Fires Pose Challenges for People with Disabilities
Recent fires have tragically resulted in injuries or deaths involving people with disabilities in various parts of Kansas. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) encourages those with disabilities to take the necessary precautions to protect their safety in the event of a fire.
“You need a smoke alarm on each level of the home and in every sleeping area, and to make sure each one actually works,” says Lori Haskett, Injury Prevention Director with the Kansas Fire Injury Prevention Program at KDHE.
Haskett said that people with disabilities may be at greater risk for fire injury because of difficulty hearing an alarm, lack of mobility to reach safety quickly, inability to crawl low under the smoke, or various other mobility, sensory or cognitive disabilities.
Advance preparation could be the key to saving someone’s life in a fire emergency. KDHE offers the following fire safety tips for persons with disabilities:
- Smoke alarms with a vibrating pad or flashing light are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Smoke alarms should be tested monthly and batteries need to be changed at least once a year.
- Smoke alarms should be replaced after 10 years of use.
- If you live in an apartment building, it is safest to live on the ground floor.
- If you live in a multi-story home, it is safest to sleep on the first floor.
- Being on the ground floor and near an exit will make your escape easier.
Plan Your Escape
- Plan your escape around your capabilities.
- Know at least two exits from every room.
- Place your bed close to the window if you plan to use it as an exit.
- If the window does not open easily, keep a hammer close to the window in order to break it in an emergency.
- If you use a walker or wheelchair, check all exits to be sure you get through the doorways.
- Make any necessary accommodations, such as providing exit ramps and widening doorways, to facilitate an emergency escape.
- Tactile markings at baseboard level can show the way to exits if you are unable to see clearly, for any reason.
If You Are Unable to Escape
- Keep your door closed.
- Hang a sheet or cloth out the window to show the fire department where you are.
- Close the window if smoke is entering the room from the outside.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
- People with disabilities unfortunately are often excluded from escape plans and fire safety drills. Speak up to ensure that you receive the fire safety information you deserve.
- Speak to your family members, building manager, or neighbors about your fire safety plan and practice it with them.
- Ask emergency providers to keep your special needs information on file.
- Keep a phone near your bed and be ready to call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number if a fire occurs.
- Contact your local fire department’s non-emergency line and explain your needs. They will probably suggest escape plan ideas, and may perform a home fire safety inspection and offer suggestions about smoke alarm placement and maintenance.
Smoke alarms should be tested at least once a month and the batteries replaced every six months, except for lithium batteries that last for 10 years. A working smoke alarm reduces the risk of dying in a fire by about 50 percent.
KDHE receives funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct the Kansas Fire Injury Prevention Program. To learn more, visit www.kdheks.gov/kfipp/.