County fire department assists hearing-impaired children
A routine fire safety program sparked a major resolution in Henry County, Ga., this year, and created awareness of a previously unnoticed problem with fire alarms. In January, Henry County Fire Department Lt. Denny Payton and department personnel staged their typical fire safety educational program at Oakland Elementary School. Their presentation included “Boots,” the department’s robotic fire dog, who sings to children about fire safety.
As Payton noticed teacher Laura West signing the lyrics of Boots’ song to a deaf student, he realized that, if the child could not hear the songs, she also could not hear a smoke alarm in a real emergency. The realization inspired Payton to improve fire safety techniques for special-needs children throughout the county.
Payton first requested a needs assessment survey to collect information about hearing-impaired students in the county. He then learned that none of those children had specialized smoke detectors in their homes and launched a campaign to acquire and install such detectors.
Specialized smoke detectors for hearing-impaired persons incorporate a high-intensity strobe light with a sound comparable to a regular detector. The motion of the strobe wakes or alerts the deaf user.
Payton’s research showed that the average cost for the detector was $130. However, the management of a Lowe’s building materials store in Stockbridge offered Payton the detectors at cost ($72 each). The department paid for the majority of the detectors, but many Henry County families also contributed money.
The next step in Payton’s plan was to seek assistance with the installation of the detectors. A call to the National Electrical Contractors Association, Bethesda, Md., resulted in many volunteers to install the detectors in homes of families with hearing-impaired children. “Everyone that I talked to was supportive and offered some kind of assistance,” Payton says. “This is what community is all about.”
Payton keeps up with the school system to locate new families needing the specialized detectors. He hopes to expand the campaign to include the elderly, and he is seeking to develop a grant program with the Georgia Firefighters’ Burn Foundation to extend the campaign across the state. “We want everyone in our county to be able to live in a safe and comfortable environment,” Payton says. “That’s a big part of our job.”
For more information about Henry County Fire Department’s hearing-impaired smoke detector campaign, contact Payton at (770) 954-2280.