Hard of hearing, elderly Aussies at greatest risk of fatal fires

Hard of hearing, elderly at greatest risk of fatal fires

With winter fast approaching, Aussies are digging out their heaters and dusting off the fireplace. But are confident that you could escape a house fire in time? Would you wake up to a smoke alarm?

Half of Australians are worried that their elderly relatives could not get out in time if their home was on fire, with a quarter believing their older family members would sleep through a smoke alarm.

That's according to research by Australian smoke alarm manufacturer Brooks, which has found half of people who are hard of hearing don't wear their hearing aids when they're asleep.

At least one Aussie dies from residential fire each week, with people aged over 65 accounting for over a third (36 per cent) of all fatalities.

In NSW alone, on average 21 people die in residential fires every year. According to Fire and Rescue NSW, a third of those fatalities may have been prevented if the homes had working smoke alarms and had a practised home escape plan.


The Brooks study of more than 1000 adults, found low mobility and being hard of hearing topped the list for the biggest barriers to getting out of a house fire in time.

Fire safety expert and Brooks chief executive, Cameron Brooks, said basic safety checks were falling by the wayside, especially with more Aussies isolated from family during the pandemic.

Despite over half (57 per cent) of people worrying about the safety of their older family members still living at home, less than half (42 per cent) check their elderly relatives smoke alarms to ensure they are working.

While the research found basic safety checks were being missed, it also found almost two thirds (58 per cent) of Aussies haven't discussed an escape plan in case of fire with their family.

Mr Brooks said it's alarming that such a huge number of Aussies haven't thought about getting their families out safely in the event of a fire.

"We hope to never have to use them, but escape plans are an important part of keeping our families safe. Making sure that everyone knows how to get out safely, where to meet and what to do is essential for not only children but also our elderly family members too," he said.

He said as most fatal house fires occur at night, it's was also oncerning that a quarter of people questioned thought that their elderly relatives would sleep through a smoke alarm.


Smoke alarms save lives

Mr Brooks said early warning devices are essential in every Australian home, but even more so when occupants may be hard of hearing or deaf.

"Smoke alarms save lives but those who are deaf or hard of hearing cannot depend on the sound of the regular alarm to alert them to a fire."

He said, for these reasons, physical and visual alerts are essential for notifying elderly or hard of hearing Australians of imminent danger.

"Specialised smoke alarms for the hard of hearing are available and come with a vibrating pad, that is placed under their pillow and a strobe light which is linked to the home's smoke detectors," he said.

Fire and Rescue NSW encourages residents to aim for a higher level of protection by installing interconnected smoke alarms in every bedroom, living space (including hallways and stairways) and even the garage in their home.

It has these tips on how to instal smoke alarms and where to put them.

Brooks has launched its own fire safety checklist with tips on smoke alarms and escape plans. Here are some of the tips:

Smoke Alarms

  • Test and clean at least once a month
  • Place a minimum of one smoke alarm on each level
  • Put one in every bedroom where someone sleeps with the door closed
  • Interconnect your smoke alarms so if one alarms all will alarm
  • Check your smoke alarm date
  • Replace every 10 years
  • If your smoke alarm has removeable batteries replace them every April 1.

Escape Plan

  • Draw out a plan of your house
  • Develop and practice your home fire escape plan - have two ways to escape each room and a designated safe meeting point outside your home, e.g. letterbox
  • Never deadlock doors when you're at home
  • If you must keep doors deadlocked, leave your keys in the lock
  • Reduce flammable clutter such as old boxes or paper
This story Hard of hearing, elderly at greatest risk of fatal fires first appeared on The Senior.