Physical disabilities are a contributing factor in approximately 400 U.S. home fire deaths every year, and mental disabilities are a factor in 85. Fire prevention measures and emergency planning are essential for every household, but specific precautions may be required to ensure the safety of individuals with impairments.
Home fire safety is an essential consideration for households with loved ones who have disabilities. Without proper precautions, they can increase a household’s risk of experiencing a home fire or put individuals at increased risk during such an emergency. This guide will help you take preventative measures to mitigate fire safety risks and create an effective emergency action plan.
Fire Safety Risk Factors for People With Disabilities
There are many fire safety risk factors to consider. For example:
Some conditions can necessitate the use of various medical devices, which can lead to the overloading of electrical outlets;
Further, electrical fires can be caused by a lack of maintenance, which is more likely in homes of individuals who have certain impairments.
Fire safety risk factors vary from person to person. Individuals with disabilities can encounter many unique concerns, depending on their circumstances.
Navigating through tight areas of the home where fire hazards are present can create clear fire risks for people with mobility impairments. There is a wide range of mobility concerns that people with disabilities may have. People who require the use of wheelchairs, canes, crutches, or walkers may be at increased risk when it comes to fire safety. People who experience sporadic muscle spasms or cramps may experience similar risks.
Evacuation during a fire emergency can also be complicated by mobility impairments. If a person who requires the use of assistive technology lives above the ground floor and doesn’t have access to an elevator to exit the premises, they may have to use a stairwell. Even if this can be mitigated with the use of a stairlift, doing so may take too long during an emergency, or power could be compromised due to the fire.
Visual and Hearing Impairments
People with visual or hearing impairments can be prone to unique fire risks. When they are in an unfamiliar environment, people with such disabilities are at an increased risk for fire hazards. Even outdoor fireplaces and fire pits may require extra consideration, as individuals with such conditions may be less familiar with their surroundings. Along with taking basic precautions for using fire pits safely, it is important to consider the needs and impairments of anyone who may not recognize these features.
Visual and auditory fire alarms can be insufficient for informing people with visual or hearing disabilities about a fire emergency. This can delay an individual’s attempt to evacuate the premises, which can decrease their chances of making it to safety. This increases such individuals’ risk of injury or death during a fire emergency.
Individuals with developmental disabilities may be at increased risk for fire hazards and during emergency evacuations. They may also react unexpectedly during emergencies, potentially putting themselves at risk. In certain circumstances, incapacitated individuals may be unable to react during an emergency.
Fire Safety Tips for People With Disabilities
In addition to being aware of potential fire risks, people with disabilities should be mindful of where they choose to live. Ideally, people with certain impairments should live on the ground floor. While there are assistive devices and strategies for navigating stairwells during an emergency, it is safer to avoid the need to do so entirely.
People with disabilities should also avoid living alone. Having a caretaker or family member available can dramatically improve an individual's chances of preventing home fires and safely evacuating during an emergency.
There are many general home fire prevention and safety tips that everyone should keep in mind. In addition to standard fire safety equipment like fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and fireplace screens, individuals with disabilities and their families should consider taking some additional measures:
Reduce fire hazards in living spaces by securing loose wires and ensuring that walkways are wide enough to accommodate individuals with wheelchairs or other assistive devices;
Include visual aids to help individuals with disabilities understand fire risks and locate nearby exits;
Contact your local fire station for a fire safety inspection.
Creating a Disability-Friendly Fire Evacuation Plan
As with any other household, an emergency action plan is a necessary component of fire safety for people with disabilities. A disability-friendly fire evacuation plan should address any risk factors, mobility issues, and any other concerns that may complicate an individual’s ability to make it to safety during a home fire.
Practice Routine Maintenance
The specifics of your planning will vary depending on the nature of the disabilities of those evacuating. Nevertheless, there are some general tips to keep in mind when designing your household’s fire evacuation plan. Checking smoke detectors on a monthly basis and discussing fire safety best practices as a household is essential.
Keep Escape Routes Clear and Accessible
Additionally, it’s vital that people with disabilities are able to quickly and easily reach exits. Keep all walkways and entryways clear of clutter or potential obstructions. Shelving, stacks of boxes, and other items can pose a serious hazard during an emergency if they fall and obstruct the path to the exit. You should also plan multiple escape routes — if an obstruction prevents members of the household from using one route, they must have access to an alternative exit.
Share Escape Plans With Caretakers
It’s important to keep caretakers apprised of emergency evacuation plans. They must know where essential medications and evacuation equipment are located in order to access them on short notice. Regularly practicing your evacuation plans with drills is an effective way to ensure that caretakers are prepared to react accordingly during a home fire.
Get Help Preparing an Escape Plan
Finally, you should consider collaborating with family members, neighbors, and your building manager (if applicable) when designing your fire safety plan. You can also contact your local fire department for additional evacuation planning ideas.
Fire Evacuation Equipment for People With Disabilities
There are several types of assistive devices that are specifically designed to help people with disabilities make it to safety during an emergency situation. Follow these tips:
Use smoke alarms that can more effectively alert individuals with disabilities about an emergency situation, such as alarms that flash or vibrate;
Include additional smoke alarms outdoors that can alert neighbors — consider informing your neighbors about this inclusion so that they can respond appropriately during an emergency;
Use assistive devices to help individuals with disabilities locate exits. Guide strips and braille emergency evacuation signs are useful for people with visual impairments;
For individuals with mobility impairments, keep an evacuation chair, rescue mat, or evacuation blanket handy in case of an emergency. These will enable caretakers to help an individual reach safety as quickly as possible;
Keep a phone or device near your bed to quickly summon emergency responders if needed.
Following the above advice will help your household mitigate fire risks and stay safe during emergencies. By understanding the fire risks associated with different types of impairments, creating a disability-friendly fire emergency plan, and investing in assistive technology to help during a home fire, you can maximize your household’s safety.