Home fire safety should factor in people with disabilities

  • Published
  • By Jessie R. Moreno
  • Fire Protection Inspector, 902nd Civil Engineer Squadron

Smoke alarms save lives. But a regular alarm cannot be relied upon when it comes to alerting a deaf or hard of hearing person to a fire.

People with disabilities must deal with the unique challenges that fires present. With the disadvantages this group of people may have in escaping a fire, they could also have obstacles in their residence that would hamper their safe exodus.

To avoid such a delay the need in preparing ahead of time without some sort of assistance from a caregiver, neighbor, or relative to protect yourself and your loved ones in the home is vital.

In this case, an alarm with a strobe, or flashing, lights for the deaf or hard of hearing should be used. In addition, the alarm should be tested by an independent testing laboratory. The alarms for sleeping areas with strobes are required to be of a special high intensity that can wake a sleeping person.

Safety tips include:

  • Smoke alarms are available for people who are deaf or with profound hearing loss. These alarms use strobe lights to wake the person. Vibration notification appliances, such as pillow or bed shakers, are activated by the sound of a smoke alarm.
  • As people age, their ability to hear high-pitched sounds decreases. Research from the National Fire Protection Association Research Foundation showed that older adults are unlikely to respond to alarms with strobe lights.
  • Older adults or other people who are hard of hearing, or those with mild to severe hearing loss, can use a device that emits a mixed, low-pitched sound. In its current form, this device is activated by the sound of a traditional smoke alarm.
  • Make sure everyone in your home understands and reacts to the signal (light, vibration, or sound) used in their situation.
  • Don’t forget all smoke alarms should be tested at least monthly. Replace smoke alarms and equipment for people who are deaf or hard of hearing according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. If you can’t reach the alarm, ask for help.

Including everyone in the home escape planning is vital, so get input from each member of the family on the best way to escape a fire.

Home fire drills are equally important and everyone should participate. Knowing where to meet outside the home, taking accountability of family members, and calling 9-1-1 should be practiced. Keep a phone by the bed to call for help in case you can’t escape.

Contact your local fire department and ask them if they can review your plan and recommend any inputs. Ask if they maintain a directory of occupants in the home that may require assistance in escaping a fire in the home. If you have a service animal, include them in your fire escape plan during an emergency.

To learn more about smoke alarms for the hearing impaired, visit the National Fire Protection Association’s website at www.nfpa.org/education or contact our fire prevention offices at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston at 210-221-1804, at JBSA-Lackland at 210-671-2921 or at JBSA-Randolph at 210-652-6915.