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Feb. 16, 2005
Safety Tips from the Local Emergency Planning Committee:
Fire Safety and People With Special Needs
Having an emergency plan that includes a fire escape plan is especially critical for people over age 65 and people with physical, mental or sensory disabilities because they are most at risk for injury or death during a fire.
Robert T. Sponable, chairman of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) and lieutenant with the Fulton Fire Department, advises that you can increase your likelihood of surviving a fire by creating and practicing an escape plan until you are comfortable with it, and by using fire and smoke warning devices.
"Talk to your family members, caregivers, building manager and neighbors about your fire safety plan and practice it with them if you will need their help during a fire," he suggests.
Since 9/11, many programs, such as those of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have been developed to address emergency preparedness for people with disabilities and other special needs populations, such as older Americans, who often develop disabilities as they age.
FEMA's United States Fire Administration web site at www.usfa.fema.gov includes the following suggestions:
Install and Maintain Smoke Alarms - Adaptive smoke alarms are available. They include models with a vibrating pad or flashlight for people who are deaf or hard of hearing; smoke alarms with a strobe light outside the house to catch the attention of neighbors; and emergency call systems for summoning help. While most smoke alarms are placed on the ceiling, they can also be placed on the wall, six or seven feet off the floor. This can make it easier for people with mobility disabilities to reach the smoke alarm test button with a small broom handle to check the batteries each month.
Adapt Fire Extinguishers - You can adapt the wall mount on the fire extinguisher by using bands on the top and bottom of it and attaching it to a wheelchair. Replace the pull pin from the trigger mechanism with a spring device that locks the trigger in place. For those with visual disabilities, the gauge can be printed in large letters or Braille.
Live Near an Exit - If you live in an apartment building, you will be safest on the ground floor. If you live in a multi-level home, sleep on the first floor. Being on the ground floor and near an exit will make your escape easier.
Plan Your Escape Around Your Disability - Know and practice escaping from at least two exits in every room. Check hall exits and doorways to make sure walkers and wheelchairs fit, and that no other accommodations are needed. Prepare written emergency messages to give to rescuers or other people who do not know about your disabilities. For example, a written message can say, "I am deaf, but I read lips. Please speak clearly and slowly."
Adapt Fire Safety Procedures to Your Disability - If you use a wheelchair and your clothing catches on fire, practice the "stop, lock and cover to smother" procedure. Stop, lock your wheelchair brakes, and cover yourself with a small blanket, rug or towel. Get help if you need it.
If you are evacuating a smoke-filled room, sit in your wheelchair, lean over from the chest and shoulders, and use your hands to push the wheel rims forward. That way, you will avoid breathing the smoke and other toxic gases that tend to rise toward the ceiling.
If you are blind and need to evacuate a smoke-filled room, drop to the ground with your cane, and crawl toward the exit door. Once at the door, feel and smell for heat and smoke. If there is none, crawl outside. Get to a safe place outside, such as your yard, and call for assistance.
For more information or assistance in creating emergency plans, call the Oswego County Emergency Management Office at 591-9150.
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