Empirical Study Using Alternative Early Warning Systems to Address Fire in the Homes of Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Individuals

Empirical Study Using Alternative Early Warning Systems to Address Fire in the Homes of Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Individuals

Valerie C. Bryan (Florida Atlantic University, USA), Gerri Penney (Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, USA), Lisa Andrews (Delray Medical Center, USA) and Marianne Robin Russo (Florida Atlantic University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6046-5.ch028


Home fires do not only destroy property, but they also place human life at significant risk. Fires at night, during sleeping hours, can pose even more of a risk for a residential dweller due to the sheer fact that the resident is not in a fully awake and conscious state. In terms of the profoundly deaf community, these individuals may be more at risk, since hearing is not optimal, and traditional emergency devices may not prove worthy (Ashley, 2007). This chapter measures and quantifies two commercially available emergency alerting devices, available to the profoundly deaf community in three modalities: (1) sounds – a 520 HZ square wave and voice annunciation; (2) light – a 177 high intensity candela strobe; and (3) movement – an intermittent bed shaker. Providing a salient alert system increases the likelihood of an individual who is profoundly deaf to awaken regardless of the level of sleep, including REM sleep. What was measured were: (1) whether the subject awakens during REM sleep with each modality of the alerting devices aforementioned and (2) the quickness of the reaction time of the awakening process to determine the most successful of the three modalities tested.
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Background Information

The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) receives $949,000 grant from Department of Homeland Security for Vision 20/20 Community Risk Reduction. Palm Beach County Fire Rescue in West Palm Beach, Florida was one of five communities in the nation to receive funding from the grant. Palm Beach County received $160,000 to accomplish three projects:

  • Project 1: Install smoke alarms and to provide slips & falls education through a home visitor program.

  • Project 2: Install early warning devices for people with profound hearing loss.

  • Project 3: Conduct a research study to identify the best type of early warning device(s) to awaken people with profound hearing loss.

This paper addresses the primary work conducted through Project 3. A portion of the grant funds received was to test scientifically different methods for awakening, alerting and informing persons with profound or total hearing loss.

Significance of the Study and Site Selection

It was noted in that during the development of the 2010 edition of the NFPA72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, that the technical committees focused on “new requirements (for fire alerting devices) did not address those who are severely hearing impaired or profoundly deaf. The committees would like to have scientific data on methods for awakening, alerting and informing persons with profound or total hearing loss” (R. P. Schifiliti, personal communication, March 09, 2009).

Across the nation and the world, fires while sleeping are responsible for a high incidence of death among all populations. For the profoundly deaf individual who may be at more risk in night fires, special early warning emergency devices may be more essential.

Research was required to determine which devices were more appropriate for a growing population of people with profound hearing loss. Since Palm Beach County had an extremely large senior population with reported hearing issues (16,000 individuals in season), it was deemed to be an appropriate site for such a research study that could not only save lives in Palm Beach County, Florida, but potentially could also save lives throughout the United States and possibly the world. Generalizability of the findings in this study was important to policymakers in fire agencies, community agencies that serve seniors and the profoundly deaf, community educators, and researchers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

REM Sleep: “Usually, REM sleep occurs 90 minutes after sleep onset. The first period of REM typically lasts 10 minutes, with each recurring REM stage lengthening, and the final one may last up to an hour. During this stage the eyes move rapidly in different directions. Intense dreaming occurs during REM sleep as a result of heightened brain activity, but paralysis occurs simultaneously in the major voluntary muscle groups. REM is a mixture of encephalic (brain) states of excitement and muscular immobility.” Retrieved from http://www.Webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/sleep-101 .

Cochlear Implant: “A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that helps people hear. It can be used for people who are deaf or very hard of hearing.” Retrieved from http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/007203.htm#ixzz1vnXxhfjC .

Voice Alarm: “Dedicated manual or automatic equipment for originating and distributing voice instructions, as well as alert and evacuation signals pertaining to a fire emergency, to the occupants of a building.” Voice alarm (VA) in this study was VA 520HZ square-wave and voice annunciation device. Retrieved from http://defineterm.com/?s=voice+alarm .

Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA): “Used to help people with chronic ear infections, congenital external auditory canal atresia and single sided deafness who cannot benefit from conventional hearing aids. The system is surgically implanted and allows sound to be conducted through the bone rather than via the middle ear - a process known as direct bone conduction.” Retrieved from http://www.umm.edu/otolaryngology/baha.htm .

Reaction Time (Measured in Seconds): “The time elapsing between the beginning of the application of a stimulus and the beginning of an organism's reaction to it.” Retrieved from http://www.merriam-Webster.com/medical/reaction%20time .

Waking Time: “Marked by full consciousness, awareness, and alertness.” Retrieved from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/waking .

Strobe Light: A strobe light or stroboscopic lamp, commonly called a strobe, is a device used to produce regular flashes of light. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strobe_light .

Profoundly Deaf: Individuals with no hearing 90db or less over the range of 500Hz to 8000Hz.

Intermittent Bed Shaker: “A bed shaker which goes under the mattress and vibrates the bed in an intermittent pattern awakening the sleeper to an emergency” Retrieved from http://www.safeawake.com/Adults%20with%20Varying%20Hearing%20Levels.html .

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