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Fireco Spotlight – Support The Deaf People

Fireco Spotlight – Support The Deaf People

We often talk about practical measures for hearing impaired people at seminars and events, in the hopes of giving audiences a sense of good and bad practices. With 11 million deaf and hearing-impaired people in the UK, many are overlooked when it comes to emergency planning. Being an invisible disability, it can be easy to take for granted that, according to statistics, 1 in 6 people could miss a fire alarm.

For several years now, we have supported and recommended Ruthy Fletcher’s award-winning organisation ‘Support the Deaf people’ who specialise in deaf awareness training for hotels and other businesses. For Deaf Awareness Week, we’re shining a spotlight on Ruthy and the important work she’s doing.

Can you tell us more about your business?

I had various office jobs until I was faced with redundancy ten years ago. I decided to set up my own business “Support The Deaf People” following on from some bad experiences staying in hotels. I wanted to educate staff on how to support and communicate with deaf people by providing the right equipment and teaching them relevant sign language.

Can you tell us a bit more about those ‘bad experiences’?

I was staying in a hotel when unbeknown to me the fire alarm went off. I was not alerted to the fire and was the only person left in the building, unaware of what was happening. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced this 3 times in different hotels around the UK. After discussing this with deaf friends, I was astounded as to how many of them had similar experiences.

How prepared do you think businesses are in terms of catering for Deaf people in an emergency?

I think there is a massive communication breakdown! For instance, when I try clothes on in changing rooms – how do the staff know that there is a deaf lady in the changing room when the fire alarm rings out? Deaf people can worry if they feel that there is no one to support or help them. Especially if there are no emergency beacons (flashing lights) or other devices to let us know that the alarm is going off.

What are the most common mistakes hearing people make when dealing with the Deaf community?

Most businesses just aren’t aware of deaf people. They notice more obvious disabilities such as wheelchair users or people with other mobility impairments, even blind people with guide dogs. But Deaf people, who are in good physical health can easily go unnoticed. There is very little support or no BSL (British Sign Language) training. For instance, during one stay in a hotel, I needed to book a taxi to get to a wedding. I asked the receptionist to phone for a taxi but she just froze and shrugged her shoulders. I asked for a paper and pen – she shrugged further. Fortunately, a lady behind me overheard what was happening and gave me a paper and pen. But even after I wrote down “ Please can you phone a taxi to the church as I am going to a wedding at 12.30 pm”, she gave me a phone! “What?” I said, “No, I am deaf, can you phone a taxi for me please!”. It was such an unnecessary effort just to do something as simple as calling a taxi.

What other day-to-day problems do Deaf people face?

There is a long list of problems, really. Most commonly it’s things like doorbells, alarm clocks . . .  a lot of the audible signals that hearing people might take for granted, including fire alarms.

So how do you see Support the Deaf People helping businesses?

I aim to educate businesses on how to support and communicate with Deaf people.  I teach basic sign language specific to each business, as well as alphabet fingerspelling and lip pattern skills. I also demonstrate equipment used by deaf people, such as Deafgard. It’s been a really important piece of equipment for me so I make sure to show attendees how it works.

I discuss real-life experiences that Deaf people face every day. Very often, attendees are left speechless at some of the awful situations that I, and people like me, have been in. Also, it’s important to remember that Disability Awareness training and Deaf Awareness training are completely different.

The Equality Act 2010 requires businesses to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities. What is your interpretation of this, in terms of hearing impairments?

I find that the Equality Act 2010 has made a good rule on PEEP (Personal Evacuation Emergency Plan) forms for all businesses. I know that this is standard policy to ask all disabled people to complete these forms, but I want to tell you that many deaf people can be confused by them. They would tick every box, not really knowing what they are for. PEEP forms are obviously written in English, but for many deaf people, this isn’t their first language. Their first language is BSL (British Sign Language). I would simplify the form so that it’s more accessible and easy to read.

There are a lot of problems, but with regards to fire safety, fire alarms and evacuation are a big concern. Most disabled people can still hear and listen to evacuation instructions, but for me and other Deaf people, not only do we worry about missing alarms but also that we won’t be offered engaging evacuation instructions in BSL.

So, is this something you’re looking to change?

Absolutely! I’ve seen a lot of my clients implement real change once I’ve delivered my training. Its been very successful. Basic sign language and communication skills are really easy to pick up and now they have received the deaf-friendly certificate they’re welcoming more deaf customers.

In the fire industry, we know that being able to communicate effectively and having clear evacuation measures are crucial to getting people to respond the way we want them to in an emergency. Maybe you’ve had some visual alert devices fitted in key areas? Maybe your buddy system is ‘first-rate’? Maybe you think you’ve done all you can.

