CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – For many of us we see a fire and the first thing we do is either put it out or if it is a larger fire we call the fire department.
However, this may not be the case for some blind or visually impaired people who may have a harder time spotting a fire.
Andy Tamez learned to use his other senses to spot a fire. He was born legally blind and works at the South Texas Lighthouse for the Blind where he makes filing cabinets.
“Here we use our sense of smell more because most of us can’t see,” Tamez said.
Tamez said during his 19 years at the STLB he had undergone fire safety drills where they relied on a buddy system. He said sighted people help blind people get to safety.
“We develop a friendship and kind of a code like, ‘hey you know what, we’re all working here, so if something happens we’re going to come out and they’ll guide us, help us, or do whatever we have to do. ‘ “, did he declare.
The STLB building has safety devices that help blind and visually impaired employees navigate their way through the building. These are important features that would help them in the event of a fire.
The yellow lines painted on the ground, it’s a bit like the yellow brick road of the Wizard of Oz. They have a pull on them that employees can feel with their feet, so they know where they are going.
Alana Manrow is the Director of Public Affairs and Development for the STLB. She slowly lost her sight over time. She developed diabetic retinopathy and lost her right eye to glaucoma and has partial vision in her left eye. She said they practice fire drills to organize themselves if there is a fire.
“We have designated meeting places for each department and of course the manager or supervisor makes sure they represent everyone in their department,” Manrow said.
She said being legally blind, like Tamez, also helped her use her senses, allowing her not to rely too much on her sight. She said that moving from inside the building to the outside is a challenge for her as her vision has to adapt to the lighting. Regarding the touch, she said she would be able to feel the heat on the door if there was a fire on the other side.
“Sometimes I would say blind people can get out of these situations maybe a little bit faster because we’re used to not seeing as well as sighted people,” Manrow said.
This week is Fire Prevention Week and the theme is: Learn the Sounds of Fire Prevention.
This is something important that Randy Paige, deputy chief and fire marshal of the Corpus Christi Fire Department, could help the visually impaired or blind.
He said it’s important for people who are blind and visually impaired, and really everyone in general, to make sure they don’t wear loose clothing around fires. He said it’s also important to make sure all the pots and pans on the stove are turned the right way around.
He said that for the blind and visually impaired there are pillow and bed shakers that respond to a smoke alarm.
Paige said it’s important to install a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm and know the difference between their sounds.
“Normally a smoke detector beeps three times longer… beeps… three times, then you’ll have some silence and it will do the same… keep doing it.” A carbon monoxide detector has bursts that are 4 shorter… faster… so you can tell the difference, ”Paige said.
He said the important thing people need to do is get out of the house as quickly as possible and never go back, even if there is someone trapped inside. Leave that to Paige and the other firefighters.