Saving Older Adults from Cooking Fire Risks

Updated on March 26, 2023

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 5.01.08 PMBy Paul Rouse

Pick up the paper or turn on the news.  About 45 house fires are reported every hour in the U.S., and 60 percent of apartment fires are started by cooking equipment.  More than 12 million unintentional home cooking fires go unreported causing 640,000 injuries annually.  It just takes minutes for a fire to start:

Unfortunately, many fire injuries and deaths are among those over 50.  As we age, poor hearing and vision, as well as health problems affecting mobility contribute to putting mature adults in the highest risk group for cooking fires.  In addition to the destruction of property estimated at $7 billion per year in the U.S. alone, the National Fire Protection Association reports that 43 percent of people who have died in cooking fires were asleep at the time.  It’s easy to see that the growing baby boomer populations is at higher risk because they generally fall asleep early and are more forgetful.

According to US News, between 2000 and 2010, the number of people age 65 to 84 in the U.S. grew by 3.3 million, and the 40 million senior citizens in 2012 will balloon to 89 million by 2050.

This a wakeup call to not just those who live alone or with a spouse now that the kids have grown and moved out, but also for those in the senior housing industry, and the adult children who care for elderly parents. Developers spend millions building beautiful retirement communities with many amenities that cater to people over 50, but do not consider that distraction, forgetfulness and memory loss can pose significant dangers to the residents who cook.  We increase cooking safety by requiring that all new senior housing requires, at the very least, a range top suppression system in both private apartments and community kitchens.

Further, with the recession and the concurrent reduction in fire fighter staff seen in cities big and small, it would be equally smart to stop fires before they start.  States should require mandatory range top suppression equipment in new buildings or remodels just like sprinklers and earthquake shut-off valves are.

In the meantime, there are some safety precautions that boomers can take to prevent cooking fires:

  • Never leave cooking unattended. A serious fire can start in just seconds.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and practice using it.
  • Have a pot cover close by to put out a cooking fire quickly.
  • Wipe up spills from the stove which could catch fire.
  • Always wear short or tight-fitting sleeves when you cook.
  • Keep towels, pot holders and curtains away from flames.
  • Don’t overfill pans with grease or cooking oil.
  • Never use the range or oven to heat your home.
  • Double-check the kitchen before you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Never leave the kitchen to answer the door, grab the telephone, or change clothes while something is cooking without shutting the gas or electricity off.
  • It is dangerous to cook while on certain prescription medications or drinking alcohol.

I’m a boomer too, so I have a vested interest in safety for all of us.

Paul Rouse, Administrative Officer/Sales & Operations Director for Guardian Safety Solutions International, Inc. (GSSI), Dallas, is a 34-year veteran of the fire industry.  His experience encompasses fire products, services and technologies, and he was instrumental in designing what later would become the flagship GSSI product, the Guardian III.  Mr. Rouse is a member of the National Fire Protection Association and the National Association of Fire Equipment Distributors.  

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