Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
If you or someone you love is deaf or has hearing loss, October is a good month to have a discussion about fire safety. Here’s a checklist of things you can do to make sure everyone in your family — regardless of their ability to hear — can get out of the house safely in the event of a fire.
According to the National Safety Council (NCS), there were 3,100 unintentional deaths related to fire in 2010. Fires are the fourth highest cause of accidental death in the United States and most house fires occur during the night when people are asleep. As the weather turns cooler, the risk of fire in the home increases. Of course, the best way to survive a home fire is to not have one in the first place. Take a look around your home and make sure:
- electrical cords are not frayed, loose, or hidden under rugs
- outlets are not overloaded with plugs
- light fixtures have the correct bulb wattage
- lamps and night lights do not touch any fabric, such as drapes or bedding
- to schedule an annual maintenance check for your furnace or heating system
- electrical blankets and space heaters are unplugged when not in use
- your wood-burning fireplace is professionally cleaned once a year
- replace or repair appliances when they spark, overheat or smell unusual
- know the phone number for the local fire department
- smoke alarm batteries have been replaced within the past six months
Have the right equipment
Smoke alarms: Smoke alarms save lives; however, since traditional models emit high-pitched, 60 decibel sounds when they’re activated, they aren’t effective for those who are deaf or have hearing loss. Fortunately, most major smoke alarm companies offer devices which use a different method to alert individuals to the danger in their home. These alerting devices include: strobe light smoke alarms, which have flashing lights strong enough to wake a sleeping person, also include vibration notification appliances which shake your bed or pillow. Other models have louder, lower pitched alarms to alert those who cannot hear high pitched sounds. These different devices are especially important for nighttime when individuals typically do not wear their hearing aids.
According to Susanne Jones, customer support manager for Healthy Hearing, studies show that almost all adults with normal hearing wake up within 32 seconds of the start of a traditional 3100 Hz alarms. That’s within the three minute time frame fire safety professionals say you have to exit a burning house safely.
“Only about half of the adults who are hard of hearing wake up to a standard 3100 Hz smoke alarm signal,” she said. “This is especially concerning for people who have hearing loss and live by themselves. It puts them at an unacceptable risk of injury or death due to a house fire.”
If you’re afraid these alarms are difficult to install, put your mind at ease. Most of these devices not only work with your home’s existing fire detection system and are portable, so you can take them with you when you travel. If you’re still concerned about the price, check with your local social service agency to see if there are organizations in your community who may be able to help.
Fire extinguishers: Make sure your home has at least one working fire extinguisher. Everyone who lives there should know where it’s located and how to use it. If you don’t know how to use a fire extinguisher, contact your local fire department for instruction.
Sprinkler system: According to the National Fire Protection Association, 85% of civilian fire deaths occur in the home. A properly installed sprinkler system can control, and may even extinguish, a fire before the fire department can arrive on the scene. Working smoke alarms cut your risk of dying by 50%, while an automatic fire sprinkler system cuts the risk by 80 percent. It can also cut the amount of property loss by 70 percent.
Plan your escape
If the last time you talked to your family about an escape route was when Sparky the Fire Dog came to visit your elementary school class, it’s time to make another plan. The National Safety Council (NSC) recommends each family has a fire escape plan that they practice at least once a month. Even if you don’t have any kids left at home, make a plan for what you will do in the event of a fire. If you need help getting started, the NCS recommends you visit the Home Fire Drill Day website for a checklist you can use which includes downloads for you to chart your plan of escape.
Once you’ve planned an escape route, make sure everyone in your family knows where to meet after they’re safely out of the house.
For personal safety reasons, Jones doesn’t recommend placing signs in your window to alert the police and fire department of your hearing loss, but she does suggest you let them know where you live.
“I suggest that if a person has severe to profound hearing loss that could reduce their ability to communicate with emergency responders when they aren’t wearing amplification, he or she should pass that information along to their local police and fire departments in writing and keep a copy for their records,” she said. “A hearing care professional should be able to help create a letter for this, which would include the person’s name, address, family living situation and a very brief statement saying that this person has significant hearing loss and may require special attention during an emergency situation.”