If you use a wheelchair or live with other mobility impairments, it is imperative that you understand your special evacuation needs and know your limits in order to help yourself and first responders improve your chances of a safe escape in case of fire.
If you live with a mobility impairment, we encourage you to take the following steps to better protect yourself from fire:
* Making your local fire department aware of your special needs is a must! You need to establish a relationship with your local fire department and work with them to develop an escape plan. Your local firefighters are a wealth of knowledge and can provide valuable information regarding better escape routes, special equipment, and potential hazards or risks in your home. You should be sure to review your escape plan with your fire department at least annually and practice it throughout the year.
* Plan for fire ahead of time. Have working smoke alarms and test them monthly to ensure they are functional. You can use a broom handle to test your smoke alarm, or ask friends, family members, building managers, or someone from the fire department to assist you.
* Have and learn how to use a fire extinguisher. You might consider having one mounted in an easily accessible area in case of a small, manageable fire or if your clothing catches fire. If you are unable to Stop, Drop, and Roll, a fire blanket might also be a useful tool.
* Consider your floor plan when identifying a sleeping location. If you are disabled, you should sleep on the ground floor to allow for an easier escape in the event of a fire. If you require assistive devices, keep them close by and easily accessible; practice using them in the dark. If you own a cellular phone or portable phone, keep it with you at all times. Take it with you to the bathroom and keep it next to your bed at night. This gives you a means of communication in case of emergency.
* If a fire occurs in your home, get out as quickly and safely as possible. Be sure to test doors before opening them by using the back of your hand. If the door feel cool, proceed with caution; however, if it is hot, use a second exit if available. If you are unable to get low to the ground, cover your mouth and nose and continue to the nearest exit. Do NOT use elevators if you live in an apartment or high-rise. Slide down stairs on your buttocks or get help from neighbors or fire personnel if available.
* If you become trapped, close any doors between you and the fire and place a blanket, sheet, or towel in any cracks to prevent smoke from entering the room. If possible, call 9-1-1 to let the fire department know what room you are in. Also, hang a white or light colored cloth out the window to direct fire fighters when they arrive on scene. You might also have a fire-retardant blanket next to your bed to help bide time until help arrives.
Never hesitate to contact your local fire department with any questions or for help in preparing for fire. Fire fighters are more than happy to help--especially when it doesn't require running into a burning building.