Assisted living is one place where fire safety need to be taken extremely seriously because the residents are so vulnerable. The very health issues that made assisted living necessary for the elderly residents could make it very difficult for them to escape in a fire. An example of how bad it can get is the Golden Age nursing home fire of 1962, which tragically killed 63 residents.
But despite diligent prevention efforts, fires still do happen at senior care facilities. Last week KOMO News of Seattle reported about a two-alarm fire tore through a Tacoma senior community. The sprinkler system prevented the fire from getting out of hand and there were no major injuries. Seven residents were hospitalized out of an abundance of caution. Also last week, another assisted living facility was evacuated in New Jersey after a fire that started in a laundry room during the early morning hours. Four staff members and one resident were hospitalized in this incident. The fact that every resident was successfully evacuated from these facilities without any deaths or major injuries is a testament to the efficacy of the preparedness plans they had in place.
Gauging Fire Preparedness of Assisted Living Communities
If you have a loved one who lives in an assisted living community or nursing home, or if you’re in the process of selecting a community, you can gauge the facilities level of preparedness during a visit. A document by the National Fire Protection Association document has guidelines about what to look for and ask about if you’re trying to make sure your loved one is safe:
- Is the building well maintained? Make sure that paper and other storage items do not block doors or hallways needed for escape.
- Check to make sure there is an evacuation plan in place that involves all staff and is practiced regularly.
- Are there safety systems in place such as alternative exits, smoke detectors, and sprinklers?
- Check on the staff-to-patient ratio. How many staff per resident during the day and especially at night or on weekends and holidays? Is supervisory staff available to carryout an escape plan if there is a fire?
- Are there guidelines for people who smoke such as a separate room or staff supervision?
- Does nursing home management take your questions regarding safety seriously and are they forthcoming with information?
Don’t be nervous about asking these a community about their fire safety plans. Good communities are proud of their fire prevention and preparedness strategies, and will be happy to answer your questions and tell you about measures they’ve put in place.