1.0 Working with Older people
This section focuses on older people and:
covers specific information needs, sets out statistics on types of fire and other
risks that older people are particularly vulnerable from;
provides 'good practice' examples on how fire and rescue services have been
communicating the fire safety message to this audience; and,
examples of the resources they have used.
The section draws on research carried out by a specialist fire safety working
group and it is intended to inform fire safety campaigns.
Older people are likely to have some form of disability. There is more relevant
information elsewhere in the Toolbox. Go to:
Working with people with disabilities (in the Target Audiences part of the
1.1 Our aim
To improve public services for older people by better meeting their needs,
listening to their views, and recognising and encouraging their contribution.
1.2 Facts and Figures
The UK has an ageing population. In 2002 almost 20 million people were aged
50 and over, up 24 per cent from 16 million since 1961. The number of older
people in the population will continue to grow and, by 2031, it is estimated that
the proportion will grow by a further 37 per cent.
The over 85s - are the fastest rising age group, growing by 84 per cent between
1981 and 2004 to more than 1.1 million.
Women still live longer than men, but the gap is narrowing. In 1961, there were
28 per cent more women than men aged 50 and over, but only 18 per cent more
1.3 Challenging the stereotype
Many stereotypes of older people are misleading. Remember that:
only a very small number (just five per cent) of people of pensionable age
live in residential or nursing homes;
of the 95 per cent living in their own homes, almost four in ten live on their
just under half live with their partner; and
just over one in ten live with someone who is not their partner, such as a
son or daughter or other relative;
over three quarters of the older population live on their own - or with a
partner of the same age who may well need the same kind of care - in
private housing; and,
while people from Black and Minority Ethnic Communities (BME) are
generally younger than the population as a whole, the number of older
people in these communities is increasing. Older people from some BME
communities are less likely to be able to speak English, so you will need to
make the most of community contacts. For more information in this
Toolbox go to:
Working with Black and Minority Ethnic Communities (in the Target
Audiences part of the Toolbox)
So, the needs of older people vary considerably. Some become frailer and need
greater care, while others continue to live fit and active lives. One of the key
messages is to relate to them as individuals and not make assumptions.
Where older people do need help from different people and organizations to go
on living an active, independent and secure life. When help is needed, agencies
should build in respect for the wants and opinions of older people, as well
as their physical needs. Health, social care, housing and other agencies
working together can help older people stay in their own homes in comfort and
1.4 Older people and fire risk
A third of all fire deaths are among people aged 65 and over. Those between 65
-79 years of age account for 13 fire deaths per million population with the highest
rate of all in those aged over 80 (32 deaths per million population). In
comparison, the fire death rate across all ages was 8 per million of the population
(Fire Statistics UK, 2004).
It is a sad fact that older people are particularly vulnerable to fire. This is because
there are a variety of other factors that add to their vulnerability, such as mobility
and sensory difficulties and lack of ability to respond to danger, as well as the
living conditions of some older people.
It is often said that ‘older people are hard to reach’ fire and rescue services
should look at older people as being ‘easy to reach’ because other agencies
know where they live. However, it is a fact that they are ‘hard to influence’.
Studies into the lifestyle of older people have shown that;
The main precaution taken by them against fire is the installation of a
smoke alarm – however, some do not see a need for them;
The 65 and over are harder to influence via traditional media and
therefore innovative ways of getting the fire safety message across to
this group is required;
Some older people are reluctant to seek advice from the fire and
rescue service as they think they would be using up fire fighters
Many older people take the view that if it is going to happen it will and
there is nothing they can do about it, this contributes to their relaxed
attitude to fire safety.
Awareness and recall of fire safety advertising literature is very limited.
Fire Research and Statistics in the Getting Started part of the Toolbox for
looking at trends in the figures;
how to compare local figures with national figures; and
what it might mean if the trend in your area is different.
1.5 Causes of fire
The causes of fires that injure or kill older people follow the same patterns as for
the population as a whole (smoking materials, cooking appliances and space
The content of fire safety information does not need to be significantly different
for older people, although specific techniques for communicating and
disseminating the information may be necessary.
1.6 Older people and disabilities
Older people are more likely to have a disability than the general population as a
whole; nearly half of disabled people are aged 65 or older. Their most common,
disabilities are mobility, vision and/or hearing:
around 80 per cent of people over 60 have a visual impairment;
75 per cent of people over 60 have a hearing impairment;
22 per cent have both a visual and hearing impairment; and,
more than one in ten of the over 65s find it difficult to get about.
All disabilities can reduce the ability of older people to look after themselves,
resulting in a need for personal care.
