Each summer every Australian is reminded of the dangers that fire presents in our climate and environment. But it's not just people in heavily-trees environments that need to be aware of fire safety. Fires can occur any time of year in the most urbanised areas, and people who are not adequately prepared can lose their lives in a house fire as easily as in a bush fire.
It is important for the whole family to be aware, even more important that people who have—or care for people with—physical disabilities to modify their plans and safety equipment as many fire-safety campaigns and legal requirements overlook differently-abled people
- Notification: Do you have a way of being informed of the fire?
- Way Finding: Do you know how to find an exit?
- Use of the Way: Do you need help?
It is best to have several variations to your plans and strive for as much independence as possible. Even so, make sure your family or house-mates know how to work with you in the event of a fire. Also be aware that assistance might come from people who are unaware of your disability. Preparation and calmness are essential.
If you have a service animal, practice your fire safety plans with it. Contact your provider for tips in preparing your animal for an emergency and make sure your family/house mates are aware.
If you are hearing impaired: There are several kinds of smoke alarms that rely on something other than beeping to alert people to the presence of smoke. Such alternatives include pillow shaking, strobe lighting as well as different pitches of alarm, or a combination thereof.
These cost around $500 each, but there are schemes in which people can apply for subsidised alarms. These schemes are the responsibility of the state government, and information about them can be found on your state's deaf services website.
There is no legal requirement at the moment regarding these alarms, so it is your responsibility to apply for them, install and maintain them.
Smoke and loss of electricity often occur during fires, so it is also important that you have a way of being alerted to fire in low-vision environments.
If you are visually-impaired: In the event of a fire, the senses that vision-impaired people rely on can be overwhelmed. High-decibel alarms, heat and smoke can be especially disorienting. However, it is important that alarms are never disconnected—it is much safer to be aware of the danger. Preparation is key to not being overwhelmed.
There are few technological fire-safety devices that can be employed to aid you in a fire. It is most important that everyone—vision-impaired or not—are aware of escape routes. Braille or tactile guides can be useful in the event of an evacuation, so consider adding these into your fire safety plan. Also, consider practising your fire escape routes while testing your fire alarms to that everyone can get used to figuring out how to exit the house while under the additional stress of noise.
If you have a mobility impairment: As with visually-impaired and hearing-impaired people, build your fire safety plan around your abilities. It is a good idea that anyone who has trouble moving sleep on the bottom storey of a home, and it is worth requesting ground-floor apartments if you are renting or in accommodation.
Having ramps and bars that are readily accessible (ie are not ones that are stored away while not in use) is also very important. Have ready access to aids such as walkers, wheelchairs and canes, or practice accessing them in emergency (low-vision, noisy etc) conditions.
For more tips and assistance, contact local professionals such as Fire Protection Services Pty Ltd.