‘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.

Safe at Home a “Next Step” for Adults With Disabilities

Safe at Home, which provides in-home safety assessment and training to reduce the risks of fire and injury in the home, was introduced to many parents, caregivers, teens and adults with intellectual and development disabilities at the recent Next Steps conference sponsored by AutismUp. The conference focused on transitioning to an adult life and living more independently.

“The people who stopped by our booth said they had never encountered anything like Safe at Home before, and they seemed very impressed,” Safe at Home trainer Bob Crandall reported. “One person also thought it would be good for her elderly mother who still lives alone.”

Learn more about Safe at Home here.

Teaching Teens With I/DD Fire Safety: Classroom Plans and Modules

Effective fire prevention and survival skills—life skills that can protect young lives now and in their future lives—are more than school fire drills, a session of stop, drop and roll, or a mention of pot holders during a cooking lesson. Children and teens with intellectual disabilities are at higher for preventable injuries, including fire and burns. Teens are an especially important group to reach with effective fire safety skills, because they are approaching an age when many will move into more independent living situations—where their risk increases. This article includes six modules for lessons and classroom activities, discussion prompts and take-home materials that cover the key skills of kitchen safety, smoke alarms and exit plans, and calling 911.

Get the full article and fire safety lesson plans.

Teens With Special Needs Get Special Safety Training

When children reach about 14 years of age, most parents feel confident about leaving them home alone for a certain amount of time. For parents of teens with intellectual disabilities, though, that decision is more complicated. Will their child know how to respond if there’s an emergency, get out if the smoke alarm sounds, and call 9-1-1?

Recently Dr. Robert Cole of Community Health Strategies presented a fire safety seminar sponsored by Prevention1st to faculty of the Cooke Center for Learning and Development in New York City. The Cooke Center provides special education services for students ages 5 through 21 with mild-to-moderate cognitive or developmental disabilities and severe language-based learning disabilities. One of the take-aways they have incorporated into their curriculum is the importance of learning and practicing what to do when the smoke alarm goes off.

“Fire safety has always been a topic we’ve covered, but Bob’s seminar really brought out how important it is to have a specific plan if there’s an emergency,” said Virginia Skar, CCC-SLP, Chair of Adaptive Services at Cooke Center. The Center has now integrated exit planning into the journal the school creates as part of parental involvement in educational planning, goal setting, and review of their child’s progress.

Teaching People With Intellectual Disabilities to Live Independently and Safely

Safe_at_home_Ryan_Cooking2Prevention 1st has entered the exciting next phase in its development of an evaluated curriculum for teaching safety to people with intellectual disabilities, thanks to grants from the Developmental Disabilities Giving Circle of the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Jane L. and Laurence C. Glazer Charitable Trust.

More people with intellectual disabilities are choosing to live independently or semi-independently, with less intensive supervision and supports. Without effective safety skills training, these individuals and their families are concerned about prevention and preparedness.

In the pilot program funded by these two grants, focus groups were held and in-home training sessions are underway with 30 individuals with intellectual disabilities who are new to independent living. Because of the great variability in residential settings, the program began with an environmental assessment and orientation for each of the individuals along their circles of support.

Prevention 1st and its expert partner Community Health Strategies will adapt the curriculum as necessary to teach fire and kitchen safety skills to the individuals in the pilot program. They will also test the use of a wireless tablet produced by program partner Touch Stream Solutions, which audibly and visually reminds users of important tasks such as checking smoke alarms and practicing an exit route.

The pilot program will be evaluated throughout its delivery. Progress on skills development and hazard reduction will be tracked and measured to assess effectiveness. Program trainers will also communicate regularly with each person’s circles of support to get their input on the progress of their loved one’s skills.

Based on the results of this pilot program, Prevention 1st will finalize the assessment tool, training curriculum and associated materials. The pilot will provide the foundation for a groundbreaking, evidence-based curriculum that will meet the needs of an emerging population of people with intellectual disabilities who will be living more independently than ever.

If you live in the Rochester, NY area and you’d like to join the pilot program, please submit a Participant Application.

Many thanks to the Safe at Home Project Steering Committee:

Katie Abbott, People Inc.

Anthony Arnitz, NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities

Joel Benzel, Touch Stream Solutions

Jason Blackwell, Starbridge

Holly Brown, University of Rochester Medical Center

Molly Clifford, Community Health Strategies

Robert Cole, Ph.D, Community Health Strategies

Ann Costello, Golisano Foundation

Robert Crandall, Prevention 1st

Jack Dinaburg, Prevention 1st

Julia Engstrom, Trinity Assistance Corp.