It is important to understand how disabilities might affect the capacity to think
clearly to prevent accidents and react quickly to minimise impact. Answers may
be simple, like providing audible timers to prevent food being burnt, changing
methods of heating to safer types, or more fundamental changes such as moving
sleeping accommodation to the ground floor. The FRS can offer a 'hearing
impaired’ alarm. Local FRS will have specific policies on how to assess the need
for the alarm and their availability.
Whatever the solution, the aim should be to maintain as much independence as
possible for the older person concerned and compromises will often be needed.
It may not be possible, for example, to say that no smoking can take place in
bed. Accept that smoking may need to be carried out as safely as possible by the
use of supervision or the provision of deep ashtrays and non-flammable covers.
Fire and rescue services are increasingly working in partnership with other
agencies to promote community safety and fire prevention. Partnerships help you
work with specific communities and individuals effectively. It is particularly useful
in relation to vulnerable groups, who may be hard to reach or have specific
information requirements. By tapping in to specialist knowledge and local
expertise held by other agencies, resources can be used far more effectively and
contact secured with those people most at risk of fire.
For further information in this Toolbox go to:
Before you Start in the Getting Started part of this Toolbox in particular:
o Community Partnerships (1.3)
o Neighbourhood Watch (p21)
Good practice examples –
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, through their Government funded Home Fire
Risk Check Initiative, has forged partnerships with local social services
departments and Age Concern to identify older households for Home Fire Risk
Cleveland Fire and Rescue Service have employed a number of Vulnerable
Persons Advocates to work within the community to help reduce risk, including
Deaf persons Advocates working with the local Primary Care Trust and Age
Concern to target the over 65’s in need of a Home Fire Risk Check.
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service were awarded Beacon Status in 2004 for
their work with older people based on the efforts the service has made to reduce
risks for older people to enable them to continue to live in their own homes. The
service runs a highly successful 60+ youth initiative aimed at working with young
people to increase the level of safety in their homes of their grandparents and
other older relatives and friends.
Nottinghamshire Police has teamed up with partner organisations to establish
‘First Contact’ a programme which works with Nottinghamshire County Council,
Retford Action Centre and others to ensure that people aged 60 and over receive
services to keep them safe and independent in their own homes. Under the
scheme, a representative from the police, fire and rescue service or a volunteer
agency enters the home and completes a checklist to find whether the
householder has particular safety needs, and refers them for an appropriate
response by partner organisations. ‘First Contact’ is funded by the Department
for Work and Pensions ‘Link Age Plus’ initiative a £10 million national plan to help
older people be healthier, safer and more independent.
1.8 Keep Warm Keep Well
As well as fire, older people may also be at increased risk from other factors such
as illness or death from exposure from the cold, which can lower body
temperature, and aggravate circulatory diseases. The Department of Health has
a booklet ‘Keep Warm Keep Well’ which advises people to;
Never sit too close to the fire; use a fireguard if a fire has real flames.
Not to dry wet clothes on or close to heaters. As well as the fire risk, the
clothes release damp into the air.
Find out if their gas and electricity company will do a free safety check on
their heating - many do. The Solid Fuel Association will provide
information on fire safety for those who heat their home with coal or coke.
Freephone 0800 600 000.
Tell the gas or electricity company if they have disabilities or eyesight
problems. They may be able to help with special fittings so cookers and
heating can be operated safely.
Have their heating serviced every year, and have their chimney swept at
least once a year to make sure it is safe to use.
Don't let anyone who says they are from the gas or electricity company
into their home unless they produce identification. If they are who they
say, they won't mind a phone call to their office to make sure.
During the winter months Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service distributes this
booklet which is given to over 65’s as part of their Home Fire Risk Checks if
visiting personnel feel the person will benefit from the advice contained in the
Age Concern also have booklets – ‘Fight the Freeze: Stay Safe’ and ‘Keep
Warm’ which includes fire safety tips, free Home Fire Risk Check, electric
blanket safety tips, carbon monoxide safety, help with heating and winter
More detailed information is available via the Keep Warm Keep Well Winter
The Keep Warm Keep project is a joint venture by:
Department of Health, The Pension Service, part of the Department for
Work and Pensions, Department for the Environment Food and Rural
Womens Royal Voluntary Service, Help the Aged, Age Concern, National
1.9 Working with carers
Older people most at risk of fires often have contact with the outside world
through someone - a carer - who provides help and support, from shopping, to
housework, to personal care. Carers can be a family member, a friend, or a
worker from one of the caring agencies. Carers can be effective partners,
helping to identify fire risks and pass on fire prevention advice to the people they
Northamptonshire County Council has a dedicated website which contains a
complete guidance package for carers in the local community, it has advice on
special needs – involving parents; Crick Surgery Service for people with health
related issues; Warm Front Grants and ‘Sound ‘project designed to help
householders in Northamptonshire feel safer from the dangers of fire and crime,
as well as to live more warmly and healthily in their own homes. The ‘Sound
project offers free smoke alarms, door chains and light bulbs fitted by
Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service and Care & Repair Daventry and
1.10.1 Fire safety checklist
The fire safety checklist which follows is a useful tool for carers and help them
look at an older person's lifestyle. It advises carers to check for danger signs.
