Each year an estimated 3,500 deaths and 18,000 injuries occur as the result of residential building fires. The risk of death or injury from fire is even greater for people with physical, mental or sensory disabilities. Children with special needs are particularly at risk. They may not react as quickly as non-disables peers, be unable to function without adult help, or may become confused more quickly in an emergency situation. They may not understand emergency situations or be aware of them.
Special populations such as people with disabilities, people who are deaf or hard of hearing and individuals who are visually impaired can significantly increase their chances of surviving a fire by practicing proven fire safety precautions. The United States Fire Administration (USFA) offers some advice and fire safety tips to help protect children and adults with special needs and their homes from fire.
Install and maintain smoke alarms
Smoke alarms with a vibrating pad or flashing light are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Additionally, smoke alarms with a strobe light outside the house to catch the attention of neighbors and emergency call systems for summoning help are also available.
Install at least one smoke alarm on each level of your home. Make sure smoke alarms are tested monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Teach children about how they work and what to do if they go off.
Plan and Practice Escape Routes
Identify at least two exits from every room. If a dwelling has a second floor, purchase and install a fire escape ladder inside bedroom windows. Practice using it.
If you use a walker or wheelchair, check all exits to be sure you can get through the doorways easily. Grants exist to modify homes if needed. Make any necessary accommodations, such as providing exit ramps and widening doorways, to facilitate an emergency escape.
People with mobility difficulties are encouraged to have their bedroom on the ground floor and as close as possible to an exit.
People with disabilities are often excluded from the development of escape plans, as well as practicing using those escape plans and participating in fire safety drills. Older children should be part of developing a plan. They can often state what specific help they may need. Their vital input can be omitted and their fire safety needs remain unfulfilled. Take initiative and speak up to ensure that all involved parties receive the fire safety information they need in case of an emergency.
Speak to your family members, building manager or neighbors about your fire safety plan and practice it with them.
Contact your local fire department’s non-emergency line and explain your special needs. They may suggest escape plan ideas and/or perform a home fire safety inspection and offer suggestions about smoke alarm placement and maintenance.
Ask emergency providers to keep your special needs information on file.
Keep a phone near an adult’s bed and be ready to call 911 or your local emergency number if a fire occurs.
Special populations are at risk for a number of reasons. Decreased mobility, health, sight and hearing may limit a person’s ability to take the quick action necessary to escape during a fire emergency. Depending on physical limitations, many of the actions an individual can take to protect themselves from the dangers of fire may require assistance from a caretaker, neighbor or outside source. Children should never be left to escape without an adult’s assistance. Their priorities may not be mature.
For more information visit the Emergency Preparedness section of Disability.gov. Check out the U.S. Fire Administration’s Fire Safety for People with Disabilities Web page. Follow the U.S. Fire Administration on Twitter (@usfire).
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