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Sue Bush
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Life-Saving Strobe Alarms

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Fire Education for Older Citizens Coordinator and North Adams Fire Department firefighter David Simon
North Adams – Activated, shrieking smoke detectors have saved lives, but those with hearing impairments may not always hear the shrill warning most detectors emit.

On Jan. 25, six strobe-light smoke detectors were delivered to the North Adams Fire Department’s Fire Education for Older Citizens coordinator and educator David Simon. The program is free and open to city residents age 60 and older living in private residences or apartments.

Christine M. Farrell-O’Reilly, the coordinator of a state Department of Public Health Residential Fire Injury Prevention Program, presented the detectors during a media conference held at the city fire station.

State Department of Public Health Residential Fire Injury Prevention Program Coordinator Christine M. Farrell-O'Reilly
The detectors were awarded as part of a program grant. The smoke alarm grant program was funded by the United States Center for Disease Control. The program is entering the fourth year of a five-year project, Farrell-O’Reilly said.

Focus On Safety

The strobe detectors require no hard wiring and may be plugged into electrical outlets, Farrell-O’Reilly said. Detector installation is part of a larger program that encourages devising and practicing fire escape plans.

“After the initial installation, we do ask for a six-month follow-up visit to check that the smoke detector is working,” Farrell-O’Reilly said. “This is a good time to check and see if an escape plan has been developed. Part of the emphasis is to develop a fire escape plan and practice it. Many people will say ‘well, we’ll go out the window’ and the question should be ‘will you be able to open the window.’ We have a questionnaire and that prompts some of the fire education.”

The NAFD program launched during mid-2005; a year-end report indicates that 125 smoke detectors were installed within homes or apartments, and 30 smoke detectors battery replacements were also accomplished. Firefighter home visits led to the detection and correction of home fire hazards, including dryer lint screen maintenance, electrical outlet overload situations, and suggestions about carbon monoxide detector installation and GFI electrical outlet installation in bathrooms and kitchens.

Partnerships Formed

The program has partnered with the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of Northern Berkshire, Inc., Dr. Daniel Sullivan, who is a primary care physician with the Williamstown Medical Associates, and Diane Bleau, who works with area churches and clergy to deliver meals to senior citizens during times when “Meals on Wheels” does not, such as Sundays, Simon said.

The partnerships have “been great,” he said. Sullivan and VNA Intake Coordinator Diane Lesniak attended the presentation.

Dr. Daniel Sullivan

“Dr. Sullivan happens to be my doctor and we were chatting one day about the program,” Simon said. “He said ‘I can help you, I can offer the information to people,’ and it just took off from there. The VNA was happy to participate, and they have a program that has a visit to families with newborns. We are thinking it’s good to offer information about smoke detectors to those families. And Diane Bleau puts information about the F.E.O.C. in with the delivered meals. That’s really been terrific.”

The Northern Berkshire-based Adelphia cable company has agreed to air a 30-second public service announcement about the smoke detector program on area television channels 23-96, Simon said. The announcement should air about 1,300 times over the next few months, he said.

“My two big concerns are getting the word out and having enough smoke detectors,” Simon said.

Make A "Date" With A Firefighter

The program permits older city residents to contact the fire department and make home visit appointments. Tuesday visits are scheduled on a weekly basis; Simon said that six visits are scheduled for next week and participating firefighters have “dates” set for the first two weeks of February.

Firefighters install the detectors, something that offers several benefits, said Sullivan.

He does make “house calls,” and has noticed that many older residents live in homes with very high ceilings, Sullivan said.

“Some of these older Victorian homes have very high ceilings and the people couldn’t put smoke detectors up if they wanted to,” he said.

Sullivan noted that many older residents choose to move from second-story bedrooms to sleeping areas on a first floor, and Simon added that in some cases, smoke detectors may have been installed on the upper levels of a home.

“And then the folks move downstairs and they remember to bring everything except a smoke detector,” he said.

The program’s social aspect is important as well, Simon said. Firefighters have enjoyed meeting city residents and have learned quite a bit about people and city history.

“I have met some very interesting people,” he said. “And I’m not sure that people realize how good it is to get the firefighters out into the community.”

Several firefighters, including Scott Barbeau, Matt LaBonte and Michael Goodson, have demonstrated a consistent interest in the program, Simon said.

“These guys really make it work,” he said.

Fire Safety Advice For Families

North Adams Fire Department Lt. Joseph Beverly
Fire department Lt. Joseph Beverly noted that whether a battery operated or a hard-wired device, smoke detectors must be replaced every 10 years. Smoke detector technology is constantly improving so that more lives may be saved, he said.

Families may increase their chances of surviving a fire by installing smoke detectors, then activating them during the night to see if their children or other home resident is awakened by the noise, Farrell-O'Reilly said. Several investigations and studies have revealed that some children sleep through activated alarms, and in other cases, children wake up but panic and remain in their beds with the blankets drawn over their heads.

“These drills are important,” she said. “If the children show that they aren’t waking up, the parents know that something has to be done.”

Some research suggests that if a child hears an activated alarm and associates the sound with the need to leave the home, he or she may wake up more quickly and get out of the house, Beverly said.

Companies are also manufacturing smoke detectors that can record a parent’s voice instructing a child to wake up and get out of the house. Some children may respond more quickly to the sound of a parent’s voice delivering instructions, according to some research, Beverly said.

Those interested in smoke detector installation may call the North Adams Fire Department at 413-664-4923 to schedule an appointment.

Additional fire safety resources for children, families, and older residents are offered on the Internet. The state Department of Public Health offers assistance at a web site.

The state Department of Fire Services/Office of the State Fire Marshall offers informational materials at a web site.

The National Fire Protection Association offers information on and web sites.

The National Safe Kids Campaign offers information about numerous child safety and injury prevention situations at a web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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