Ernie Haywood, Lifetime Assistance

Karen Knauf, Injury Free Coalition for Kids

Cindy Lill, In the Driver’s Seat

David McAdam, Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities

Wendy McLaughlin, Touch Stream Solutions

Debbie Napolitano, Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities

Jen Ralph, Community Health Strategies

Joyce Steel, In the Driver’s Seat

Nick Vignati, Arc of Ontario


Related articles:

How Can People With Disabilities Be Safe While Living Independently?

Top Safety Concerns for People With Developmental Disabilities: Fire and Cooking


Free Fire Safety Resources for Vulnerable Populations

firefighter&childYoung children and people with developmental disabilities are among those at highest risk from fire. At the Mississippi Fire Chiefs’ Conference, fire chiefs learned how to protect these vulnerable groups even when budgets for preventive education are limited.

The state of Mississippi had the highest average fire death rate in the five most recent years.[i]  Lt. Robert Crandall (Ret.), a Prevention 1st board member and vice-president of Community Health Strategies, was recently invited to present ways to bring preventive education to two of the most vulnerable groups: young children, and people with developmental disabilities.

Community Risk Reduction: (Mostly) Free Fire Safety Resources for Vulnerable Populations, presented to 120 fire chiefs, lead off the two-day Mississippi Fire Chiefs’ Conference.

The invitation and attendance “shows a real commitment to education in times of lower budgets,” said Crandall.

On average every year across the country, 49,300 fires are caused by “child playing,” leading to 80 deaths and 860 injuries—nearly 3 injuries a day (NFPA data 2014). Young children have a great deal of experience with fire from family activities such as cooking and grilling, camping, and celebrations involving candles, yet can’t really understand how dangerous fire can be. Crandall shared free and low-cost materials that can help fire service educators and others reach this group:

People with developmental disabilities are at much greater risk of dying from an injury than the general population, and at 4 times the risk of dying from a fire. Policy changes are moving people with disabilities into more independent living situations, where they are at a 34% greater risk for injury than in institutionalized settings. [ii]

Prevention 1st and Community Health Strategies have developed and delivered Safe at Home training workshops addressing communication between fire service and people with disabilities, avoiding the dangers of exit drill overkill, strategies for people who resist complying with fire drills, and involving families in home safety, with an emphasis on practical skills particularly kitchen/cooking safety. They have been encouraged by the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and others to create the program structure necessary to deliver the training more widely, including a formal curriculum and residential safety assessment tool.

Related articles:

How Can People With Disabilities Be Safe While Living Independently?

Top Safety Concerns for People With Developmental Disabilities: Fire and Cooking

[i] NFPA, US Unintentional Fire Death Rates by State, October 2012

[ii] Strauss, et. al, American Journal of Epidemiology (1999)

Top Safety Concerns for People With Developmental Disabilities: Fire and Cooking

Read Part 1: How Can People With Disabilities Be Safe While Living Independently?

Recently Prevention 1st convened Safe at Home: Effective Safety Training for People with Intellectual Disabilities Living Independently. Co-sponsored with the NYS Office of People With Developmental Disabilities and Monroe Community College, this community conference drew more than 100 attendees including people with disabilities, caregivers, and staff members and volunteers from community agencies, fire departments, and schools.

We asked attendees to rank the importance of 10 commonly mentioned safety concerns and to feel free to add in others. From the final list of 28 topics, fire safety was ranked the number one concern and kitchen/cooking safety was ranked number two. They’re right to be concerned: the US Fire Administration reports that cooking is the leading cause of home fires, causing 49% of such fires.

This response, combined with the statistics on safety risks for people with developmental disabilities and the concerns we had already collected from potential recipients of our proposed safety training, makes it clear that fire safety, including cooking safety, is our highest training development priority.

Encouraged by the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) Prevention 1st is developing an evaluated curriculum for teaching fire safety and injury prevention skills to people with intellectual disabilities (ID) who live independently.

Many local agencies and families are also eagerly awaiting an effective, evidence-based program to improve the safety of people with intellectual disabilities living independently.

Thanks to grants from the Developmental Disabilities Giving Circle of the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Jane L. and Laurence C. Glazer Charitable Trust,  focus groups were held and a pilot program of in-home training sessions is underway with 30 individuals with intellectual disabilities who are new to independent living.

We’ll keep you updated on how Prevention 1st and Community Health Strategies are working together to develop that training. If you’re not already on the mailing list for our newsletter Prevention 1st on the 1st, sign up now to be notified when articles appear.