Is there at least one smoke detector fitted and working?
Has the alarm been tested?
Is the battery fully functioning?
Is the electrical system in good condition?
Is electrical flex in good condition?
Are any electrical appliances run from light sockets?
Are plugs switched off at the mains?
Are there any reports of fuses blowing, lights flickering or
brown scorch marks on plugs or sockets?
Are heaters kept away from furniture and fittings?
Are gas cylinders changed or paraffin heaters filled outside,
with any gas bottles or paraffin stored outside?
Are gas or paraffin heaters used in a well ventilated area?
Does your elderly person have a night-time routine?
The living room
Is there a guard around the fire, with fuel stored outside it?
Is there a mirror above the fire place?
Are there any clothes which are too close to a fire?
Are any aerosols near any heat source?
Are there any badly worn carpets or rugs?
Are chimneys swept regularly?
Are heaters fixed out of reach of taps, high on a wall?
Are the light and heater controlled by a pull cord?
Are portable heaters kept away from the bathroom?
Are towels kept clear of the cooker?
Are pan handles turned in and clear of hotplates?
Are flexes kept away from hotplates?
Is the chip pan more than one third full?
Does your elderly person know how to extinguish a chip pan
fire? (A sticker is provided to assist.)
Do they have a timer alarm?
If your elderly person smokes in bed, is a deep ashtray
Has the electric blanket been serviced?
Is it stored with few folds, with nothing on top?
Are there any scorch marks on it?
Does it have the BS Kitemark and BEAB on it?
Are there any candles, or material to subdue lighting?
Care organisations could also help save older people's lives by:
replacing open fires with safer forms of heating;
replacing unsuitable forms of heating may qualify for assistance under the
Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES) (see page 23);
replacing polyurethane foam furniture with fire retardant materials (check
getting rid of all matches in the home. Get them a safety lighter that switches
off automatically if it is dropped;
updating cookers and other household appliances with modern versions that
have large, easy-to-use controls. Bright colours are also helpful for older
people with poor eyesight;
looking at how the person lives. Some older people spend almost all their
time in one room. Take a look at other rooms to see if there is any clutter or
things in storage that might get in the way if they have to make an escape
putting emergency numbers near the phone and reminding people that all 999
calls are free.
For more information in this Toolbox go to the following:
o Before you Start under Getting Started, in particular Community
Working with people with disabilities
Working with Black and Minority Ethnic communities
Videos are an excellent way of communicating fire risk and showing a lot of
information in a short period of time. Illustrated information will have a bigger
impact and is more likely to be retained.
Videos should always be introduced properly and put into context, and an
opportunity for discussion allowed after presentations.
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have an audio and video service which
includes fire safety advice for older people. It has modules for Home Fire Risk
Checks and services for older people.
1.10.3 Leaflets and posters
The catalogue of publicity materials available from the Fire Kills Media Campaign
and ordering procedures are found in the Toolbox module Media resources (CD).
Relevant material is available from agencies with an interest in older people's
welfare. Sources are:
Help the Aged
St James's Walk
London EC1R 0BE
Tel: 020 7253 0253
RoSPA, Cannon House, The Priory, Queensway,
Birmingham B4 6BS
1.10.4 Fire safety quiz
A Fire Safety quiz can also be an effective tool for fire and rescue services to
pass on fire safety advice. An example of one is given below. Respondents
should be asked to indicate whether statements or answers are 'true or false'. .
1. A home should have a smoke detector on every floor,
The living room?
2. Fire risks in the kitchen include:
Leaving the room while the heat is on under a cooking
Wearing clothes with baggy or dangling bits when
Putting a small pan on a large burner?
All of these?
3 If a little bit of fat or oil catches fire in a pan, the best
way to put it out is to:
Move the pan off the cooker?
Turn the cooker off?
Put bicarbonate of soda on the flames?
Cover it with a damp tea towel?
Put the pan under the kitchen tap or throw water on the
4. The best thing to do to treat a minor burn is to
immediately put what on it?
5. If your clothes catch fire, would you:
Run for help?
Take your clothes off?
Go and find a blanket to wrap around yourself?
‘Stop, drop and roll’ – get down to the floor and roll yourself
6. Smoking in bed is OK, but only if:
You sit up rather than lie down?
It’s before 9 o’clock at night?
It’s never safe?
