Fire safety tips in a COVID-19 world

Posted on 08/10/20 by Evelin De La Rosa

When it comes to fires, older Americans must take extra steps to stay safe. Statistics show that the risk of dying in a residential fire is greater for older people. Possible physical and cognitive limitations like poor eyesight, hearing loss, arthritis, and dementia are cited as reasons for that statistic.

On the AARP Prepare to Care Podcast Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña discussed how caregivers can keep themselves and the person they care for safe and what precautions to take in this era of COVID-19.


“What I recommend for our older population is to have not only audible smoke detectors but the ones that include strobe lighting for the hearing or visually impaired. This device should be a priority for caregivers in their homes,” said Peña.

Other recommendations for caregivers is establishing a plan for evacuation from the home in case of a fire.

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“One thing to remember is that once you are outside, stay outside; do not go back inside your home. Tragedy can strike at any time and the key is prevention,” said Peña.

Peña said that because of the pandemic, his department had to change its approach when it comes to fire emergencies.

“We have to wear our personal protective gear and try to avoid any possible infection of COVID-19,” said Chief Peña.   

Peña said that in Houston, kitchen fires are one of the most common fire accidents for people over the age of 50. Other common fires that occur around the winter season begin with the missuse of space heaters, overloaded circuits, and candles.

“It’s very important that we provide a safe environment in the kitchen. Always be aware not to leave items on the stove unattended and ensure that we have an extinguisher handy because putting out a grease fire with water would make things worse,” said Peña.

Chief Peña said your neighborhood fire station is an available safety resource for any information or safety checks you may need.

“Our firefighters are very well educated on the leading causes of fires and what you should be looking out for,” said Chief Peña. “I recommend, especially for the elderly, is getting a safety check done in your home. The firefighters will come into your homes and check if there are any safety hazards and will check to see if your fire alarms are working properly. They can also provide you with tips on how to avoid any possible fire accident in your home.”

Chief Peña said fire can strike anywhere. He said early detection and having an evacuation plan can help keep people safe. To be proactive, the Houston Fire Department offers courses and training on fire emergencies.

“We have our public education and public affairs team that goes out to neighborhood associations and senior centers to give safety classes,” said Peña.

The Houston Fire Department makes it a priority to engage and educate the public on their training. For more information on preventing a residential fire, you can visit HoustonFire.org. Peña said that the department’s website provides a lot of resources from safety tips to getting someone to install your smoke detectors.

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You can find CDC’s latest coronavirus information at cdc.gov/coronavirus; AARP information and resources are at aarp.org/coronavirus. En español, visite aarp.org/elcoronavirus.