Spinal cord injury is the most common cause of paralysis. According to Brainandspinalcord.org, there are approximately 259,000 residents living in the U.S. who are paralyzed. 52% of these individuals are considered paraplegic and 47% quadriplegic. There are approximately 11,000 new injuries each year leaving more people paralyzed. The average age of these folks at the time of the paralyzing injury is 40.2 years old.
A couple of years ago my father was burned in a tragic accidental fire while working on a car. The accident left him paralyzed and wheelchair bound. After about 6 months in the hospital it was time for Dad to go home. Only problem was the prospect of “home” was very different than before the accident. You see Dad lived alone. There were so many questions…. like who would get him in and out of bed (he needed a mechanical lift and a nurse), who would feed him (his kitchen was not accessible), and what would happen in the case of an emergency? Even worse, how would he get out of his apartment if there were a fire? That was the scariest question of all because the whole reason he was paralyzed in the first place, at the age of 58, was an accidental fire!
So what does one do to let neighbors and firefighters know there is a paralyzed person trapped inside in case of a fire? They have those stickers homeowners put on their windows and doors that say “In case of a fire please save our pets”. Did they have “In case of a fire please save my paralyzed father” stickers too?
One night I went down the street to the San Diego fire station. When I got there the firemen were wrapping up dinner. After sharing Dad’s story with the rookie who answered the door he said I needed to talk with the chief. The chief had worked with the department over 10 years and said he wishes there was a database where you could put “notes” in about each residence. In that situation, if there was 911 call, the dispatcher could alert the firefighters that there was a paralyzed resident inside on their way over to the burning structure. Because my Dad’s home was located near a county and city fire department, that only complicated things more because they were different fire departments with different systems. If Dad’s apartment complex started on fire, one or both of these departments could be dispatched.
The chief did share that there were not, in fact, stickers or signs for paralyzed residents. The chief said the best way to help a paralyzed resident who was living alone, in the case of a fire, was to make my own sign.
So, if you have a neighbor, family member, or friend who is paralyzed, make sure they have signs visibly posted in their windows. According to the chief, there should be one sign on each side of the home where there are windows and doors. The sign should boldly say “In case of a fire, please evacuate paralyzed resident”. Download your own sign here:
Posting this sign lets firefighters and neighbors know to hurry and get the resident out or that someone is stuck inside and to alert the firefighters as soon as they get there.
Fire safety for wheelchair users training program
The United Spinal Association has developed a free online fire safety training program designed to save the lives of individuals with disabilities and impairments during fire emergencies. Watch the program in English or Spanish to learn other life saving tips.
This blog is brought to you by Earthwise™, a division of Albemarle®, a global provider of specialty chemical solutions. Earthwise’s first product is eco-friendly flame retardant called GreenArmor™. GreenArmor protects families and their property from accidental fires and is environmentally friendly to the planet.