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Many years ago, I was presented with an opportunity to deliver a fire safety talk to a group of visually impaired senior citizens. I struggled a bit wondering how I was going to accomplish that and what I would tell them. I was overthinking it, partly because it would be my first time speaking to such a group and partly because of their special needs. I then consulted the wisdom from a couple of fire chiefs I knew and learned from them to keep it simple, and that fire safety is essentially the same among all demographics, including special needs individuals, and those who have physical disabilities and mobility issues. The difference for those populations lies with adapting to how fire safety is accomplished and perception of the individual receiving the information, how they process it, and how they understand it. I don’t have the data available to prove this, but I think that these populations may be underserved in some ways, as it relates to getting fire safety messages from those of us who are involved with fire prevention and community risk reduction. I hope that is not the case. My talk with that group that day spoke to the importance of having two ways out and explaining exit drills in the home (E.D.I.T.H.), with them. Every one of my attendees present that day was 70 years of age and above. One female in particular was 75 years old, over 300 pounds, was blind in one eye, and used a walker to help her get around. As luck would have it, she raised her hand to proudly tell me that she had a second way out of her home. You see, she had purchased an escape ladder. Her plan, in the event of fire, was to get her rear end out the second-floor window, and down that ladder to safety. I proceeded to ask her how many times she practiced that feat. She asked me, “What do you mean by practice? Look at me! I can’t practice going out that window.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have a bingo. I continued with her stating that if she couldn’t do that now, she couldn’t do that in the heat of battle, in her current condition. Sometimes, regardless of how old we are, we tend to think and believe that we can still do the things we used to. Folks, that’s how we sometimes get hurt. I suggested to her and everyone else in that room, that depending on their own situation, maybe moving their bedroom to the first floor would be more advantageous in their exit planning. There are fire safety challenges with every demographic group. The key is adopting and adapting them to fit our current situation or our loved one’s situation. Please remind those you serve to test those smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. If you have elderly friends and relatives, test their alarms as well. Those devices, when they have good batteries, do provide for limited time to get out. Fire moves fast! Smoke can be deadly! You already know this! Those devices are inexpensive, yet they are additional and valuable tools as it relates to life safety. Without them, getting out during a real fire may be problematic, if not life-threatening. Remind them to practice with E.D.I.T.H. when they test those smoke alarms or when you put fresh batteries in them. Finally, if their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are greater than 10 years old, it’s time to replace them. Help them stay fire smart and fire safe!

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