Fires often break out suddenly and without warning, and they don’t discriminate when it comes to the lives they affect. What happens when a fire breaks out and the person in danger is disabled? Well, consider this statistic: around 700 building fires involving physically disabled individuals are reported to US fire departments each year, causing 160 deaths, 200 injuries, and $26 million in losses.

From a young age, we are taught to remain calm and exit the building when a fire breaks out, but the smoke can cause you to panic and become disoriented, making a safe exit challenging. For those with a physical, visual, or hearing disability, a safe evacuation can be next to impossible. The following are tips to keep in mind so that you are prepared should a fire ignite, ensuring your safety and well-being.

Take Steps for Prevention

The main causes of fire are cooking, smoking, and unintentional or careless actions, but there are simple steps you can take to prevent a fire. The Red Cross offers the following tips for fire prevention:

  • Never leave food unattended on the stove, and always set a timer when cooking. (Tip: use the vibration setting on your phone for an extra alert.)
  • Keep the cooking area free of flammable items such as towels, pot holders, and mail.
  • If you are a smoker, smoke outside with fire-safe cigarettes. Use a deep, sturdy ashtray, and make sure all cigarette butts have been doused with water.
  • Never leave a candle unattended – all it takes is one bump from you or a pet before tragedy strikes.
  • Turn off space heaters when you leave the room or go to sleep, and remember, your oven should never be used as a heat source.

Create an Escape Plan

Everyone should have a fire escape plan to avoid entering into a state of confusion and panic should a fire break out. Start by identifying at least two exits from every room, and practice opening locked doors, windows, and screens. Make sure all exits remain clear at all times, especially if you use a walker or wheelchair, and install a ramp if needed to ensure you are able to quickly get a safe distance away from your home.

Keep in mind that if you have a service animal, you should practice the escape plan with them as well. For added safety, ask the local fire department for help with your escape plan, and request a home fire safety inspection. In addition, make sure the local dispatch is aware of your disability and has it on file so that emergency responders are aware and informed.

Find the Right Alarm

For the vision and hearing impaired, a typical smoke alarm simply won’t do, but there are fire safety systems that are tailored to your needs. For those with a visual disability, opt for a smoke alarm with a loud frequency and a paused alarm cycle so that you can hear other sounds, assess the situation, and find a safe way outside, as a constant alarm is not only overwhelming, but disorienting. If you are hearing impaired, purchase a stroboscopic alarm that uses color and bright, flashing lights to alert you to the fire. In addition, use a vibrating alarm that you place under your pillow or on your bedside table should a fire break out while you are asleep. You can even program your smartphone to alert you, which is a handy tool for everyone, not just those with a disability. Regardless of your disability, it is important that you keep a fire extinguisher close by in all areas of your home so that you are able to clear the way as you follow your escape plan.

Fires are one of those events that we hope we never have to experience, but should one occur, it is important you are prepared. Create an escape plan, and install fire safety systems tailored to your specific disability so that you can evacuate safely. A fire may be unexpected, but being prepared makes all the difference.

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