Sunday, April 22, 2001

New smoke detectors aid the deaf

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP — There is a time when Lauren Dooley wants to be shaken from a peaceful sleep.

        Lauren, who is hearing impaired, has a strobe light over her door that's activated by a smoke detector. But soon, she'll have another warning: a disk under her mattress that will violently shake it if there's a fire.

        Lauren, who's 9 1/2 and a fourth-grader, said she'll “feel safer if my bed shakes” should a fire break out.

        Her parents, Pam and Ira Dooley, are happy to know new technology in smoke detectors is coming to their home, thanks to a local foundation's grant and caring fire departments.

    To apply for smoke detectors for the hearing impaired:
    West Chester Township residents: - 777-1133
    Liberty Township residents — 777-8388
    Residents served by Cincinnati chapter American Red Cross — 579-3009.
        The West Chester and Liberty Township fire departments, with funding from the Key Community Foundation, which supports nonprofit and community efforts in the two townships, are making the $170-$250 devices available to the hearing impaired on request.

        “Without her hearing aids — when Lauren's in bed, in the bathroom or swimming — she cannot hear,” Pam Dooley said. “We worry that the strobe in the dark may not be enough to wake her.”

        Lauren said that while she has a keen sense of smell and a loyal friend in Crash — the family's pet Lab — it'll be too late if she doesn't know of a fire threat as soon as a detector does. “And, Crash won't go up steps. He's steps impaired,” Lauren said.

        West Chester and Liberty townships are the first in Butler County to offer smoke detectors to the hearing impaired, said Fire Lt. Rick Prinz, West Chester Township's fire prevention officer. “We have four requests now and Liberty Township has three and we expect more once word gets out.”

        Gary Miller, director of disaster services for the Cincinnati Chapter for the American Red Cross, said the chapter has been offering smoke detectors to the hearing impaired since 1998 but knowledge about them is lacking.

        “We have given out about 500 but estimate there are about 3,000 deaf or hearing-impaired people in our area who can use them.”

        The Cincinnati-based chapter serves Hamilton, Clermont, Brown and Warren counties in Ohio and Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties in Kentucky.

        The new detectors can be programmed to vibrate a bed, turn lamps on and off, emit light and even ring a phone or doorbell.

        However, none of the new devices can be programmed to do more than one function at a time, Lt. Prinz said.

        Mr. Miller said the Red Cross is encouraging manufacturers to design a smoke detector that can provide simultaneous functions.

        Patti Aldersen, president and chief operating officer of the 15-month-old Key Community Foundation, said she was approached by fire officials. “We generated $62,000 last year and we have decided putting smoke detectors in the homes of hearing impaired is a valuable contribution to our communities,” she said.

        Lt. Prinz said the detectors “give everyone the opportunity to flee a dangerous situation — hearing impaired or not. We have never had a fire involving a hearing impaired person but we want the hearing impaired ... to know we are aware of their special circumstances. ... We want to serve all equally.”

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