A woman holding a small dog runs down a path through a door away from fire.

Fire Safety for the Visually Impaired

There was a little problem last weekend. Friday night there was a fire in my rental. No one was injured and the damage was confined to the bathroom. The fire department did a great job.

Fire safety for the visually impaired?

I started to wonder about fire safety and the visually impaired. Actually, I started thinking about it again. A few years back we had a blocked chimney in this house. Got a bit smokey. I wrote about that in another forum. But what about real flames? This fire at the rental was bad enough the second floor needs to be gutted. What should we do in that sort of situation?

My escape plan

Here at home, I know my plan of escape. I will go out the second-floor window directly onto the garage roof. Shimmying down from there could be interesting. Maybe I wait for the fire department from there; ya think?

Establish an escape plan

How do you plan to get out? In their Evacuation: Guidelines for People with Disabilities, the University of Oregon suggests following evacuation routes. To follow an evacuation route, you actually need to have an evacuation route. Have you established one? See the second paragraph for mine.1

Practice makes perfect

After establishing an evacuation route, you need to practice on it. The evacuation route may not be your normal route.

Obviously, my evacuation route is not the way I generally enter and/or leave the house. I generally don’t go out the window. I probably should try it though. See if my “brilliant plan” will actually work!

Ask for help

Another point the U of Oregon makes is we - the visually impaired - should not hesitate to ask for assistance. A structure fire is not the time to tell people you can do it yourself or to pretend you can do it yourself. I promise you, I will be screaming for the firefighters to get me off the roof and get me off the roof now, please!1

Be realistic

Bringing up another U of Oregon point: be realistic about your abilities. Can I get out the window? Probably. Can I leap like Tarzan to a nearby tree and shimmy down to the ground? I would say not. To reiterate, that is where screaming for someone to get me off the roof comes in.1

Packing critical belongings

The article talks about critical belongings, such as medication, when you are evacuating from a structure fire. I don’t give a fig about medications - that is what a pharmacy is for. I would grab the dogs and my phone in that order and I would be gone. If I had an extra minute, I might grab the old, family Bible, but the first things to worry about are living things.1

There are some, basic recommendations that are the same for everyone. Shut doors on the fire. Stay low. Be on the lookout for debris in your path and when you get out, let someone know you are out.

Be prepared

I have always been confident a fire would never happen to me. I am afraid that is wishful thinking. Fires can happen to anyone. Just ask my tenant. Now more than ever, as visually impaired older adults, we need to be prepared.

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