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Cuyahoga County program brings life-saving tech to seniors' homes

Posted: 5:41 PM, Nov 16, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-16 23:26:15Z

In the event of a fire, every second is critical. However, for senior citizens who might not see or hear as well as they used to, every second is even more vital.

With that in mind, the Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services and The Vanguards of Cleveland collaborated on a new program that brought unique and specialized smoke alarm systems to nearly 100 senior citizens.

According to numerous studies, children and senior citizens are at the highest risk of injury or death in the event of a fire or carbon monoxide emission. For seniors with hearing or visual impairments, the risk is multiplied.

As a career firefighter, Myran Jackson, the vice president of the Vanguards of Cleveland, knows the risk all too well.

“There’s a need for hearing-impaired smoke alarms to be installed,” Jackson said. “I approached (County) Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell last year and she got the ball rolling.

Conwell requested $25,000 in funding to purchase 92 specialized smoke alarms for the homes of seniors across the county. The Division of Senior and Adult Services (DSAS) then collaborated with the Vanguards, who offered to install the devices for free.

“We figured with the vulnerable population that we deal with we definitely want to make sure we get those out there to our seniors,” said Marlene Robinson-Statler, the interim administrator for DSAS. “We want to make sure our seniors still feel like they have some of their independence. They are empowered. With this unit, it gives them some additional help, the additional safety, something they don’t have to worry about.”

The specialized smoke alarms work on a simple premise. The main unit ‘listens’ to the smoke alarm. When it detects the alarm ringing, the device sends a signal to other components, which can emit scrolling text on a digital screen, strobes of light and audible alarms. One particular unit, which resembles a hockey puck, can be placed between the mattress and the box-spring. When activated, the unit will begin to vibrate, shaking awake anyone on the bed, even from the deepest sleep.

The system also ‘listens’ for the telephone and doorbell. Irene Walter, 95, was one of the first seniors to have the system installed in her Broadview Heights home.

“I have a hearing impairment and my eyesight also isn’t that great. I’m watching TV and the telephone rings so sometimes I don’t hear it,” Walters said. “I look over there and it’s flashing. It’s an awesome thing. There was a building on the lake [near my home] and the whole condo burned down. They had to rebuild. [The alarm] is great. If I know there’s a fire, I’m going to get my heinie out of there.”

When installing the systems, volunteers from the Cleveland chapter of the Vanguards also walk the senior through their emergency plan, in addition to handing out fire safety literature. Jackson said the entire program, which has brought the sonic alarm systems to the homes of 92 seniors so far, has been rewarding.

“It makes me feel fantastic,” Jackson said. “We sat around and talked about it, brought it to Councilwoman Conwell. To have actually have somebody benefit from it and [clients] be excited about it, it’s extremely gratifying.”

The entire system, which can cost upwards of $300 per unit, is free for qualifying seniors. Although all 92 units have been reserved or already installed, Robinson-Statler said more units could become available in 2019.

“We’re receiving additional calls right now from people who want to take a look at the units, if they can qualify for the units and how they can receive a unit,” Robinson-Statler said. “We definitely know there is a request. There is a need out there for the service.”