News and Events

LOCAL GROUP PRESSING FOR VISUAL FIRE ALARMS

Posted on: 3-November-2011

By Nick Gardiner, The Recorder and Times

Imagine the fear of waking suddenly to the sound of a smoke alarm blaring in your home.

Now, imagine the fear of going to bed knowing you would never hear an alarm if fire was burning.

That fear was underlined by the comments of several deaf and hard-of-hearing people speaking through an interpreter reading sign language during a news conference Thursday by a community group attempting to mitigate the problem locally and raise the issue provincially.

The group includes the Brockville, Leeds and Grenville Safe Communities Coalition, the Brockville fire and police departments and the Canadian Hearing Society, which was host of the event at the Arvic Plaza office on William Street.

Observers were told how many landlords ignore the needs of the hearing impaired by refusing to install anything more than a smoke alarm that sounds a warning to occupants.

Other landlords suggested people needing assistive devices such as flashing lights and a bed-shaker should seek funding through different government agencies to purchase equipment that ranges in price from $100 to $1,500.

But the despair was tempered by excitement over plans by the community group to help provide assistive devices to local residents in need and to push the province to amend the building code and fire code to protect the hearing impaired.

"This system will allow fire dispatchers to be aware if a deaf person lives at a home where a fire is reported," Canadian Hearing Society regional program manager Anna Strati-Morrison signed to an interpreter.

"It's really exciting and I hope the word gets out and we see it picked up provincially."

Strati-Morrison said the local effort is the first-ever presented to the hearing society and she is encouraged by the co-operation of the partners involved and the initial positive reaction from the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office.

"This is unprecedented," she said.

Forms were distributed during the meeting to the hearing impaired so their addresses can be tagged and identified by fire dispatchers in the event of a fire at their homes.

Randy Burke, Brockville's chief fire prevention officer, said the current situation is distressing to the hearing impaired and needs to be changed by pressuring the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

"This is a blatant case of discrimination against a deaf culture that needs to be addressed," said Burke, noting the Fire Marshal's Office is preparing a letter to the ministry about the matter.

Burke noted he has the authority to order landlords to install visual alarms for the hearing impaired but he hopes to work with them co-operatively rather than by issuing orders.

He noted as well that many people with hearing aids remove them at night while sleeping so the threat goes beyond people who are deaf.

One in four Canadians suffers from hearing loss and as people age, they are in more need of the visual alarms as a safety precaution, Burke added.

Safe Communities Coalition co-chairman David Dargie said this is a case of people overlooking an obvious safety threat for deaf people.

Dargie said he spoke with former Brockville Police Chief Barry King, who is a consultant with the Canadian office of the Safe Communities Coalition, and it was the first time the issue had been raised with that body.

He said King was very interested in the local plan and asked for more information to be shared with his office as it rolls out.

Dargie also noted the Ontario building code states visual alarms should be installed where needed but the legislation is vague and landlords argue it only applies when all residents are hearing impaired.

"It's a health and safety issue but it's also a social justice issue," he said.

Dargie's co-chairman, Police Insp. Scott Fraser, said grant opportunities are being sought to help finance the cost of assistive devices for the hearing impaired.

Source

Updated October 23, 2013