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Stressing fire safety for seniors

November 30, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

WILLIAMSPORT Each year, approximately 1,100 Americans 65 and older die in home fires and another 3,000 are injured.

Senior citizens are three times as likely to die in a residential fire as the rest of the population.

Armed with statistics like that, the Williamsport Volunteer Fire Co. has launched a fire safety campaign aimed at people 50 and older.

"We wanted to do something new," said the fire company's T.J. Barnes, who has headed up the fire prevention committee for three years.

So when the idea came up, Barnes went to the Internet and explored the possibilities.

Several ideas were batted around and the senior fire safety program rose to the top about a month and a half ago, Barnes said.

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"We have a lot of people older than 50 in the Williamsport area, so we chose this approach," Barnes said.

Volunteers soon will be available to make presentations at retirement homes/villages, in private homes or wherever seniors congregate.

The curricula will include information about smoke detectors - proper installation, testing, cleaning and regular battery checks.

"In the Williamsport area, we will provide or add to a resident's smoke detectors free of charge," Barnes said.

The next big target is unattended cooking - one of the major causes of fires in homes.

"Smoking safety is another area of concern," Barnes said.

On that subject, the talk will stress not smoking in bed, making sure cigarettes are out before going to sleep and properly disposing of tobacco products.

Fire statistics will be included in the program, as will discussion of residential escape plans if time permits, he said.

Barnes said he hopes the idea catches on and that other volunteer fire companies in the area will follow suit with programs of their own.

The fire department is conducting the campaign in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In Maryland, people aged 65 and older were three times as likely as the rest of the population to die in a residential fire from 1989 through 1998.

In that decade, 127 adults aged 65 and older died in residential fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. That accounts for 28 percent of all residential fire deaths in that time frame.

"We welcome invitations from community and faith-based organizations to present fire safety programs for people 50 and older, their families and caregivers," Barnes said.

A Hagerstown native, Barnes, 24, is a graduate of South Hagerstown High School and has earned a bachelor's degree in business administration.

He has been a volunteer with Williamsport for four years. "I wasted no time jumping in," Barnes said of his volunteering.

Those wishing to schedule a fire safety presentation or request a home visit may contact the fire department at 301-223-9112.

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