By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Hudson – Local and state officials gathered March 28 at the Hudson Senior Center to officially launch Senior SAFE. The new program has provided grants to 205 fire departments statewide to work with councils on aging and other agencies so that they can offer fire safety education for older adults. It's modeled after Student Awareness of Fire Education (SAFE) for children under 18, which reduced fire-related deaths within that age group by 71 percent.
Held two days after the fatal fire in a Boston apartment building, the gathering began with State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan inviting everyone to join him in a moment of silence for the two fallen firefighters.
“It underscores what our programs are about today and beyond: to prevent fires,” he said.
Coan reported that last year 42 percent of the state's fire casualties were people over age 65. Of the 12 fire-related deaths so far this year, eight were over 65.
As state fire marshal, Coan responded to some of those fires and witnessed what he called a common thread: a need for more fire safety education for seniors. He credited state Rep. Kate Hogan, D-Stow, for spearheading Senior SAFE.
?”The main legislative champion of this program is the state representative from our district,” he said.
Hogan, who co-chairs the Legislative Elders Caucus, relayed that a fire and carbon monoxide poisoning in her town a few years ago took the lives of seniors.
“When you'se a state representative and that happens in your own district, it makes you lose sleep,” she shared.
The incident compelled Hogan to reach out to councils on aging. She also contacted Coan and they began working together toward what is now Senior SAFE.
“We'se going to be able to take down that 42 percent of seniors who were dying,” she said. “We can take those numbers down like we did for the students and young children. When we were able to set up the program, the numbers simply plummeted. Last year, we could say that no child in Massachusetts died in a fire. That is so critical and so simple.”
State Rep. James O”Day, D-West Boylston, chair of the Committee on Elders Affairs, noted that he feels strongly about seniors wanting to remain in their homes.
“We want to make sure that you all have the knowledge you need to be able to continue to remain in your home and to make sure that you'se safe,” he said. “This program, we believe, will give you some gentle reminders of things you'se probably heard before.”
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, praised Hogan for her leadership in support of instructing seniors statewide.
?”We'se realizing in the State House now that it's not just about passing laws,” he said. “It's also about public education and letting people know proactive, preventative practices that they can learn to make sure their lives are dramatically better. The Senior SAFE program is going to do that for seniors across Massachusetts.”
George Rogers, president of the Fire Chiefs” Association of Massachusetts, spoke about the importance of understanding the use of devises such as smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.
“We's also like to focus on issues that affect seniors like cooking, home heating, space heaters, electrical safety and home oxygen safety,” he added. “Those areas are a big concern for us.”
Elder Affairs Secretary Ann Hartstein encouraged seniors to join the legislators” efforts.
“Do what you can to protect yourselves to make sure that you'se safe in your house,” she said. “That will help us reach the goal of zero elders who have died from fire in the commonwealth.”