Fire Risks for the Blind or Visually Impaired
Over 11 million Americans are visually impaired. Blind or visually impaired
people are faced with many challenges, not the least of which is personal
safety. Interaction with an environment one cannot see creates potential
health and safety hazards. As a result, blind or visually impaired people
are at increased risk of injury and death in the event of a fire. During
a fire emergency, the senses that visually impaired persons rely upon have
a high probability of being overpowered. Depending on the severity of vision
loss, they may be more likely to ignite a fire accidentally through common
household activities, while they are less likely to extinguish or escape
one. Further, a blind or visually impaired individual is highly vulnerable
to sustaining burns by attempting to suppress a small fire.
Practicing fire safety is the most effective means for a blind or visually
impaired person to improve his or her chances of surviving a fire. For
example, by planning and practicing an escape plan, a blind or visually
impaired person can escape to safety, in the event of an actual emergency,
with little time lost searching and feeling for an exit. The same general
fire safety tips targeted at the seeing population address the needs of
the blind or visually impaired. Unfortunately, blind or visually impaired
people often have been overlooked by public fire education campaigns. Innovative
mechanisms by which to disseminate these life-saving messages must be sought
in order to raise awareness and foster fire safety practices in the blind
and visually impaired community.
Facts about Fire Safety and the Visually Impaired:
The Haworth Volunteer Fire Department and the United States Fire Administration
(USFA) encourage the visually impaired population to practice the following
precautionary steps to help protect themselves, their home and their surroundings
from the danger of fire.
During an emergency, the senses on which visually impaired or blind individuals
depend may be overwhelmed.
High-decibel smoke alarms make it difficult for the blind individual to
process audible clues and instructions effectively.
Many buildings are not equipped with Braille or tactile signage for the
visually impaired, hindering the individual’s ability to escape because
of lack of directions.
As they may not be able to process visual indicators of fire, individuals
with visual impairments are at an increased risk for accidents involving
fires and burn injuries.
Public fire education is not generally formatted for, nor directed to,
the blind or visually impaired.
Practicing fire safety, rather than using improved fire technology, is
the most effective means by which blind or visually impaired people can
improve their chances of surviving a fire.
INSTALL AND MAINTAIN SMOKE ALARMS
DON’T ISOLATE YOURSELF
Make sure working smoke alarms are installed on each level of your home.
You may want a family member or friend to assist you.
Remember to test smoke alarms monthly and change the batteries at least
once a year. You may want a family member or friend to assist you.
Audible alarms should pause with a small window of silence between each
successive cycle so that blind or visually impaired people can listen to
instructions or voices of others.
It is important that older adults speak up – 70% of the severely visually
impaired population is over the age of 65.
LIVE NEAR AN EXIT AND PLAN YOUR ESCAPE
Speak to your family members, building manager, or neighbors about your
fire safety plan and practice it with them.
Ask emergency responders to keep your special needs information on file.
Contact your local fire department’s non-emergency line and explain your
special needs. They will probably suggest escape plan ideas, and may perform
a home fire safety inspection and offer suggestions about smoke alarm placement.
You’ll be safest on the ground floor if you live in an apartment building.
If you live in a multi-story home, arrange to sleep on the first floor.
BE FIRE-SAFE AROUND THE HOME
Being on the ground floor and near an exit will make your escape easier.
If necessary, have a ramp available for emergency exits.
Unless instructed by the fire department, never use an elevator during
If you encounter smoke, stay low to the ground to exit your home.
Once out, stay out, and call 911 or your local emergency number from a
KNOW YOUR ABILITIES
When cooking, never approach an open flame while wearing loose clothing
and don’t leave cooking unattended. Use a timer to remind you of food in
Don’t overload electrical outlets of extension cords.
Never use the oven to heat your home. Properly maintain chimneys and space
Keep a phone near your bed and be ready to call 911 or your local emergency
number if a fire occurs.
Remember, fire safety is your personal responsibility ...
Fire Stops With You!