Plainfield, Bolingbrook fire departments acquire fire alarms for the hearing impaired

The Lifetone fire alarm in its box displaying the alarm and the bed shaker.

Will County — The Plainfield Fire Protection District and Bolingbrook Fire Department recently participated in a statewide fire safety program to grant disabled residents access to fire alarms designed for them.

The Illinois Fire Safety Alliance issued a call to its partner fire departments statewide offering them a chance to acquire specialty fire alarms for deaf and hearing-impaired residents, which the organization received through a donation.

“We had 20 of these alarms donated to our ‘Be Alarmed’ program from Vision 20/20,” Executive Director of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance Phil Zaleski said. “Last year they donated 1,000 regular alarms to us. It’s to acknowledge the ‘great positive effect’ of the program for residents.”

The ‘Be Alarmed’ initiative provides home fire alarms free to fire departments throughout the state, which they can then install for residents for free while providing fire safety instruction to the families.

The program has been running since 2018 and has installed hundreds of fire alarms for Illinois residents. Zaleski noted that some departments have installed more than 1,000 alarms in single years.

“We put in around 200 smoke detectors this year so far,” Bolingbrook Fire Marshall Brian Gaston said. “We’re pretty active every time there’s a fire. Sometimes homes just have no alarms, but a lot of times the alarms are out of date or the batteries have been long dead, especially in homes owned by seniors or people who might have mobility issues and can’t reach them.”

While changing out a detector or battery is enough to improve safety in most homes, for the hearing-impaired special alarms are sometimes needed. The Lifetone alarms provided by the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance are specially designed to utilize other senses to warn of a potential fire.

“The unit basically looks like an alarm clock that you plug in and put next to the bed,” Zaleski said. “You then plug in the bed shaker piece to the alarm and put it under the mattress.”

The alarm clock portion contains audio sensors that pick up other home alarms like smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. If an alarm goes off, so does the specialty device, which the manufacturer’s website says means it emits its own alarm sound and flashes brightly with the word ‘fire’ across its screen.

The alarm also causes the bed shaker – a small puck, which Gaston said resembles a computer mouse – to vibrate, causing a sleeping person who cannot hear the alarm to wake up and see the alarm.

Lifetone fire alarm installed by the bed of a Plainfield resident.

The Plainfield Fire Protection District received the notification from the Fire Safety Alliance and sent word to the locals schools, asking if any families in the community would need such a device, said Fire Marshall Ryan Angelus.

“The Bonnie McBeth Learning Center, which works with kids with disabilities, told us that they had a student who might need this and got us in touch with his mom,” Angelus said. “I explained to her how it works, and we tested it with the child once it was installed so they knew what to expect if there was a fire.”

The Bolingbrook Fire Department also claimed one of the specialty alarms, but has not yet installed it in a home because the original intended recipient changed their mind. Gaston said they do have another candidate for it.

“The unit basically looks like an alarm clock that you plug in and put next to the bed. You then plug in the bed shaker piece to the alarm and put it under the mattress.”

—  Phil Zaleski, executive director of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance

“We’ve had a few people pass and say we should give it to someone who needs it more,” Gaston said. “Which seems common for some people because they are a little expensive.”

Zaleski said the devices cost about $250 each – compared to the cost of an average home alarm which is $12.50. He noted that the cost and the potentially related lack of awareness about them sometimes keeps households that may benefit from them from purchasing the devices.

“They’re actually pretty easy to install once you get them,” Zaleski said. “And families can sleep easy at night knowing they’ll be alerted if the smoke detector goes off. It’s just a matter of getting them.”

As of late-May the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance still had two of the devices available it was hoping to get to hearing-impaired residents.

Zaleski said that the organization hopes to expand in the future and potentially find ways of getting more specialized devices to families in need. He said they are pursuing a grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would allow them to buy 300 of the units to distribute to Illinois residents for free.

“Departments who are interested in them can reach out to us,” Zaleski said. “If we end up getting more, we will of course put out a wider announcement to get them to the people who need them.”