Lessons from the Missouri Group Home Fire That Killed 10: Interco

  • We’ve nearly all seen television footage of a nursing home being evacuated because of some disaster. We had that happen here in the Red River Valley of North Dakota during ‘the flood of the century” in 1997. At the time, I didn’t have an elder in such dire straights, but the scenes I saw on TV were harrowing. Floodwaters reached over three miles inland, with the river cresting at over 54 feet. The only thing worse, that I can imagine, is fire.

    While any facility that passes basic inspection would have smoke/fire alarms and are staffed to help with escape, we did read about a terrible fire at the Anderson Guest House, a group home for elderly and mentally handicapped people, in Missouri. According to an Associated Press story which ran in late November, ten people died and two dozen more were injured when the group home caught fire in a small town of 1,800 people in Missouri's Ozark hills. This home had fire alarms. The fire was under investigation. But – what if? What if alarms went off, but were heard too late?
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    Private homes, too, need alarms. And many seniors live alone pretty well, but they can be slow moving, and have impaired hearing. This is why every precaution needs to be considered. So, smoke/fire alarms are a must.

    The National Fire Protection Association recommends at least one smoke alarm for each level of any home. But if an elder lives in your home, or his/her own home, and an alarm goes off on a lower level, the elder may not hear it. By the time the smoke rises to the upper level and those alarms go off, the time to get out safely has been shortened.

    Some newer interconnected alarm systems can make a huge difference. The battery powered units communicate, so that when one alarm goes off, all of them do. That gives people all over the home more time to get out. For an elder with arthritis or other disabilities, each minute - saved or wasted - could be a matter of life or death.

    FirstAlert's Onelink and Kidde smoke alarms can be installed with no wiring. The battery-powered units communicate through wireless technology. As in wired systems, when one unit detects smoke, all units sound. The units also produce warning sounds in a series of frequencies, so if a resident has a hearing loss – common with elders – and the loss is in the highest pitch (very common), they may hear one of the lower pitched sounds instead. Other brands that offer interconnected sets are GE and Skylink.

    Any set must be of all one brand. They don’t work with each other.

    For more information about Carol go to www.mindingourelders.com or www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.
Published On: January 18, 2007