But imagine being able to communicate with Deaf people in their own language. Wouldn’t that make for a more positive experience, as well as showing Deaf and hearing impaired customers that you take their needs seriously?

If you were in an emergency situation, wouldn’t you want someone to communicate in your language?

If you would like to contact Ruthy to arrange some Deaf Awareness Training, you can email ruthy@supportthedeafpeople.co.uk, or you can call and speak to Ruthy’s assistant on 07444 136145.

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We’ve always done it that way!

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21st Century Town Criers

21st Century Town Criers

Put your hand up if you don’t have a mobile phone?

-assumes barely anyone raises their hands-

That’s what I thought.

Around 95% of adults in the UK have a mobile device in their pocket right now. Society has embraced this advance in technology, with many of us feeling dazed and confused if we find ourselves sans Samsung (or whichever is your brand). It’s strange to think that, in just a couple of decades, mobile devices have become indispensable and have forever changed the way we communicate.

In many ways, mobile devices have become the Town Criers of the 21st Century, allowing us to keep our fingers on the pulse with our devices in our pockets. If a friend or loved one wants to get hold of us, we get a call, text or email. We get notifications when people interact with us on social media and we can get RSS feeds so that we don’t miss the breaking headlines as they happen, whatever our interests may be.  

And boy, don’t we love it? We’ve all been there, at work or out with friends, and we feel a little buzz in our pocket or we see a notification pop up on our device’s screen. We just can’t resist taking a look to see what’s happening in the world. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that we would probably all react faster to receiving a text message than we would to, say, a fire alarm going off.

“Don’t be silly, Pete,” I hear you say “People always react to a fire alarm . . .”

Do they?

Studies have shown that people can be very lax when it comes to fire alarms. So what if you could notify people in your building, en masse, when a fire alarm is triggered by sending them a text message? What if all the tenants in your building had that extra measure? What if fire wardens, contractors, members of the local council or fire brigade, or the company managing your premises all received a text message when a fire alarm was set off?

Fireco has a great product called DMS which is, to my mind, the dark horse in our product stable. DMS was originally conceived by one of our Field Service Technicians, Chris Mitchell, as a cost effective alternative to pager systems. Instead of making deaf people ask for a pager, which they often hate doing, we decided to use what’s already in their pocket: a mobile phone. We wanted to offer a system that didn’t require customers to be constantly managing pagers. More importantly, we wanted to offer something that used modern technology and that wasn’t limited by range.

So we set about developing and supplying DMS, even recently redeveloping the product to offer a more robust service. And the more DMS we installed, the more alternative uses our customers found for it. One customer has a DMS that monitors for faults on an air conditioning system. We’ve helped customers notify staff using a staged alarm process to get the most out of their ‘investigation window’. We even have a university that uses it to notify students living in halls of residence, who sit in their rooms with headphones on, slowly reacting to a fire alarm. But you see how quickly they whip their phone out when they get a text! We’ve rolled DMS out at various university campuses across the UK, as well as colleges, schools, hospitals and hotels.

Our little DMS box is truly unrivalled in its capacity. You can notify an unlimited number of users of an event, such as a fire alarm, within seconds of it occurring. But there is still much more that can be done with it. If you or your company are responsible for life safety services or for evacuating occupants of a premises, or if you have a large building with lots of people in it, we can help you take extra steps to make sure the message from your fire alarm gets to where it needs to go.

Let’s face it, if the fire alarm is going off in your building, chances are, people are going to tweet about it anyway. They’re going to make the most of the 21st century town criers. Why shouldn’t you?

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Every time you leave a fire door open, a fairy dies

Every time you leave a fire door open, a fairy dies

Every time you leave a fire door open, a fairy dies.

I know, I know, it’s not true, is it? Fairies aren’t even real (or are they?). But the way that some fire safety people insist that fire doors are kept closed, you could be fooled into thinking that there is some truth in my opening statement.

In the event of a fire, your specially designed, expertly fitted fire doors have the important job of preventing the spread of fire. So many lives have been saved by these wooden heroes. It doesn’t surprise me that some fire safety people go into full-on meltdown if they are left open.

Part of the reason for this is that people use some pretty unsavoury things to hold fire doors open; wooden wedges, wastepaper bins, chairs, bits of folded over cardboard, even fire extinguishers. There will always be a need or desire for fire doors to be held open. The problem here is that all these things prevent doors from closing in an emergency, and wedging fire doors can have serious implications.

Convenient rest area or dangerous fire safety risk?

