FIRE PROTECTION FOR THE DEAF AND HARD-OF-HEARING COMMUNITY

When a fire alarm sounds, a quick response is key.

But how do the deaf or hard-of-hearing (those with mild to severe hearing loss) know when it’s time to evacuate? Even with the nearly intolerable volume of most fire alarms, those with severe hearing impairments may never notice. Even those with only mild hearing loss may take longer to recognize the sound of the alarm and respond, losing potentially life-saving time to evacuate safely.

So, what is available for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community with regards to fire/smoke alarms and fire protection?

Read on to learn more about the unique challenges facing fire protection for this community and the variety of ways the industry is working to meet them.  

Unique Challenges for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Populace

There are numerous obstacles that make alerting deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to a fire difficult.

While fire alarms are deliberately designed to use high, piercing sounds at a loud volume to both alert people to and drive them away from the danger. Smoke alarms sound an alarm at 3 kHz and fire alarm horn strobe devices sound an alarm between 2-4 kHz. These high-frequency sounds are often the first to be lost to a person with hearing impairments.

NFPA research has indicated that hard-of-hearing individuals, especially those who are elderly, do not hear high-frequencies well. Even those who still retain some or much of their hearing may not be able to hear the high-frequencies of the average smoke alarm.

Those with severe to complete hearing loss (deaf individuals) will fare even worse. While those still retaining some hearing may be able to hear the movement of others within a building and detect that something is wrong, those with little to no hearing will not.

While it’s easy to assume that hearing co-workers sharing a workspace, or loved ones sharing a home can and should alert the deaf/hard-of-hearing to the danger, this would be a dangerous oversight.

In the midst of an emergency and panic, it can be easy to forget to check on co-workers. With regards to home life, even when family members share a living space, they are not always all at home, and there is no guarantee that they won’t be overcome by smoke and unable to alert their deaf family member. Furthermore, many deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals live alone.

Regardless of their work or living situation, the deaf and hard-of-hearing community need fire alarm and fire protection solutions that will ensure they are notified quickly when a fire occurs. 

Solutions for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing

Fortunately, the fire protection industry has risen to this task, and a variety of options are available. Fire alarm systems specifically designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community have been developed, as well as ways to add on elements to traditional fire alarms for this community.

  • Fire Alarm Strobe Lights: fire alarm strobes are flashing lights that are built into systems specifically designed for the hard-of-hearing and deaf community. These lights should be tested by a third-party testing laboratory to ensure that they possess the intensity to wake sleeping individuals. When the fire alarm is triggered, in addition to sounding an alarm, the strobe lights will begin flashing as well.

    It should be noted, however, that according to NFPA research studies, older individuals were unlikely to waken in response to the fire alarm strobes. Thus, it is recommended that strobe lights be used in combination with other devices such as vibrating appliances and/or mixed-pitch alarms.
  • Vibration Notification Appliances: vibration notification appliances include bed shakers, pillow vibrators, and other small devices that may be worn on the person. These devices are activated by the sound of the fire alarm and will shake a bed frame, pillow, or vibrate on the person to alert them to the danger.

    Vibration notification appliances may be included in a fire alarm system specifically designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing or can be added to a pre-existing, traditional fire alarm through the use of a sound monitoring device that will trigger at the sound of a fire alarm and send its signal to the vibration notification device.
  • Mixed Pitch Alarms: another option that can be used for individuals with milder levels of hearing loss, particularly older individuals, is a device that will emit lower-pitched sounds. These devices are triggered by the regular smoke alarm when it sounds and produces a mixed, low-pitch alarm at 520 Hz that is more readily heard by older adults who may no longer hear the high-pitch of traditional alarms. This frequency has also proven better at waking sleeping individuals with no hearing impairments.

Each of these devices helps ensure that individuals who are deaf and/or hard-of-hearing have a timely warning of a fire and the opportunity to evacuate the premises safely.

Important Tips & Information

While the developments of the fire alarm strobes, mixed pitch alarms, and vibration notification appliances have helped fire protection go a long way for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, here are some important tips and information to keep in mind:

  1. These devices are best used in combination. Especially when dealing with sleep-spaces, it is wisest to use multiple methods to wake and warn someone. Many fire alarms designed for the deaf will include both strobe lights and vibration notification appliances.
  2. Choose equipment that has been tested by a recognized third-party laboratory to ensure that you are getting quality, life-saving devices that won’t fail you when you need them most.
  3. Test all smoke alarms and related equipment monthly. No number of devices will save a life if they are not operating correctly.
  4. Familiarize everyone in your home/workplace with the various signals (vibrations, strobing lights, sound) to ensure they recognize them and respond appropriately.
  5. Make sure fire alarms are properly placed. There should be a smoke alarm placed just outside each sleeping space, inside each bedroom, and on every level. If there are levels without bedrooms, there should be one in the den/living room/family room, and/or near the stairway.

Want to Know More?

If you are in need of a specially designed fire alarm system for your home or workplace that can accommodate the needs of a deaf or hard-of-hearing individual, give the experts at Koorsen a call. They can walk you through the options and help you choose the best system for your situation.