Senior Beat

Heating season has arrived, along with common hazards

Carol Higgins Taylor

Special to The Weekly

October is Fire Safety Awareness Month. I know some die-hard Mainers who won’t turn the furnace on until November 1. It’s like an unwritten rule. I try every year but never make it. I have already turned mine on just to take the chill off.

While fire safety should be on our minds all the time, given it is heating season, it’s time to bring it to the forefront.

We also spend more time cooking, using the dryer instead of hanging clothes on the line, and decorating with holiday lights. So, tis the season for fire safety tips.

But first, the dryer. How often do you clean your dryer vent? Not the lint tray but the hose? My dryer vent is not easily accessible so I have to hire a professional to clean it. This year, the nice young man told me that my hose had actually come unhooked. Undetectable to the naked eye, but lint had built up behind the dryer. Extreme fire hazard.

If you are like me, and not a pliable 20-something anymore, crawling around behind a dryer is not in the cards. Get your dryer hose checked out. Eastern Area Agency on Aging has the EX Fix program, which can help with that.

Let’s move onto another huge hazard – smoking. Smoking is a major cause of fire deaths among the elderly. Decreased senses, inattention and medications that cause drowsiness or confusion, may all be culprits.

If you smoke, check around furniture for discarded cigarettes that may have fallen, and use large deep ashtrays with a little water in the bottom. Before tossing the contents in the trash, be doubly sure all smoking materials are extinguished.

Here are some more fire safety ideas

— If you need to leave the stove, turn it off first. Unattended pots are just inviting disaster. My own spouse boiled a pot dry recently.

— Wear tight or short sleeves to prevent dangling fabric from igniting on a burner.

— Keep towels, potholders and wooden spoons away from burners as they could easily ignite.

— Should a grease fire occur, smother it with the lid of a pot. Never try to extinguish it with water and it’s best not to use baking soda which can splash back. A firefighter said sometimes people panic and throw on anything white such as flour or sugar. Small, five-pound fire extinguishers are available and easy to use. They would be a good investment.

— Keep burners free of spills, grease build-up, even a teakettle. It is easy to turn on the wrong burner or forget to fill the kettle with water.

Working smoke detectors are crucial to your safety. Models are available with flashing lights for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. It is also important to have a carbon monoxide detector.

Just a few final points:

— I love space heaters. They are a great way to keep warm, but they need space. It is tempting to cuddle up close to them, but don’t. Space heaters need three feet of distance all the way around. Do not place them near anything flammable such as papers, curtains, or clothing.

— Have an escape plan and make sure visitors, especially children, are aware of it. If you have stairs, think about getting battery operated, motion sensor night lights for the stairway to illuminate it in case you lose power. They are small usually just stick to the wall. I found some for about $10 each.

— Make sure that wood stoves and chimneys are properly maintained. The cleaning logs advertised on television are not a substitute for a good cleaning. Have your furnace cleaned annually too. It will help with your heating bills.

If there is a fire, get out and then call the fire department. No fire is too small to call 911. A few safety precautions can ensure a happy season.

Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at

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