A large majority of Upper Pine Fire calls are medical, and 61 percent of the medical calls are for people over age 60, especially for falls.
The district is trying to change that with a fire and fall prevention program called Remember When. The district is partnering with Evening's Porch Assisted Living in Bayfield and Comfort Keepers home care assistance.
Upper Pine Fire Marshal Tom Kaufman, Erin Youngblood from Evenings Porch, and Linda Schaffer from Comfort Keepers started at the Pine River Senior Center lunch on Jan. 22. They also passed out home safety checklists.
They are offering free home inspections for fall and fire hazards, including how you heat your house and whether your smoke detectors are operating.
"This is a free program," Youngblood stressed. "We aren't selling anything."
Schaffer cited statistics that seniors' risk of dying in a fire increases as they age, and falls in the home are the leading cause of death or disabling injuries for seniors. "Be aware of your surroundings," she said.
Kaufman said his 92-year-old mother has fallen. She called him at 10 p.m. after she tripped over her little dogs or over an oxygen line and couldn't get up. She broke her wrist. Seniors fall and may be unable to get up without help. They might be injured. Kaufman recounted one woman who was outside in winter when she fell. She lay there for a couple hours before someone found her, and her core body temperature was low enough to be life threatening.
He called fall danger a spiraling circle as people get into their 60, 70s, and beyond. They don't exercise. That affects their strength and balance. Fear of falling just compounds that.
During home inspections, the fire officials and agency staff will look for fall hazards such as stairs, throw rugs, and even the height of the person's bed. "We do a lot of calls to people lying next to their beds," he said. He passed out night lights provided by LPEA, so people have light for 3 a.m. trips to the bathroom.
Space heaters and smoke detectors get a lot of attention for fire safety.
Kaufman showed a couple models of space heaters and warned that they should be plugged directly into a wall socket, not an extension cord or a multi-plug power strip. The heaters draw around 12.5 amps. A standard household circuit is 15 amps, so a space heater can easily overload it if other appliancess are also drawing power at the same time.
He cited Bayfield High School where all the office staff had a space heater under their desk. The worst example he's seen was the Durango High School theatre which had more than 30 things, including the stage lighting, on one circuit. They had someone standing at the breaker for when it tripped during a performance, he said.
"The challenge in most older homes is not enough outlets," he said. "One per room used to be enough." He also advised that a space heater should be at least three feet away from furniture or anything flammable.
Fireplace and wood stove chimneys need an inspection by a fire department, Kaufman said. "We run a lot of fires because of cracks in chimneys or pipes that come loose."
And if you smoke, do it outside, Kaufman said. "We run on fires from smoking in bed, people on oxygen who still smoke." But he added that if you smoke outside, have a deep ashtray that can't tip over, and don't toss cigarette butts into a planter. The potting mix can be flammable. "Last year in Bayfield, a fire clearly started in a planter on the deck after a party," he said.
Smoke detectors greatly increase someone's chance of escaping a fire, but only if they are working, Kaufman said. They should be checked two times each year. The home inspections include smoke detectors. The batteries may need replacing, which Upper Pine responders can do. The smoke detectors themselves are good for about 10 years. Beyond that, they should be replaced. Upper Pine has a stock of replacement detectors available at no cost.
Kaufman also gave safety tips for cooking. He said his mom gets distracted watching TV while she has something on the stove. She falls asleep until the smoke detector goes off.
Another hazard, not just for seniors, is carbon monoxide. "Last week we had a call for an 86-year-old and an 87-year-old, both sick at the same time," Kaufman said. That suggested they ate some bad food, or it could have been carbon monoxide. A mother and young child died this past weekend on the East Coast trying to stay warm in their car, but the tail pipe was plugged with snow, sending the gas into the car. Another child was in critical condition in the hospital.
Kaufman urged district residents to call (to 911) if they suspect something is happening. "You pay taxes to the district. We don't charge for calls unless you ride in the ambulance," he said.
To schedule a home safety inspection, call 1 (888) 518-6500. The Remembering When program is sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.