Attention Westfield: Let’s ‘Retire the Fire!’

Westfield Fire Department patch. (WNG File Photo)

By Tina Gorman, Executive Director Westfield Council On Aging

With support from the Westfield Fire Department, the Westfield Public Safety Communication Center, the Westfield News, the Westfield Rotary Club, and Mayor Brian Sullivan, the Westfield Council On Aging is once again launching its annual Retire the Fire! fire prevention and safety campaign for the City’s older adults.  During the week of March 4 to 8, residents of Westfield will see Retire the Fire! flyers hung throughout the City and buttons with the slogan worn by Council On Aging staff, seniors, and community leaders.  Both are gentle reminders that fire safety for Westfield’s older adults is a personal, family, and community effort.

The focus of this year’s Retire the Fire! effort is attention to the special safety precautions and requirements for those who are living with or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or memory loss.  Last year’s Emergency Information Form has been renamed, revised, and simplified, and is available at the Senior Center.  The First Responder Informative Extra Needs Directive or FRIEND form provides information to first responders about the person in need, prior to arriving on the scene.  It is helpful for first responders to know ahead of time if the person in distress has Alzheimer’s disease, a dementia diagnosis, memory loss, or cognitive limitations as well as hearing, visual, or mobility challenges.  FRIEND forms are available in the Westfield Senior Center’s ‘Senior Safety Office’ located directly across from the Greeter’s desk.  For those who would like assistance completing the forms, COA staff members are available to help.

Tina Gorman, Director of the Westfield Council on Aging (WNG file photo)

An additional goal of the Retire the Fire! program is working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in the homes of all of the City’s older adults.  Sixty percent of the fire deaths that occur each year take place in homes without smoke alarms or working smoke alarms.  Massachusetts law requires certain types of smoke detectors based on the year that the home was built.  Courtesy of the Westfield Fire Department, specific written guidelines are available at the Senior Center for homes constructed prior to 1975, between 1975 and 1997, and those built after 1997.     

Regarding detector battery replacement, the current regulation is that homes built before 1975 must be equipped with smoke detectors with a ten-year life span.  These smoke detectors are sold as ten-year ‘sealed lithium battery power alarms.’  On older detectors, batteries should be replaced annually.  A good rule of thumb for Westfield’s older adults is to replace the batteries during Retire the Fire! week.  With daylight saving time on the horizon this weekend, now is the perfect time to attend to this task.  Unfortunately, many older adults cannot and should not replace the batteries themselves.  Most detectors are installed in the ceiling of a room and the use of a ladder is necessary for battery replacement.  For safety reasons, older adults should enlist the help of relatives, friends, and neighbors to change the batteries in their smoke alarms.

An important question that Retire the Fire! coordinators are asking the City’s older adults is, “Can you be found in an emergency?”  It is not unusual for older adults to require the services of firefighters, paramedics, or police officers.  The faster that emergency personnel can get to the scene, the more likely that a life can be saved or a disaster averted.  But what if emergency personnel can’t find the victim’s house?  Massachusetts law requires that homes have, on the dwelling, a number representing the address.  House numbers are available through the Council On Aging and can be installed by members of the Westfield Rotary Club for those sixty and older who need visible numbers on their house.

Finally, educating the public about fire prevention and safety specifically geared toward older adults is crucial to the success of the Retire the Fire! program.  Toward that end, the Westfield News will publish a series of articles throughout the week on those topics that are most pertinent to this unique population.  In addition to the articles, informational brochures and handouts are available at the Senior Center.

The effectiveness of the Retire the Fire! program is dependent upon community involvement.  Take the time to check on your older relative, friend, or neighbor.  Volunteer to drive them to the store to purchase a smoke detector and help to install it.  Any smoke detector that was installed more than ten years ago, must be replaced.  Change the batteries in their existing smoke alarms.  Make gift-giving practical with new smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Christmas.  If we work together, we can all help to “Retire the Fire!”

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