Florida Firefighters Offer Alarms for the Deaf

Updated: 03-02-2007 11:02:34 AM

Courtesy of Ocala.com

OCALA - The ear-piercing and repetitious beeps of a smoke detector - although irritating - often are timely alerts that save peoples' lives. But what about those who cannot hear the alarms?

For the past two years, Ocala Fire-Rescue has been giving out specialized smoke detectors to the city's deaf and hearing-impaired residents.

The specialized smoke detectors emit the typical beeping alert as well as a strong flashing strobe light to give a noticeable visual indication something is wrong, said Battalion Chief Wendell Rora.

Ocala Fire-Rescue has had a smoke detector program for almost a decade, he said, but it was only two years ago someone requested a detector to alert the deaf.

Soon afterward, the fire department bought about 10 units of the Gentex photoelectric smoke detector, which plugs into an electric outlet and can be mounted on the wall. The units were chosen because of the strobe lights, and they are portable enough a deaf or hearing-impaired person can take them wherever they go, Rora said.

The only drawback, Rora said, was that the price - about $130 per unit - limits the number the fire department can buy. The smoke detectors are bought with specially earmarked contributions from private donors and from Wal-Mart.

"Little things like that demonstrate a lot to the deaf community," said Steven Schrader, who said he is the world's first deaf firefighter and EMT. He is the author of "Silent Alarm: On the Edge with a Deaf EMT," which chronicles his more than 15 years of service in Atlanta.

Schrader said most of the deaf in Ocala are senior citizens who are low income or are on Social Security and they cannot afford to purchase the detectors. When Ocala Fire-Rescue started giving the detectors out for free, Schrader thought it was something monumental for the deaf community.

"Not only does it save lives, but it shows the fire department cares and helps people," he said.

As senior citizens - and leaders of the Tri-County Association of the Deaf, Inc. - Warner and Diane St. John know how important the smoke detectors are to the older deaf community.

In Marion, Sumter and Lake counties, there are about 600 deaf and hearing-impaired people, Warner St. John said. The deaf and hearing-impaired make up about 1 percent of Florida's population.

"It saves our lives," St. John said of the smoke detectors. "We can't see or hear in our sleep, but we are very sensitive with light."

Courtesy The Ocala Star-Banner