‘Safe at Home’ Graduates Gain Safety and Pride

Sheryl Watts

Sheryl Watts, a Safe at Home trainer for Prevention 1st, sees firsthand the positive effect the program has on individuals and their families

Recently she worked with Christopher, a young man who lives with his parents and was excited every week about what he was learning. And he loved sharing his knowledge, often saying at the end of his session with Sheryl: “I can’t wait for Dad to come home so I can teach him this!”

His excitement rose highest at the final session, when he was able to perform all the safety techniques he’d learned without prompting. When Sheryl told him he was officially graduated and would get a certificate, his reveled in his accomplishment:  “I can’t believe I did that!”

Safe at Home trainers all have a fire safety background. Sheryl also works full-time at Lifetime Assistance, where she is in charge of fire safety.  Each training starts with an assessment of any fire hazards in the home, and for this Sheryl often teams up with another trainer who has experience as a firefighter.

At the first session she also assesses the current fire safety knowledge of the person being trained.  Then in 30-45 minute in-home weekly sessions, Sheryl teaches them about cooking safety, identifying fire hazards, locating and testing smoke alarms, exiting when the alarm goes off, and calling 9-1-1. Each week the previous week’s lessons are also reviewed.

Training may last from 3 weeks to 8 weeks depending on the person’s knowledge at the beginning and how well they retain new knowledge. At the end of each of Christopher’s sessions, Sheryl talked about what he had learned with his mother, who worked with him between weekly sessions.

“Actually practicing the techniques is important,” explains Sheryl. “Christopher learned how to exit his bedroom safely if the alarm goes off:  test the door using the back of the hand, take a cell phone and shoes, and if the door is hot how to block smoke from under the door and go to the window to signal for help”.

Safe at Home is customized to the individual. Sheryl has worked with one young woman with autism who wasn’t very verbal.  So they made picture cards together and then used them as part of learning.

“I’d ask ‘There’s a noise going off, what could that be?’ And she’d point to the alarm, “ Sheryl explains.  “We’d lay out the cards in a sequence showing what might make the alarm go off—fire—and what we should do next—an exit.”

All of Sheryl’s trainees have one thing in common:  “They really want to learn, and to be safe.”

Seeing the sense of accomplishment they get from their achievements is very rewarding for Sheryl. So is their determination to apply what they’ve learned. For example, at the beginning of his training Christopher could find the smoke alarm but didn’t know how to test it. Sheryl demonstrated the test button and they discussed how important it is that the alarm is always working. Now Christopher is looking forward to testing those alarms–with his father–every month.

New Smoke Alarms Help, But They’re Not a Cure-All

You still have to provide other pieces of the safety puzzle.

test your smoke alarm
Even smoke alarms with long-life batteries need testing.

Fire departments and injury prevention organizations like Prevention 1st are celebrating the upcoming implementation of New York State’s new smoke alarm requirements.  As of April 1, all smoke alarms sold in New York must have a 10-year, sealed, non-removable battery, which will undoubtedly prevent a significant number of fire deaths and serious injuries.

While most fires happen during the day, most fatal fires occur at night.  Having even one working smoke alarm in your home reduces the chance of dying in a fire by more than half.  It is difficult to find a more effective, accessible and affordable prevention tool, which is why most states require them in the first place.  Yet people still die in fires on a regular basis.  Why? 

Missing or dead batteries!  Well-meaning people, annoyed by the sound of a dying battery, or by one that is doing its job around a smoky kitchen or steamy bathroom, take out the battery.  So do people who are in immediate “need” of a battery for a remote control or other device.  Regardless of reason, most people have every intention of replacing that battery, but just don’t get around to it, with sometimes tragic consequences.

Ten-year smoke alarms, with long-life batteries that are sealed into the unit, will make a big difference in improving safety.  But there are a few things New Yorkers need to know before they install their new ones and forget about them for a decade.

Test your smoke alarm regularly.  Long-life batteries are just that – but “long life” may not be ten years.  Batteries can and do fail, so continue to test them once a month.

Keep it free of dirt and dust.  Alarms are sensitive and finely tuned; like any appliance, they work better when clean!  Use a vacuum hose or duster to remove damaging dirt.

Be ready to replace it before ten years is up.  A 2008 CDC-commissioned study found that after ten years, 78% of smoke alarms with lithium batteries were that were installed through a public outreach program were still operational.  That leaves 22% that were not.  Keep testing!

Don’t forget the other pieces of the safety puzzle.  The time to figure out who is helping children or elderly relatives escape from fire is not the middle of the night with alarms going off and smoke filling your home.  Develop an exit plan with your family and practice it at least twice a year!

