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50 Improving the fire safety of elderly people and reducing fire deaths
  1. Seppo Männikkö,
  2. Markku Suominen,
  3. Tytti Oksanen
  1. Tampere Regional Rescue Department, Finland

Abstract

Background In Finland (population 5.4 million), an average of 73 fatal building fires take place each year. A third of the casualties are elderly people (over 65 years old). They make up 18% of the population at the moment, but the share will increase to 26% in 15 years time. At the same time, society is attempting to promote independent living by the aged in example by improving in-home services and safety devices. In practice, this means that the number of people with a somewhat reduced functional ability living independently at home will increase notably over the years to come. This will be challenging in terms of fire safety. New types of preventive measures are required in order to improve the fire safety and reduce the fire deaths of elderly people living at home.

The Tampere Region is rising to the challenge by improving cooperation between the authorities by means of training, joint home visits, and jointly developed assessment criteria for the functional ability of the elderly. In addition to the authorities, training is also provided to pension organisations and groups, family caregivers and residents of senior buildings.

Finnish legislation dictates that perceived fire hazards must be reported to the rescue authorities. Reporting has been made as easy as possible and the process efficient. On the basis of the reports, rescue authorities have made visits to assess the fire safety risks and to propose improvements to the home owner and authority in charge.

Description of the problem As for elderly people, the main reason for fire deaths is their reduced functional ability. A lack of or weakened functional ability often increases fire risks and, on the other hand, reduces the ability to escape or even prevents escaping. The rescue department is preparing assessment criteria, together with the home help service of the City of Tampere, based on the areas of functional ability, which play a role in the fire safety of a resident. The criteria are used to assess a person’s functional ability from three viewpoints: mobility, comprehension and perceptual ability. The person’s need for fire safety related support measures is determined on the basis of the assessment.

Results Training, home visits and the assessment of the functional ability are used to improve the fire safety of homes and to prevent fires. It is equally important to come up with operations models and technical solutions for situations in which a fire breaks out despite preventive measures. The Tampere Region Rescue Department has developed an automatic, portable fire-extinguishing system for private homes, in cooperation with a private company. The fire-extinguishing system is used to prevent a fire from escalating and becoming dangerous. This will minimise personal injuries and material damage.

Conclusions The above actions and matters constitute a whole, the ongoing assessment and development of which is necessary in order to improve the fire safety of elderly people and to reduce fire deaths.

  • elderly people
  • portable fire-extinguishing system
  • ability to escape
  • fire safety

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