There are many benefits to keeping fire doors open and there are some very cost effective and easy to fit LEGAL devices do this. More importantly, they automatically close the door when there is a fire.

For the last few decades, hardwired devices have been favourable and more recently, with significant improvements in digital signal processing, wireless products, such as Dorgard Pro and Freedor, offer solutions that are much quicker, cleaner and safer to install.

“Ah,” I hear you say, “but we enforce a closed door policy, so we’re fine thanks.” This, on the surface, is a sensible policy. But (and there is a but) a closed door policy is never a closed door policy. By its very nature someone, somewhere, will undermine this on an almost daily basis by finding new and ever more extravagant means of holding open a fire door. In fact, what this policy does is actively encourage people in your building to wedge doors open by not giving them a safer alternative. Closed door policies are just not practical.

Let’s look at halls of residence, for example, where students are seven times more likely to have a fire. Whats the first thing students will do when they start to carry heavy boxes into the building when they move in? They wedge the doors so that they can get through without struggling. And when it’s time for them to move out, what happens? Wedged doors.

During my time in halls, every party (of which there were many) meant finding things to wedge our bedroom doors open with. Once there was even a food fight between my floor and the floor below. The closed door policy somewhat scuppered our game. So we disregarded the closed door policy by immediately wedging two floors worth of fire doors. Oh, and I haven’t told you about the girl with a broken leg who was effectively house bound by the closed fire door policy in her accommodation.

Occasionally a premises will allow ‘temporary wedging’ for access. Where’s the guarantee that people will un-wedge the door when they’re done? There isn’t one. They’ll leave that job for you. This is one of many real world, human examples of where a closed door policy will fall down. Want proof? Just take a look on Twitter.

Closed door policies are ignored by pretty much everyone except those who have to enforce them.

Enforcing a closed door policy

And let’s be honest, enforcing this kind of policy is probably the most thankless task we can think of. You have to spend huge portions of your day going round, checking all the doors, removing any wedges, taking time away from the really important things. Training and re-training colleagues and co-workers on the importance of not wedging open fire doors. Constantly fighting an uphill battle. And round and round it goes.

Where will it stop? Hopefully not with a fire.

We don’t like having our time wasted, especially at work. We all have many responsibilities in our jobs. Should it be your responsibility to constantly reprimand people for making their own lives easier? Wouldn’t your working life be easier if you had one less thankless task to carry out? Wouldn’t your building be safer if your fire doors could close when they needed to? Don’t you want to save the life of a poor little fairy?

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We’ve always done it that way!

We’ve always done it that way!

Grace Hopper once said “The most dangerous phrase a manager can use is ‘we’ve always done it that way’”. Hopper was a pioneering computer scientist whose work was central to the development of one of the foundational high-level computer programming languages. Working in a fast moving technological domain where repeating previously successful strategies often ended disastrously, she understood that when we brush off new ideas, we end up falling down the same old holes.

gmh1

Grace Hopper tinkering with her COBOL (COmmon Business Orientated Language) programming language.

What’s worrying is that “We’ve always done it that way” is often a key decision making factor when choosing the equipment we use in our premises.

This kind of appeal to tradition is something we come across often in the fire industry. An appeal to tradition basically makes two assumptions:

  • The ‘old way’ of doing things was proven correct when it was introduced
  • Past justifications for the ‘old way’ of doing things are still valid.

In reality, these assumptions can be incorrect. The ‘old way’ of doing things may have been introduced on incorrect grounds and past justifications often disappear into the ether, with circumstances (such as relevant legislation) changing with the times.

Let’s put this into the context of a fire door. For many years, fire doors have been fitted with hard-wired hold open devices like electromagnets. These devices allow your fire doors to be held open and when the fire alarm is triggered, power to the magnets is cut off and your fire doors close. “Great,” I hear you say, “all is as it should be.” But is it?

For years, fire safety policies have allowed these devices to be installed because “we’ve always done it that way”. But what about the dangers of remanence? Next time you walk past a magnetic hold open device, have a look at the main plate. You’ll see a little pin in the middle. Do you know what that’s for?

This little pin is the only thing preventing a big failure.

Fire safety people will tell you that magnets are fail to safe. These are the words they use: fail and safe. The truth is that magnets do fail because they stay magnetic after the current is switched off. And that’s what that little pin is for: to prevent against a known problem that constantly forces magnetic hold open devices to fail. These pins break easily and can come loose. And they get ridiculously hot, too. Just think about how that mounts up your electricity bill.

Despite this very real issue (never mind complications that can arise during installation or the dangers of poorly installed products) hard-wired electromagnets are still one of the most commonly used pieces of door furniture. Why?

