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4.2. Home Fire Safety For Wheelchair Users

United Spinal Association has some important tips to handle situations before and during a fire, and to address fire prevention within private homes. It is important to recognize that all people with limited mobility do not have the same type of home. Therefore, the following tips should be used only as a model to be modified and adjusted to fit each individual"s private reside

What to do Before a Fire Occurs...

Identify and determine the nearest emergency exit or exits within your home. It is important to always know the safest and quickest exit from any location you are in and it should always be based on your physical capabilities. If it is at all possible, try to have your sleeping area close to an accessible exit. Then, in the event of an emergency, you will have the quickest escape route. You might require some accommodations to facilitate an emergency exit such as a ramp or removal of barriers. Make the adjustments necessary to ensure a safe escape route. In addition, be sure that you can also open all locks on windows and doors throughout your home.


Install heat or smoke detectors throughout your home. Key locations for smoke alarms are: the kitchen, basement, storage areas, trash areas, accessible attics, sleeping areas, and hallways. Please note that there are various types of smoke alarms. The chart below describes what heat or smoke detectors are appropriate for each living space.
Smoke detector selection

Heat and smoke detectors can reduce the chance of dying in a home fire by approximately 60%. This device is important to have in your home. It is also important to make sure that your smoke alarms are functioning properly.

Make sure that smoke alarms are kept cleaned and vacuumed regularly to remove dust particles. In addition to this, you should test the batteries monthly and replace batteries twice per year to ensure that they are working properly. If your smoke alarms are connected to the electric circuits of your residence, you should have battery backups in case of an electrical failure.
If you are unable to perform these tasks yourself, ask your friends, family members, building managers, or someone from the fire department to help you out.

In addition to smoke detectors, carbon monoxide or CO detectors should also be installed in your home in areas near fuel burning devices. CO is a colorless and odorless compound produced by incomplete combustion–– such as open flames, space heaters, water heaters, or blocked chimneys–– that is lethal at high concentrations. Dual smoke/CO detectors are available for purchase at most home improvement stores.

What to Do in Case a Fire Occurs.

If possible, always test doors before opening them. To do this safely, use the back of your hand and reach up high and touch the door, the doorknob, and the space between the door and the frame. If the door feels hot, keep it closed and use a second exit if available. If the door feels cool, open the door slowly and exit, staying as low to the ground as possible. If it is impossible for you to stay low to the ground, cover your mouth and nose and safely exit the room as quickly as possible.

Covering your mouth and nose protects you from breathing in dangerous fumes.

Exit your home as quickly as possible. Leave all personal possessions and belongings inside. These items are not worth your life.

Do not use any elevators and do not go back inside after exiting your home.

Get help from your neighbors and contact the fire department if they have not already been called to the fire.

If you get trapped in your room close all doors between you and the fire.

Fill cracks in all open spaces so no smoke enters the room.

If possible, contact the fire department and inform them what room you are in. Depending on your physical abilities, you may also try to signal emergency responders when they arrive by hanging or waving a towel out a window (if window is close by, not above or near the fire, and safe to use).

If you own a cell phone, keep it with you at all times. Keeping it next to your bed at night, or even in the bathroom while you are taking a shower gives you a constant means of communication, even if you are trapped in a room and unable to reach a house phone.

Learn how to use a fire extinguisher. For those who use wheelchairs, you might want to consider mounting a small personal extinguisher in an accessible place. This will be beneficial if you cannot "stop, drop, and roll" if your clothing catches on fire.

Another beneficial resource of information is your local fire department. They can provide valuable information regarding better escape routes, equipment, and potential hazards within your home. Become knowledgeable of the fire department"s restrictions and inform them of yours.

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