Aging U.S. Population to Challenge EMS: FEMA Report

This age group is at a higher fire risk than the rest of the population, and high-frequency smoke alarms in many existing homes are a problem, it says.

A refreshingly concise new report submitted to Congress by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and titled "Impact of an Aging Population on Fire and Emergency Medical Services" contains sobering news for these response agencies, but most probably know full well what the aging population entails.

As is well known, the report says "this expanding older adult population may require ever-increasing amounts of public services, health care, and additional services." But it also points out a significant problem with high-frequency smoke alarms, common in U.S. homes today.

It notes that "many young children and older adults are not awakened by the high-frequency alert tone produced by home smoke alarms. This is a major concern because a disproportionate number of fire fatalities happen while the victims are asleep or in the process of escaping. Smoke alarms that are audible to the aging population will increase their likelihood of making a safe escape. Furthermore, research continues to show that a disproportionate number of home fire deaths occur in homes that either do not have smoke alarms or in which the smoke alarm did not function.

"The national consensus code governing fire alarm systems, National Fire Protection Association 72, National Fire Alarm Code, has been revised to require a more-effective lower-frequency tone for alarms that are to be installed in sleeping areas of occupancies other than homes (e.g., hospitals, hotels, care facilities, etc.). But this provision was not extended to homes because of concerns over technical viability and cost. Recent research sponsored by USFA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission demonstrates that a more-effective low-frequency alert tone is technically feasible and can be economically added to home smoke alarms. Changes to require the more-effective low-frequency alert tones in the codes in all new homes may be forthcoming in the near future."

In addition, older adults are at a much higher fire risk than the rest of the population.

The report recommends educational outreach, integrating new smoke alarm technologies in model codes for homes, and fire sprinklers in homes.

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    September 2020

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