Because “We’ve always done it that way!”

So because you’ve always done it that way, does that exclude you from looking at better ways of doing things? Because you’ve always done it that way, does the notion of something new scare you?

If your answer to those questions is no, me and thee need to talk. We do things differently at Fireco. Because that’s what we’ve always done.

‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’
– Henry Ford

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How to wake deaf friends and not alienate people

How to wake deaf friends and not alienate people

Fiona Stewart had a scary experience at a hotel recently. Fiona, who is deaf, woke up surrounded by her mother, a firefighter and the hotel manager. No, this wasn’t some kind of weird dream. The hotel’s fire alarm had been set off and the building was evacuated. When Fiona’s family found each other at the muster point, Fiona was nowhere to be seen.

Hi Fiona. Can you tell me a little bit about what happened that night?
The hotel’s fire alarm went off at seven in the morning and I wasn’t evacuated. My parents got out of their room and were reassured that I was out of mine. Mum and Dad made their way to the meeting point in the hotel car park but it dawned on them that I wasn’t there. Mum told the manager and the firefighters that they had missed me, but the staff had informed them that everyone was accounted for.

My parents were very upset at this point, demanding my room was checked to see if I was there. Mum marched the manager and fireman to my room to see I was sleeping. It was rather unfortunate as I looked a mess and was drooling… but who cares? It was literally a matter of life and death. Or at least, it could have been. Luckily it was a false alarm. Someone had a shower and left the bathroom door open triggering the alarm with the steam.

Did the hotel offer you any equipment or mention evacuations when you checked in?
I tweeted the hotel two months before my booking to ask if they had any accessible fire alarms. They replied saying they had no equipment available. I’d hoped that in between my tweet and the date of my
check-in, they would sort something out.


Staff reiterated at check-in that they didn’t have anything to help. I explained that I would need to be notified in the event of a fire alarm and wrote it down on the check-in sheet. I explicitly stated that someone would have to come and get me if a fire alarm went off. The staff said that they had taken this on board.

So that didn’t happen?
The person who went to check my room claimed that he did open the door but didn’t see me as it was too dark. He also stated that he was distracted by other guests asking him for directions and advice. I suspect he opened the door and yelled “FIRE ALARM.” He also admitted that he didn’t flick the lights on and off as per the hotel’s procedures.

How familiar are you with technology that can help in these situations?
I used Deafgard when I was at Stirling University which has come in handy as I know how to use it and often find myself explaining how it works to hotel staff.

Was fire safety something you were mindful of before this incident?
Since I’ve got older, I’ve become more aware of fire safety and always check hotel websites for any information. I’m obsessive when it comes to booking hotels and since this happened I’ve become a bit paranoid about fire safety. I often wake up in the middle of night to put on my Cochlear Implant to check if the fire alarm is going off.

How do you feel now about what happened that night?
When it first happened, I was angry about how it impacted my family. Now, as I look back on it, I’m not angry any more but I’m really worried that this could easily happen again or that it’ll be worse. A death could occur and that’d be horrendous for everyone involved.

Do you think hotels do enough for deaf and hard of hearing guests?
I don’t think hotels are really aware of what’s needed for deaf guests. It’s important to highlight that evacuation by hotel staff is not always the best answer. Deafness is an invisible disability. It’s not as if we have a giant neon sign flashing above us! Most people just don’t think about it and assume that we don’t need any support because we look physically able.

So, in the context of fire safety, what can hotels do to help?
It’s important to feel comfortable asking us what we would like you to do. After all we’re the ones who know what works best for us. Not all deaf people are the same and levels of deafness vary. Flashing lights or a strong vibrations will make a massive difference in terms of being aware that there is an alarm. Be flexible in your approach and communication. Don’t be afraid to use pen and paper to communicate with your deaf guests as this will prevent any confusion.

Lastly, a Deafgard only costs a few hundred pounds. That’s nothing compared to the cost of a life.

Fireco makes complying with regulations easy. We have two products which can easily notify anyone with a hearing impairment of any kind that your fire alarms are going off. For one in six people who are deaf or hard of hearing, it can make a big difference. I’d love to talk to you about how I can make it easy for you and your customers, so email me, call me or tweet me: whatever’s easiest.

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Fiona Stewart had a scary experience at a hotel recently. Fiona, who is deaf, woke up surrounded by her mother, a firefighter and the hotel manager. No, this wasn’t some kind of weird dream. The hotel’s fire alarm had been set off and the building was evacuated.

Are universities deaf to students’ needs?

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