires, outside fires, etc.). An additional 4,525 injuries occurred while responding to or returning from an incident, which includes, but is not limited to, fires.3,4,5 While the majority of injuries are minor, a significant number are debilitating and career ending. These injuries exact a great toll on the fire service.

From the need to adjust staffing levels and rotations to accommodate injuries to the focus of the fire service on injury prevention, injuries and their prevention are a primary concern. In addition, the fire service has done much to improve firefighter safety. Firefighter health and safety initiatives, incident command structure, training, and protective gear are but a few areas where time, energy and resources have been well spent. Nonetheless, firefighting by its very nature is a hazardous profession. Injuries can and do occur.

This topical report addresses the details of firefighter injuries sustained at, responding to or returning from a fire incident, focusing on data as reported to the NFIRS from 2015 to 2017, the most recent data available at thetime of the analysis.6,7

Read the entire article here.

Objective This study proposes and evaluates the theory that people who are susceptible to injury in residential fires are not susceptible to death in residential fires and vice versa. It is proposed that the population vulnerable to death in residential fires can be proxied by ‘frailty’, which is measured as age–gender adjusted fatality rates due to natural causes.

Methods This study uses an ecological approach and controls for exposure to estimate the vulnerability of different population groups to death and injury in residential fires. It allows fatalities and injuries to be estimated by different models.

Results Frailty explains fire-related death in adults while not explaining injuries, which is consistent with the idea that deaths and injuries affect disjoint populations.

Conclusions Deaths and injuries in fire are drawn from different populations. People who are susceptible to dying in fires are unlikely to be injured in fires, and the people who are susceptible to injury are unlikely to die in fires.

Between 2009 and 2013, 2470 people per year lost their lives in home structure fires (‘home fires’), and an additional 13 300 were injured, on average.4 Home fires represented 27% of all reported fires, yet constituted 84% and 77% of all fire fatalities and injuries, respectively. In an analysis of home fires (2009–2013) based on national fire statistics, cooking equipment is cited as the most common cause of home fires (45%), followed by heating equipment (16%), intentional (8%), electrical distribution or lighting equipment (8%) and smoking materials (5%).5 Causes of deaths from residential fires follow a different pattern. Smoking materials are shown to be the leading cause of civilian fire deaths (23%), followed by heating equipment (19%), cooking equipment (17%), electrical distribution or lighting equipment (15%) and intentional (14%). The leading area of fire origin that resulted in an injury is shown to also be the most common area of fire origin (kitchen or cooking area), but the leading area of fire origin that resulted in a death differed (living room, family room or den).

Read the rest of the study here.

Finnish company Innohome report on its award-winning third generation Stove Guard, a device that works out when the temperature of cooking is too high and potentially hazardous and turns off the source of ignition. It is nothing new to the Fire and Rescue Service that kitchen fires are number one in the list of fires in the home. 

A quick search on Twitter will reveal lurid pictures of burnt out kitchens serving as warnings to those in search of a late-night snack after an evening in the pub. And it is true the numbers have gone down over the years, with fires from cooking appliances showing an almost continuous fall of around 43 per cent from a peak of 32,000 in 2000/1. However, people still get injured and the fire and smoke damage to property has a real impact on people’s lives. 

One way around this is to look at better control of the source of ignition: the heat. If there was a way of cutting off the source of ignition when it hit a certain temperature and it did not involve human intervention, maybe that could reduce the number of cooking appliance fires.

Read the rest of the article here.

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