You have the radio or TV on?
7. A good way to get rid of cigarette ash safely is to:
Put the ashtray into the kitchen sink, pour water on it, and
empty it later?
Empty the ashtray immediately into an open rubbish bin or
Empty the ashtray immediately into a closed bin?
None of these is safe ?
8. You should always buy ashtrays for your home that
Made of metal or ceramics?
Large, with a wide ‘lip’ to rest burning cigarettes on?
A bright colour?
9. If you think there is a fire on the other side of the door,
what you should do FIRST is:
Use the back of your hand to feel if the door is hot?
Open it slowly?
Open it quickly to see if there is a fire?
Wrap yourself up in blankets?
10. If you are escaping from a smoke-filled room, the
cleanest air is:
At ceiling level?
At floor level?
At eye level?
11. Your plan for getting out of your home if there is a
fire should include:
Two ways to escape from every room?
Practising your escape route?
Details of where to meet once you are safely out?
All of these?
12. If you find that an electrical lead is frayed, would
Wrap it with electrical tape?
Throw it away?
Only use it for a short time before switching off the
Only use it on a small electrical appliance?
13. If you use a space heater in the bedroom, you need
to do what when you go to bed?
Switch it off, or down to minimum setting?
Close the windows?
Put the heater near the door?
All of these things?
Publicity opportunities and use of material are covered fully in the Toolbox
module Communications and publicity.
This section highlights two areas and actions which are relevant in terms of
impact on older people.
1.12 Local media opportunities after an incident
Incidents that have been resolved can be followed up on local radio, in local
newspapers or local council newsletters. Good news of successful resolution of a
fire incident is always welcome and spreads the fire safety message in a very
positive way. It is important to draw out lessons learnt, although any incidents
that resulted in bad news should be dealt with in a very sensitive way.
1.13 Rolling poster and pamphlet displays
Simple displays in venues visited by older people - post offices, libraries, GPs
surgeries, adult education centres and luncheon clubs - are a valuable way to
reach them with basic messages and publicity material.
The use of this type of material will have more impact if it is used for short
periods, usually between four and eight weeks, then taken down and moved to
another location. This will ensure that the material is looked at regularly to make
sure it is up-to-date and in good condition.
Torn or shabby posters and tired looking leaflets are a waste of time as no one
will look at them. You should, therefore, arrange with someone working at the
venue to update the displays as well as provide new material for them.
Simple free-standing display boards or 'penguins' and leaflet holders are of great
assistance, although wallboards fitted within the establishment may be usable
It also helps to encapsulate posters in plastic to aid protection but damaged
material can be readily replaced to keep displays looking new.
Some research is needed to find venues and gain permission for displays. The
following are just a few suggestions:
post offices, on pension days;
supermarkets on pension days;
doctors' surgeries and chemists;
DIY stores on pensioners' discount days;
adult education centres.
There are others and a little research should result in enough venues to keep a
display circulating for lengthy periods without it becoming stale.
The main things to remember are to keep it simple, easily portable and move it
1.14 Information sources
Recommended actions: go to Fire Research and Statistics in the Getting
The Older Population, Help the Aged
Building a Better Britain for Older People, Department of Social Security
Report - Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health
Better Government for Older People - The Directory
With a little help - Disabled Living Foundation
Caring with the carers, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service
Real Fire Database, London Fire Brigade
Keep warm, keep well Department of Health
Line of Fire – The Audit Commission
Office for National Statistics
Opportunity Age - DWP
1.15 Useful contacts
The following organisations provide practical help, services and information to
older people and their carers. Additionally they campaign for change and
contribute to public debate on issues concerning older people.
Help the Aged
207-221 Pentonville Road,
Tel: 020 7278 1114
Centre for Policy on Ageing
25-31 Ironmonger Row,
Tel: 020 7553 6500
353 Bristol Road,
Tel: 0121 248 2000
Age Concern England
1268 London Road,
Tel: 020 8765 7200
Age Concern Scotland
Tel: 0845 833 0200
Age Concern Cymru
Ty John Pathy
13-14 Neptune Court,
Tel: 029 2043 1555
Age Concern Northern Ireland
3 Lower Crescent,
Tel: 028 9024 5729
Ruth Pitter House,
20-25 Glasshouse Yard,
Tel: 020 7490 8818
53 Victoria Street,
Tel: 01727 857536
25 Bedford Street
Tel: 020 7759 9100
Care & Repair Ltd
The Renewal Trust Business Centre
3 Hawksworth Street
Tel: 0115 950 6000
Counsel and Care
16 Bonny Street,
Tel: 020 7485 1566
Disabled Living Foundation
380-384 Harrow Road,
Tel: 020 7289 6111
Last updated: May 2007