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Aging Well with Patricia Harringtion

I live in a rural area where we can have a bonfire in our back yard, a “Category 1” fire.  We call the safe burning line to ensure that it is a safe day to burn.  I called the other day thinking it was a good day since it had rained the day before and the winds were not blowing. 

I was right, so it gave me an opportunity to fire up our pit and burn some scrap wood and enjoy watching the flames. I had a pile of wood that had already sat out in the weather for practically a year with mud caked on parts of it. I needed to chase the ants away so they would not be subjected to the fire. 

Even though the wood had been very wet and only had a day to dry out; starting the fire was very easy. I expected it to be more difficult. I just lit some paper shoved it into the wood and the flames grew within seconds.

While I watched the flames grow it reminded me of a fire safety course I recently attended. It was a real eye opener. In order to gain a better understanding of fire and how it spreads actual houses had been set on fire. 

The company that performs these tests buys average houses in neighbourhoods. They set up sensors and cameras in different parts of the house that will record time, temperatures, flame and smoke progression. The fire is started in a way that actually happens in our homes for example, an ashtray emptied into a garbage can and it ends up smoldering after we have gone to bed.  Other methods such as a spark from a woodstove that goes unnoticed, or an over loaded outlet that has too many things plugged into it.

Do you use those outlet plugs that enable us to plug six things into a plug? I have used them also, and now I will not. Once you see the real dangers and realize that we have just been lucky, you too may stop “rolling the dice.” Throw them away and get a power bar; it is well worth it.

Back to the house that is wired up to learn how a fire spreads and can affect us in a very short time. I was shocked, absolutely stunned, at how fast a fire can raise the temperature and the amount of smoke.

 I should not have been so shocked because I have seen it in my backyard on many occasions.  As I said, the materials burned very fast with just one match. Also standing beside the fire became impossible within a few minutes because the temperature got so hot.  I had to stand at least six feet away and that was in open, cool evening air.

There were many lessons to learn from the fire safety training, but to me the main lesson was how seriously fast you need to react when you hear your smoke detector alarm. Having a smoke detector is not an option, if you do not have one, you need to get at least one. 

They are not overly expensive; please ensure anyone you know has at least one on each level of the home. If the cost is a barrier to any senior please call our Seniors Health Centre and we will seek out where to access them for you. The warning these great inventions give us is just enough to get you up and out the door. 

Do not hesitate, leave anything that is not attached to you and get people out. If pets are close, grab them; apparently a pillow case is useful for that should they be impossible to carry. Get out fast and call 911 from a neighbour’s home.

For any further information please call our Seniors Health Centre a call at 902-597-7150 or toll free at 1-877-916-7150 and we would be pleased to help you.


Patricia Harrington is the district manager, senior's health, for the Cumberland Health Authority.


Organizations: Seniors Health Centre, Cumberland Health Authority

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