The new smoke alarms, while slightly more expensive, will be well worth the cost in lives saved and injuries prevented.  But they are not a cure-all, and taking a few additional steps will help make your home and your family that much safer.

This article also appeared as an op-ed piece by Prevention 1st president Molly Clifford in the March 23,2019 issue of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

Protect Your Home From Electrical Fires

The cold weather and darkness this month have us turning on lights, heating and appliances. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, that may be why January is the leading month for electrical fires. Today’s electrical demands can overburden the electrical system in a home, especially homes more than 40 years old that have older wiring, electrical systems, and devices.

Protect yourself and your family by making sure all electrical work in your home is done by a qualified electrician and following these tips from USFA:

  • Always plug major appliances–such as refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers–directly into a wall outlet. Never use an extension cord with a major appliance.
  • Unplug small appliances when you’re not using them.
  • Keep lamps, light fixtures and light bulbs away from anything that can burn.
  • Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the lamp or fixture.
  • Check electrical cords on appliances often. Replace cracked, damaged and loose electrical cords.
  • Don’t overload wall outlets.
  • Never force a three-prong cord into a two-slot outlet.
  • Install tamper-resistant electrical outlets if you have young children.
  • Use power strips that have internal overload protection.

Find more home fire prevention tips and information at USFA’s electrical fire safety outreach materials webpage: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/electrical.html.

 

1-Minute Moves That Stop Injuries

You say you just don’t have time to prevent injuries?  If you’ve got less than one minute to devote to safety, use it to:

  1. Wipe up a spill right away. Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal unintentional injuries for every age group, except 10 to 24 year olds—and for them it’s the second leading cause! Wiping up spills is one of several simple ways to prevent falls.
  2. Not leave a child alone near water (yes, even for less than a minute). Kids don’t drown only in pools. Bathtubs, buckets, toilets, and hot tubs can be drowning dangers as well.
  3. Test your smoke alarm to make sure it’s still working, and everyone in your household can hear it. Even alarms that are hard-wired or have long-life batteries need to be checked. You should have at least one working smoke alarm on each floor, and one inside every sleeping area is best. Consider having both ionization and photoelectric alarms, or dual alarms that incorporate both technologies. Ionization smoke alarms respond best to flaming fires, and photoelectric to smoldering fires.
  4. Put away matches or lighters in a high cabinet or locked drawer, out of sight and reach of children. Children playing with fire is a leading cause of fire deaths for children under age 5.
  5. Turn off portable space heaters when you leave the room or go to sleep. Space heaters are involved in 32% of heating fires but cause 82% of associated deaths and 64% of injuries.
  6. Adjust the thermostat on your water heater to keep hot water less than 120°F, to prevent scalds.
  7. Turn off the stove if you have to leave the kitchen while cooking. Unattended equipment is the #1 contributing factor in cooking fire deaths.
  8. Put on your glasses and read the fine print on that medicine bottleUnintentional poisonings have risen steadily since 1992, and for people 35 to 54 years old, they’re causing more deaths than motor vehicle crashes. Know how much, and how often, you can safely take any medication whether prescription or over-the-counter, as well as possible interactions with other drugs.
  9. Keep the metal mesh screen of your fireplace closed, but leave glass doors open while burning a fire. The U.S. Fire Administration says leaving the doors open gives the fire enough air and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney. The screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace. Close the glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney from getting into the room.

Got a few minutes more? Use these 8 simple tips.

8 Simple Ways to Prevent Injuries

Our 1-minute moves can prevent injuries and take a total of less than 10 minutes. If you can find just a few minutes more, use them to:

  1. Put away household cleaners and medications in a place that’s out of sight and reach of children.
  2. Clear clutter from hallways and exits to prevent tripping.
  3. Install handrails on stairs and adequate lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs. Leading causes of adult injuries include falls from stairs, steps and ladders.
  4. Use this fire safety checklist to check your home for hazards.
  5. Call to schedule an annual chimney cleaning.
  6. Play Help Mikey Make It Out with your kids. This fun, interactive game at homefiredrill.org teaches life-saving home escape lessons.
  7. Plan and practice your home escape. Working smoke alarms and CO detectors save lives, but does everyone in your home know what to do when they sound–especially in the middle of the night? Does everyone know your meeting place outside, where you can find each other and firefighters can find you? Visit homefiredrill.org.
  8. Check the manufacturers instructions to see if you should replace your CO detector. You need a  new detector every two to 10 years, depending on the model. Carbon monoxide kills in minutes, and unlike smoke from a fire it’s colorless, tasteless and odorless. It can be created by open flames, space heaters, water heaters, blocked chimneys or running a car inside a garage (even with the door open). If you have only one carbon monoxide detector, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends it be located near the sleeping area, where it can wake you.