On July 14, more than 100 firefighters responded to a seven-alarm fire at the 36-story Marco Polo building.

The nightmare ended with three people dead. Two of them were kupuna.

The tragedy highlights a sobering fact when it comes to fire safety.

“People over the age of 65 are twice as likely to get injured or die in a fire than the population at large. It’s a disproportionately high number of injuries or deaths for the seniors,” said Barbara Kim Stanton, AARP Hawaii director.

The Marco Polo fire is a chilling reminder of the importance of fire safety among seniors, and why they need a support network of family, friends, and neighbors.

“If you have a wheelchair, then your safety support system really needs to include a neighbor or somebody who is close by who can help you,” Stanton said.

Fire safety advocates urge seniors to have two escape routes, but just having a plan is not enough.

“You need to practice it, and you have to have people you know will be there to help you,” Stanton said.

The AARP advises that you:

  • Practice getting out from each room,
  • Don’t get alarm lazy. Check batteries often,
  • Beware of overload on older homes,
  • Replace, don’t repair damaged electrical cords, and
  • Get a multi-sensory device, especially if you’re deaf or hard of hearing.

“What you need to have is some kind of lighting system where, if the alarm is going off, a light will flash in the bedroom or a vibrator will alert the person to get up,” Stanton said.

If you’re a caregiver, now’s the time to prepare.

“If you really want to give a gift that’s meaningful, check out their homes. Buy them a fire extinguisher. Check their routes and make sure that their smoke alarm is working,” Stanton said. “Fire safety, if you do it right, will save your life.”