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Role reversal: Fire prevention and your parents

Aug. 3, 2017

A firefighter and another woman look inspect a lint screen on a clothes dryer.
​Photo: Adults over age 60 have accounted for nearly half of all fire deaths in Minnesota over the past few years. Talking to your parents about fire prevention and safety is a great way to avoid them becoming part of that statistic.

Let’s face it: We’re not getting any younger, and neither are our parents. And as your parents age, you might be finding your roles reversing a bit: Where once Mom doled out your allowance, you are now helping make financial decisions for her. Maybe Dad bandaged your skinned knees when you fell off your bike, but now you accompany him to the doctor.

It’s important that one of those role reversals doesn’t fall through the cracks: fire safety and prevention. Your parents may have watched with quiet amusement when you came home from school with your red plastic fire hat and demonstrated how the visiting firefighters taught you to stop, drop and roll. Now it’s time to return the favor (although you don’t have to make them drop or roll).

The numbers show that adults over age 60 are a demographic particularly vulnerable to fires: in 2015, for example, people 60 and over accounted for over 45 percent of all fire deaths; so far this year, that percentage has climbed to 48. And when you consider that, in about three years, adults over age 65 will outnumber K-12 schoolchildren for the first time in history, fire prevention and safety for seniors becomes even more important.

So next time you’re visiting your parents or talking to them on the phone, take time to bring it up. Do they have smoke alarms? If so, test them; if not, buy them some (you can get a reliable one at any home improvement store for about $25) and put one on every level and outside every sleeping area. What about their stove – are there combustibles like dish towels nearby? Do Mom and Dad stay in the kitchen to keep an eye on things while they’re cooking? Does either of your parents need oxygen? Be sure they know never to smoke around an oxygen supply.

And speaking of smoking, it’s the leading cause of fatal fires for people over age 60. If they have to smoke, remind them to do so outside and dispose of the cigarette in a sturdy container filled with sand or water (not a potted plant – those burn too).

When you talk to your parents about fire prevention and safety, you may feel as if you’re coddling them or that they might not want to hear what you have to say – but better to have your parents irked at you than to lose them in a fire.