Exclusive Interview with the National Fire Protection Association
The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) has been dedicated to helping people around the world by bringing awareness and knowledge around the subject of fire, electrical and related hazards for over 100 years. In this interview, Karen Berard-Reed, Senior Project Manager at the NFPA, offers insights into questions about general home fire safety as well as fire safety for seniors and those hard of hearing specifically.
What does the NFPA do, what is the mission/purpose of the association?
NFPA: Founded in 1896, NFPA is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. The association delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering the NFPA mission (source).
Home fire safety is extremely important. What steps, besides checking your smoke detectors, does the NFPA suggest to homeowners for general fire protection and safety?
NFPA: First – current language in regards to devices for residential use is “smoke alarms” vs the older “smoke detectors”.
There are many suggestions for homeowners about general fire protection and safety. Of course we encourage homeowners to have working smoke alarms on every level of the home, inside each bedroom and outside each sleeping area. The best protection comes with interconnected smoke alarms so when one alarm sounds, they all sound. If people in the home sleep with doors closed, interconnected alarms are especially important. Smoke alarms should be tested once each month by pushing the test button. The batteries should be replaced at least once a year. Some smoke alarms have sealed, long-life batteries. You do not need to replace the batteries each year with these alarms. They are designed to last up to 10 years. When the alarm chirps, the entire alarm is replaced. It is also very important to have working carbon monoxide alarms in the home, create and practice a home escape plan with all members of the family, and always stay in the kitchen when frying or broiling food.
What is the timeline for when these fire safety steps should be taken (how often should each task be completed)?
- Test smoke alarm and CO alarm at least once a month
- Change batteries: Once a year if the alarm has replaceable batteries.
- Apply safe cooking practices: Every time you are cooking.
Escape planning seems to be a big part of the NFPA’s mission. How important is this, and how do you go about building a plan for your family as well as helping any senior family members that may live alone?
NFPA: Escape planning is a very important exercise. In an emergency, the environmental conditions can be challenging due to smoke, flames, and noise. Emotions will likely be running very high in an emergency so people should be able to escape automatically with little thought. This is why it is important not only to plan escape routes but to practice them at least twice a year. Each person in the home should know two ways to escape from each room in an emergency. Each person should practice the plan making sure intended exits are clear, windows can be easily opened, and the pathway can be managed even if it is dark. Everyone in the home should know to go to the outside meeting place should the smoke alarms sound.
Older adults and anyone faced with physical challenges should be directly involved in the planning because so they can develop a plan that fits their personal needs. It is also a good idea to keep a phone in the bedroom in case escape paths are blocked and someone needs to wait for rescue. It is particularly important for folks who live alone to have working smoke alarms and to make sure the sound of the alarms can be heard during the day and while sleeping.
Here at 1800Doorbell, we sell products such as a fire alarm aid with bed shaker and a fire alerting kit that are geared towards fire safety for seniors and those who are hard of hearing. We also have found that our doorbells with flashing strobe lights provide a visual notification that makes it easier to receive alerts. Do you have any other products or services you would recommend that could help with prevention or help during a fire for those who are hard of hearing?
NFPA: People who are hard of hearing may benefit from specialized alert devices. To alert people who are hard of hearing of a possible fire when they are awake, there are strobe lights that flash when the smoke alarm sounds. When people who are hard of hearing are asleep, a loud, mixed, low-pitched sound alert device should be used to wake them. They may find a pillow or bed shaker is also helpful.
Home fire sprinklers should be considered by anyone who may need more time to escape a fire.
Does the NFPA recommend the use of medical/emergency alerts for seniors and those who are hard of hearing for when a disaster such as a fire occurs?
NFPA: It is important for each individual to plan around their abilities in case a fire occurs. A medical alert system can be a useful and reassuring tool for both the older adult and for family members who cannot be with the older adult loved one.
The NFPA has hundreds of helpful codes and standards built to minimize fire risk in buildings. Are there any specific codes/standards the NFPA has that pertain specifically to buildings that contain people who are hard of hearing?
NFPA: Yes, three. NFPA 101® Life Safety Code®, Chapter 9, specifically section 9.6 of deals with Fire detection, Alarm and Communications Systems and specific requirements so that people who are deaf or hard of hearing can access emergency notifications.
In addition, NFPA 5000® Building Construction and Safety Code® has extensive requirements in Chapter 12, Accessibility which combines the requirements of ANSI/ICC A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, 2010 DOJ ADA Standards and the HUD Fair Housing Guidelines and covers all disabilities not just those who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
Finally, NFPA 72® National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code covers visual alarms in Chapter 18, section 18.5 through 18.9 on Visible Signaling.
Do you have any resources you would recommend or point people towards that specifically focus on fire protection and safety for those who are hard of hearing?
NFPA: NFPA offers a variety of resources for people who are hard of hearing. We offer safety tips sheets on many fires safety topics and in many languages, including the “Smoke Alarms for People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing” and the “Fire Safety for People with Disabilities” tip sheet. Many of our video resources including the Dan Doofus fire safety videos are available in open captions for those who have a hard time hearing the content.
Is there any other helpful information you’d like to share on fire safety for seniors, those hard of hearing, or home fire safety in general?
NFPA: It is important for all individual to get involved in their own home safety. Many fire risks can be reduced with small behavior changes. The NFPA Remembering When program is a fire and fall prevention program targeted towards older adults. The free program is available online at www.nfpa.org/rememberingwhen. The program is based on 8 fire and 8 fall prevention messages to help older adults make small changes that have big impact on their home safety status. Messages around smoking, cooking, and use of space heaters are examples of behaviors addressed in the program.
Knowing that fire safety at home is extremely important, are there any other general home security guidelines or tips that you promote at the NFPA?
NFPA: We offer safety information on a wide range of fire prevention topics ranging from every day prevention topics such as safe cooking, smoking, and home heating to less common ones such as fire safety related to hover boards, 9 volt batteries, and CFL lightbulbs. All the safety information can be found online at www.nfpa.org/safety-information.