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Fire alarms for hearing impaired

Fire and Emergency New Zealand risk management officer Peter Fox with Anne Greatbatch and the specialised alarm equipment. PHOTO/MAZZ SCANNELL


A piercing smoke alarm may be enough to rouse most people from their sleep, but for those with a hearing impairment who live by themselves, the danger of fire is increased because they cannot hear alarms.

Dannevirke-based hearing therapist Anne Greatbatch is on a mission to improve protection for hearing impaired people in Wairarapa.

Her greatest fear is someone dying in a house fire because they didn’t have the correct smoke and alert alarms fitted.

And she is concerned that, statistically, a relatively low number of people in Wairarapa have been identified as hearing impaired.

“A screaming siren doesn’t work,” she says.

“We had one hearing-impaired client who only realised the house next door was on fire when she saw flashing lights through the curtains and realised there was a fire engine on the street.”

But a new generation of alarms can help. They have strobe lights or are wired to vibrate under a pillow, and can be directed to a vibrating pager.

Everything is designed to make responding to a smoke alarm as simple and safe as possible.

Greatbatch works for Life Unlimited, a charitable trust funded by the Ministry of Health.

It offers free hearing evaluations to all New Zealanders and works in partnership with Fire and Emergency New Zealand risk management officers to assess people with hearing impairments to determine whether they can hear conventional smoke alarms.

If the assessment shows that a person cannot hear the alarm, a FENZ officer will visit a person’s home and install specialised smoke detecting alarms free of charge.

In addition to fire safety equipment, additional alerting devices are available to allow those with hearing impairments to be alerted to someone at the door, alarm clocks or baby monitors.

Greatbatch said it was particularly important hearing-impaired people were able to detect someone raising the alarm at their door.

Once the system is installed, there are several alarm notification options including a pager and portable monitor.

FENZ risk management officer Peter Fox said it was important that people were safe.

In addition to installing the correct alarm system, FENZ officers were able to ensure people understood how to leave a burning house quickly.

Householders with bedrooms on the second floor needed to have a plan to get out, he said, usually by going out a window.

He recalled a young hearing-impaired boy who saved himself by throwing his mattress out a window before hanging on to the lower window frame and letting himself drop on to it.

Anyone who believes a family member, friend or neighbour may be hearing impaired can ring 0800 008011, or call into 2 Crayne Street, Kuripuni, during business hours to arrange a free hearing test.

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