“Your vision situation is probably your advantage,” said Linda Patty, fire safety educator for the Rome-Floyd Fire Department’s education center.
Patty was speaking to the Transition Academy, a group of young adults with visual impairments or blindness from across Northwest Georgia who came to Fire Station No. 3 to learn about fire safety on Wednesday. People with visual impairments already have their floor plan memorized and use the walls to feel through the house, which is what firefighters do, Capt. Phillip Little said.
“Smoke will kill you first, that’s why you need to do what we were saying earlier and stay low,” Patty said. “I’m going to tell you this 100,000 times, you’re priceless.”
Patty and other firemen on staff at station three took questions from the group and informed them about the different kinds of smoke alarms that would be beneficial for those with impairments. The fire department gives out and installs smoke alarms at no charge, Patty said, however these alarms would only beep if there is a fire. Other options, like the bed shaking fire alarm, is a stimulating alert system that would wake someone up who is potentially deaf, visually impaired or blind from their sleep and warn them of a fire.
Karlene Welty of Vision Rehab told the group there are also fire alarms that give verbal instructions and warning. The housing authority may also install specialized smoke alarms if requested.
Welty also told the group if they are ever in a fire and a firefighter comes in to rescue them to alert the first responders of their impairment. She then mentioned to the firefighters that when giving instruction to someone who is blind or is visually impaired to use clock positions which is what they use daily.
“The education side for us is just as important,” Patty told the group. “The biggest thing we get out of these events are what we learn, its valuable to our firefighters.”
The Rome firefighters also gave advice on how to keep the risk of fire in houses and apartments low by doing simple things like cleaning out the lint from dryer’s after every cycle and changing air filters regularly. Another big contributor to fires are over-crowded outlets they said. Extension cords with built in breakers that can switch off automatically if overloaded are the safest to use if one is absolutely needed Little said.
After the fire safety discussion the group went outside to examine a fire engine with the help of the firemen and volunteers. Welty helped Cody Brace get a feel for how big the fire engine was by helping him touch the top of the vehicle with his walking stick. Cpl. Eric Croft helped Justin Cochran understand the different functions of the fire engine by explaining to Cochran what was in front of him while he touched the various nozzles and connections.
Touch was a large part of the education Wednesday and firefighter Colin Cates helped the members of the academy recognize what a firefighter would feel like in full gear. Cates dressed head to toe like he would if he was about to enter a burning building and let Bronwyn Rumery and other comes up and feel the texture of his coat.
Croft also helped Brace, Cochran and Pagiel Griffith into the driver’s seat of the fire engine to get a feel for what it is like to drive the 70-foot vehicle. As Griffith got in and out of the engine, he made clicking noises with his tongue and listened to the echo. Griffith says he does this to try and get a feel for what is around him, a technique called echolocation that is used by some who live without sight.
Griffith shared when he lost his sight in 2017 he asked his mother if there was any way he could get it back. He said his mother had heard of a documentary where another man who is blind uses echolocation to ride bikes and handle day-to-day life. Griffith is also a musician who will sometimes leave his home in Chickamauga to do street performances on the streets of Chattanooga.
“Music is a passion of mine,” he said.
Welty said a lot of the members of the Transition Academy bond over music. Last year when the group was just beginning to get to know each other Griffith started playing the “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” intro on a guitar and the rest jumped in.
“I was astonished because these guys had never met before,” she said.
Since some of the members of the academy are living independently, Wetly works with them and teaches them skills like how to be mobile, job skills and how they can cook.
Patty said she hopes to continue specialized education classes like the one on Wednesday. These classes help people in the community as well as help fire fighters understand community members. Sometimes those with disabilities or impairments are pushed to the side, she said.
Patty also wants to start educating adults on fire safety and not just school students she sees throughout the school year.
“You would be surprised how many adults don’t know fire safety,” she said.