About 25 senior citizens learned new skills about how to protect themselves from fires and falls during the second of a series of workshops hosted Thursday at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco.
The seminar was made possible by a National Fire Protection Association scholarship awarded in May to Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue and Summit County Senior Services.
In June, Steve Lipsher, public information officer for Lake Dillon Fire, and Lori Williams, manager of the senior center, traveled to Las Vegas to participate in a National Fire Protection Association conference, titled “Remembering When: A Fire- and Fall-Prevention Program for Older Adults.” Lipsher and Williams made up one of 30 two-person teams from across the country selected to participate in the event.
“A lot of local agencies have recognized in recent years that there’s a lot of fire- and fall-related issues in Summit County, but they were never adequately addressed,” Lipsher said. “We were all trying to address the problem in our own little ways. One of the things we learned is that we needed to create a committee to get all of the organizations to work together.”
On Thursday, Lipsher and Williams were joined by representatives from the first-responder community, the local office of the American Red Cross and physical therapists to educate local seniors about fire- and fall-prevention through trivia, skits and a short exercise session on how to improve balance.
“This is all about raising awareness and we learned a lot from the program (in Las Vegas),” Williams said. “We learned that in order to be successful we needed to make these sessions light, fun and, most importantly, memorable.”
During the workshop, Williams and Jo Ring, from the Red Cross, performed a skit about how locals might gently encourage a relative or a friend to de-clutter their homes. Hoarding belongings becomes more common as people age, Williams said.
Worse yet, because seniors become fearful that people might want to take their possessions away from them, older people have a tendency of wanting to have everything they own in eyesight. Piles of belongings all over the house only increases a senior’s chances of having a dangerous or potentially fatal fall.
Jim Fuxa, of Colorado Springs, said the portion about hoarding struck a particularly sensitive chord. His father developed a hoarding habit as he aged, which ultimately resulted in his death.
“I found their suggestions about what to have in your house and getting rid of the clutter you don’t need helpful, especially as your balance gets worse as you get older,” Fuxa said. “My father was worried I was trying to steal his stuff, but I was just trying to move some of his things to the basement. Clutter is what ended up killing him when he tripped and hit his head during a fall.”
Lipsher lead the group in a discussion about basic fire safety, which centered on ensuring people have a working smoke detector in their homes. Although the number of fire-related deaths has decreased dramatically since detectors’ widespread introduction in the 1970s, Lipsher said older generations don’t regularly maintain their smoke detectors or realize it has a functioning lifespan of just 10 years.
“If your smoke detector is chirping at you, it’s telling you to change the battery, not to just simply take it out,” Lipsher said. “And, as Lori (Williams) mentioned before, if your smoke detector is chirping, it’s probably not a good idea to take out your hearing aid.”
Retired Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Capt. John Young also brought up the importance of ensuring addresses are highly visible to make it easier for first responders to find a home during an emergency. Young mentioned Summit County and Lake Dillon Fire recently partnered on a program to provide local residents with discounted street-address signs.
“If your home is on fire, that’s easy, we just follow the smoke,” Young said, laughing. “But if someone is inside having a heart attack or something, we need to be able to find your home very quickly.”
Charlotte Clarke, a resident of Bill’s Ranch near Frisco since 1994, said it wasn’t all that long ago when streets in unincorporated Summit County had no names and there was no address system for local homes. Although that changed about 10 years ago, Clarke said there are still plenty of streets and homes that don’t have signage or visible addresses.
“In Bill’s Ranch, a lot of us named our driveways to help firefighters in case of an emergency. Mine is Clarke Lane,” Clarke said. “Even today, if people come to my house from one direction instead of another, they get lost because there aren’t any street signs.”
The workshop ended with local physical therapist Pat Aden leading the group in several balancing exercises. During the first, Aden asked seniors to stand and sway front to back as if on a boat. The difficulty of the exercise increased when she asked the seniors to close their eyes.
“More than 70 percent of balance comes from vision,” Aden said. “That’s why it’s so important to avoid low light, to de-clutter your homes and to turn on your lights when walking up and down stairs.”
Williams said the senior center plans to host additional safety workshops as interest demands. The third workshop is scheduled to take place sometime in the fall. For information about the workshops, or to inquire about additional health and safety programs in the county, call Lori Williams at the Summit County Community and Senior Center at 668-2940.