With the winter of 2015 wearing on with increasingly frigid temperatures, State Fire Marshal Richard Miller urges fire safety for all Michiganders, especially the elderly who are most at risk when it comes to fire.

“It is so important to talk about fire safety with our elderly parents, grandparents, friends or neighbors,” said Miller. “Start with making sure they have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Go over fire safety practices and develop a fire escape plan with them. These are the things that will have the greatest impact on their ability to prevent or survive a fire.”

Miller said non-working or missing smoke alarms were the common reasons for many of Michigan’s home fires and related fatalities, and noted that having working smoke alarms may reduce the risk of dying in a fire by as much as 60 percent.

“Install smoke alarms next to sleeping areas and on every level of the home. Interconnect them so when one sounds, they all do,” said Miller. “Test alarms monthly and change batteries annually. For the deaf or hard of hearing, consider installing smoke alarms that use a flashing light or a bed shaker to alert them of a fire emergency.”

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, adults over age 65 are more than twice as likely to die in fires. Seniors over age 85 are more than four times as likely to die in a fire. Older adults are at higher risk because their ability to respond to or escape a fire is often slower due to physical limitations.

Many precautions can be taken to help ensure fire safety, including:

Smoking safety

  • Smoking is the number one cause of home fires that kills older adults.
  • Smoke outdoors when permissible and never smoke when using medical oxygen or near the presence of oxygen tanks.

Cooking safety

  • Fires caused by cooking are the leading cause of fire-related injuries in the elderly.
  • Never leave cooking unattended.
  • Wear short sleeves or roll them up so they don’t catch on fire.
  • Never lean over a lit burner.
  • Keep anything that can burn away from the stove.
  • If a pan catches fire, slide a lid over it and turn off the burner.
  • Turn off the stove if you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time.

Electrical safety

  • Have a licensed electrician inspect the electrical system to be sure it is safe and meets the applicable Michigan Electrical Code requirements.
  • Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the lamp or light fixture.
  • Plug major appliances directly into a wall outlet.
  • Do not use cracked or worn extension cords; do not overload cords.

Heating safety

  • Have the furnace inspected by a professional every year.
  • Never use the oven or stove to heat your home.
  • Unplug a space heater if you leave the room or go to bed; keep it at least three feet away from anything that can burn.
  • Make sure the heater has an automatic shut-off if it tips over.

Candle safety

  • Never leave candles unattended.
  • Place them in sturdy holders away from anything that can burn.
  • Never use them in bedrooms or where medical oxygen is being used.
  • Always use a flashlight, not a candle in an emergency.

Practice an escape plan

  • Know and practice two ways out of every room in your home.
  • Practice unlocking and opening the windows and doors.
  • If you use a wheel chair or walker, check all the exit routes in advance to be sure you can get through doorways. If not, map out acceptable escape routes and discuss your escape plans with your family, the building manager or neighbors.
  • Keep eyeglasses, keys, hearing aids, and a phone within reach next to your bed.
  • Your first priority in fire is always to get out and stay out. Do not stop to call the fire department until you are safe outside.
  • Never try and fight the fire yourself and do not stop to gather personal belongings.
  • If there’s smoke, stay as low to the floor as possible and cover your mouth.
  • If in an apartment building or nursing home, always use the stairways to get out – never use the elevator.
  • Call for 911 if you cannot escape or are attempting to get out.

Adults over age 60 comprise 20 percent (20.2%) of Michigan’s population. More than 32 percent (32.8%) of all Michigan households have someone age 60 or older living in them.

If you know of someone who is in need of a free smoke alarm or have questions about smoke alarms, email



State Fire Marshal Richard Miller urges extreme caution as deadly home fires are on the rise in Michigan this winter. These fires are often due to careless smoking, unattended candles, space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces, or faulty electrical wiring.

“Just two weeks into 2015, and we’re already seeing an increase in the number of home fires and related fatalities,” said Miller. “We’re especially seeing more fires in modular or mobile homes and apartments, injuring or taking the lives of children and the elderly, as residents look to alternative sources of heat to try and keep warm.”

Miller said to keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from any type of heat source or equipment such as a fireplace, wood burning stove or portable space heater.

“All of these methods of heating may be acceptable, but are major contributing factors in residential fires,” said Miller. “Simple precautions can prevent deadly consequences.”

Whether living in a single family dwelling, apartment, or mobile home, make sure it is well-equipped with multiple, working smoke alarms in sleeping and living areas; interconnect them so when one alarm sounds, they all sound. Test smoke alarms at least once a month and replace batteries at least once a year. Never remove or disable alarms. Make sure the kids and elderly in your home know the sound of the alarm.

Have a home fire escape plan that the entire family has practiced that includes two, easy ways out of every room and an outside meeting place. Make sure you can open and get out of windows and doors.

Have a licensed electrician inspect the electrical system to be sure it is safe and meets the applicable Michigan Electrical Code requirements. Have the furnace inspected to ensure controls and emergency shutoffs are working properly.

Other fire safety tips include:

  • Never use a range or oven to heat your home. Along with being a potential fire hazard, it can be a source of potentially toxic fumes.
  • If buying a space heater, make sure it has an automatic shut-off switch. Never use it in the bathroom or other areas where it may come in contact with water. Keep the kids and pets a safe distance away and turn it off when leaving a room or going to bed.
  • Have smokers smoke outside the home.
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container.
  • Never leave candles burning in an unoccupied room.
  • In the event of a power outage, portable generators should only be used outside and away from buildings, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Clear snow away from all exterior doors so you can get out fast in the event of an emergency.
  • Clear away snow from fire hydrants so they are clearly visible.

According to Miller, the peak time for home fire fatalities is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when most families are sleeping.

“When a fire occurs, get out quick and stay out. Escape first, closing doors behind you if possible. Quickly gather at your meeting place and then notify the fire department by calling 9-1-1 from a safe location,” said Miller. “Your firefighters are specially trained and equipped to rescue your family and pets, as well as to protect your possessions. Help your firefighters by remaining together outside the home and directing them to endangered family.”

For more information on fire safety during the winter months, visit the following websites:
E.S.C.A.P.E. Fire and Safety
The United States Fire Administration
The National Fire Protection Association