Fire Risks for the Deaf or
Hard of Hearing
Fire safety is a much overlooked problem among people who are deaf or hard
of hearing. They do not receive the same media, educational, or industry
attention as the hearing population. Many advancements in fire injury and
death prevention over the past century have not addressed the fire safety
needs of the deaf community. The most significant of those inventions is
the audible smoke alarm. Smoke alarms have been credited with saving thousands
of lives from fires each year. Conventional alarms, however, work less
well for those who cannot hear. Additionally, traditional fire safety messages
do not address the unique needs of the deaf community. Fire safety messages
more than likely will not reach this population due to the lack of effective
By raising the level of fire safety awareness for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
community, and for the surrounding population, we can eliminate many fire
risks. Groups representing people with hearing impairments must collaborate
with the fire service to educate each other and reduce the risks posed
by fires to non-hearing people.
The principal findings of this study are summarized below:
Visual assessment is the primary means for people with hearing impairments
to process information vital to everyday living. These individuals cannot
rely on traditional audible smoke alarms. They require visual alarms equipped
with strobe lights or vibration devices.
Vibrating beds and pillows have been developed to awaken people who are
deaf or hard of hearing and alert them to the presence of a fire. These
beds and pillows are wired to a smoke alarm and vibrate when the alarm
A portion of the deaf and hard-of-hearing population is also blind or visually
impaired. Visual strobe lights are ineffective for this group. A vibrating
bed and pillow alarm must be used instead.
While specialized detection and alarm devices are available, there is a
dearth of information about how to obtain them. In addition, these devices
are often prohibitively expensive.
Many people who are deaf or hard of hearing are not aware of provisions
in the Americans With Disabilities Act requiring that appropriate smoke
alarms be provided by landlords, public buildings, etc.
Public fire education is generally neither formatted for, nor directed
to, people who are hearing impaired.