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Installing Smoke Alarms for the Hard of Hearing Community

Fire Safety
“living in a hearing world can sometimes feel alienating.”

It was sheer coincidence that brought Red Cross Home Fire Campaign volunteer Derek Yeager to the Sweet Home residence of  Michael, on the  June 16, 2017. Yeager is an Albany resident, who works through the Salem office.  He was installing smoke detectors that day along with Home Fire Campaign team member Amanda Bender, who works through Americorps. The pair had already installed dozens of smoke detectors that day, but the Sweet Home installation would be different.
     The Sweet Home installation would be a deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH) Bed Shaker Alarm system.  DHH alarms are available through the Home Fire Campaign, and Michael had ordered an installation to protect himself. When Yeager and Bender arrived at Michael’s residence, Yeager noticed that Michael seemed apprehensive about communicating with them.  “For a person who is deaf or hard of hearing,” Yeager explained, “living in a hearing world can sometimes feel alienating.”
     That feeling of alienation is something Yeager understands well:  Although Yeager was born with the ability to hear, he lost his hearing soon afterward in infancy.  Fortunately, Yeager’s hearing was restored by surgery that removed scar tissue.  Nevertheless, “American Sign Language (ASL) was my first language,” he explained.  Yeager was able to sign to Michael, putting him at ease.  Yeager explained critical information to him about the use of the DHH alarm to ensure the system’s effectiveness.
     The Bed Shaker Alarm system works in conjunction with traditional sound-based smoke detectors.  There are several DHH alarm systems on the market, each with different features.  The Bed Shaker DHH system is positioned under a pillow or a mattress.  It produces a low-frequency sound or visual alert and vibrates three to four times to wake a sleeping person, when a smoke detector sounds.  The Bed Shaker system can also be used as an alarm clock, which helps users learn to wake up from the vibrations.
     By signing to Michael, Yeager explained the DHH system features, as well as the importance of keeping the sound-based alarms in good working order.  In addition, Yeager encouraged Michael to experience a demonstration of the bed shaking, which can be fairly violent and possibly confuse a person who has never experienced it.
     Yeager explained that he was inspired to volunteer for the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign after learning about a home fire in southern Oregon several years ago.  The home did not have a smoke alarm in place, and the young family perished.  Although Yeager did not join the Home Fire Campaign specifically to help deaf or hard-of-hearing people, his unique life experiences aided in ensuring Michael’s safety.  
     According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 3.3 percent of adults in the United States are deaf or hard of hearing, and the percentage and degree of hearing loss is higher for older members of the population. The Red Cross Home Fire Campaign offers DHH alarm installations for deaf or hard-of-hearing persons free of charge, just as it does sound-based systems. The Home Fire Campaign, begun in 2014, aims to reduce home fire-related deaths and injuries by 25 percent by 2020. To find out more about the campaign, about ordering your own sound-based or DHH installation, or about volunteering with or donating to the campaign, visit American Red Cross Prevent Home Fires. For fire safety information for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, visit Oregon State Police Fire Safety for deaf and hard of hearing