When sight matters

About a week and a half ago, there was an apartment fire at a nearby apartment complex, where a lamp was knocked over and ignited the curtains. A fire in a multi-family dwelling, bad, yes, but what made it worse was that two people in the apartment were either hearing-impaired or completely deaf. In fact, online news reports stated that had it not been for a hearing occupant, the outcome could have been worse than the minor injuries that were received.

In last week’s article, I spoke about the landlord’s responsibility to provide an adequate number of properly operating smoke alarms in rental properties. The issue is that smoke alarms must be outfitted with a flashing strobe light, in addition to the audible component, when a hearing handicap exist. There are different models of hearing- impaired smoke alarms on the market, but they are more expensive.

Proper location of a hearing-impaired smoke alarm system is different than regular smoke alarms. First of all, the best system is one where the alarms are interconnected, either by wiring or electronic signal. Placement is still required on every level of the home, but the base units with strobes have to be placed where hearing impaired people spend most of their time, such as the family room or bedrooms.

When I served as Community Programs Coordinator with CF & EMS, we set up hearing impaired systems in homes, based upon, what I believe, was a grant. These systems averaged about $300 each, due to the technology at the time. I have not kept up with changes or improvements in technology, in the past 8-10 years, but you can call the Fire & Life Safety Division, which may have been renamed Community Risk Reduction @ 748-1426 for up-to-date information.

Let’s go back to my earlier statement of the hearing occupant that alerted the hearing-impaired occupants of the fire. There must be a system in place that notifies hearing-impaired occupants, whether there are hearing occupants in the dwelling or not. We must never depend on another person to be our means of notification of a fire. There are far too many things that can go wrong in this scenario, much less, what if the hearing occupant is not home?

This entire issue steps smoke alarm coverage to another level. Are landlords responsible to provide adequate smoke alarms for all of their occupants? Though I do not know the letter of the code, I would say yes, from an ethical standpoint. The costs may be higher, but the Americans for Disabilities Act requires that buildings must be handicap compliant, whatever the handicap happens to be. In some cases, it may simply be that people without a hearing disability have not thought about what a person needs, based upon another’s hearing disability. Do not let ignorance or costs keep us from doing the right thing.    

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