NEWINGTON - While kids have long been the audience for fire safety education, local firefighters switched gears to a higher-risk population recently.
Newington Volunteer Fire Department members delivered a presentation on fire prevention at the Newington Senior & Disabled Center during its Annual Public Safety Picnic Aug. 28.
Adults over age 65 are almost three times more likely to be killed in a house fire than people of any other age, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
“After many decades of targeting young children we have to start ramping up our targeting to who’s really most at-risk,” explained Fire Captain Meghan Manke, who led the presentation in the center’s auditorium along with Deputy Fire Marshal Colin Whalen.
Newington police usually host the annual picnic, providing updates on safety and crime affecting older adults. Having firefighters this year was a special treat for members, Senior Center Director Dianne Stone pointed out.
“The police department was not able to do our picnic this year so the fire department swept in,” she said. “We’re very grateful for everything Newington Volunteer Fire Department does and we’re thrilled to have them here today.”
Fire Chief Chris Schroeder joined half-a-dozen firefighters in grilling up over 100 burgers and hot dogs so the group could have a nice meal together.
“We had a bunch of volunteers manning the grills and now we’re enjoying lunch and mingling with the crowd,” he said. “The most important thing that comes from this is the questions people ask and the answers they take away. Public safety is our primary job. There’s no honor in fighting a fire that could have been prevented.”
Manke has given similar presentations at local nursing homes and senior housing complexes, including Meadow View, the newly built elderly housing down the hill from the Senior Center. She answered several questions from the audience, including one from Mabel Maynard.
“How far away from your house or building should your grill be?” Maynard asked.
“It should be at least 10 feet away,” Manke said.
She also advised people to make sure their hallways and rooms have clear paths for emergency personnel to navigate through during rescue response.
“They should be at least three feet wide,” Manke explained. “Even if you’re not three feet wide a stretcher is and we might need to get one through.”
Maynard said she is a member of the Newington Citizens Emergency Response Team so she already knew a lot of the information she heard at the picnic.
One surprise, however, was the amount of time people have to escape a building once a fire ignites. It’s three minutes.
Forty years ago it was 17 minutes, but with the amount of synthetic materials and furniture now, rooms go up in flames much faster. Firefighters showed a video demonstrating this in two side-by-side rooms with old-fashioned and modern furnishings.
They also discussed fire hazards and tips, like keeping a space heater three feet from any walls or furniture and taking a timer or oven mitt with you if a heating element is on and you must leave the kitchen.
The leading cause of home fire deaths for older adults is smoking. Whalen cautioned those who smoke to do it outside and discard cigarettes in sturdy, deep ashtrays.
“Don’t ever discard ashes in the trash,” he said. “They will smolder and build and eight hours later you’ll have a fire.”
Seniors also learned to keep their bedroom doors shut firmly while sleeping to significantly minimize damage if a fire occurs.
“Keep your glasses, your medication, your walker or cane and any other necessities on your night stand in case you need to escape quickly,” Manke added.
NVFD is hosting its annual Fall Open House at headquarters, 1485 Main St., on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 6 p.m. People and families of all ages are welcome.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.