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Severn fire department develops new program to aid deaf and hearing impaired

By Michael McClymont, Orillia Packet & Times

Jo Ann Bentley, program director of communication devices and accessibility consulting for the Canadian Hearing Society, displays a visual smoke alarm with a strobe light feature. (Submitted photo)

Jo Ann Bentley, program director of communication devices and accessibility consulting for the Canadian Hearing Society, displays a visual smoke alarm with a strobe light feature. (Submitted photo)


Severn Fire and Emergency Services is keeping an eye out for vulnerable residents in the township.

The fire department has developed a new program that will aid residents who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing with use of a smoke alarm equipped with either strobe lights or a bed and pillow shaker.

The program, titled Sightline to Safety, was launched last week during Fire Prevention Week.

“We are trying to educate residents out there that do have a hearing problem that there are devices available to them or their family members that are deaf,” said Severn Township Fire Chief Eric Dowell.

Dowell said the program is suited for communities such as Severn because it is a bedroom community with a lot of seniors.

“There are quite a few people out there that are reliant on hearing aids or are totally deaf and are probably relying on one of their family members to get them out of the house in the event of a fire,” he said.

According to the Canadian Hearing Society, research indicates, once a fire sets off a smoke alarm in a home, residents have as little as two minutes to get out unharmed.

A visual smoke alarm works like a typical smoke alarm. If the alarm detects smoke, it activates the strobe lights, bed shaker and pillow shaker, in addition to the audible component.

The model was designed in Europe and has been approved for use in Canada.

The new fire safety program is the brainchild of Severn Township fire prevention officer Dianne Kyle, who first learned of the challenges faced by residents who are deaf and hard of hearing at a conference.

“I heard a talk on the subject and it really concerned me,” she said. “I thought this is something we’re not catching and a lot of people aren’t catching in their departments.”

Kyle started developing Sightline to Safety from there. The process began two years ago and she got the program rubberstamped last month.

The technology has always been available to residents who are deaf, orally deaf, culturally deaf or hard of hearing, but there has been little public discussion about it.

Since last week’s launch, a few residents have inquired about the program at the township office.

“It’s slow, but it’ll get going. I’m confident,” Kyle said.

Residents interested in taking advantage of the Sightline for Sight program are encouraged to contact Severn Fire and Emergency Services, register their names and addresses with a dispatcher so, in the event of a fire, the dispatcher and firefighters on the scene will know there is a resident at the home who is hard of hearing and can respond accordingly. Fire prevention officers will then conduct a home assessment to determine whether the resident requires a visual strobe or a bed or pillow shaker.

“It’s whatever would be assessed that would be best for them,” Dowell said. “If they’re hard of hearing, maybe they just need strobe lights to assist them, but if they’re totally deaf, maybe they need a bed or pillow shaker.”

There is a cost associated with the devices.

A wireless smoke alarm for nighttime safety starts at $365. When a smoke alarm goes off, the portable system sends a signal to a receiver placed throughout the home that flashes. Not a lot of installation is required, yet additional smoke detectors and devices for daytime safety cost $160.

Hardwire detectors cost roughly $80. However, one is required on every floor of the home and there is an additional cost to have an electrician hardwire the alarms to the home.

Residents who can’t afford a visual system or can’t have it covered through insurance are encouraged to contact the Severn fire department.

The Canadian Hearing Society has also reached out to the provincial government in search of funding.

“For you and I, a smoke detector costs $20. For those who are hard of hearing, it’s $500. So, it is not equitable at all,” said Jo Ann Bentley, program director of communication devices and accessibility consulting for the Canadian Hearing Society.

Bentley said the Canadian Hearing Society was “thrilled” to work with the Severn fire department to develop the Sightline to Safety program, but it is always looking for more partners.

“We can’t do this alone. The more partners that we have, the more we’re able to educate and enforce how important it is,” Bentley said. “It saves lives.”

The end goal is to have a more efficient response from fire departments and ensure more people are standing outside their home when firefighters arrive at the scene of a fire.

The program has also launched in Peterborough and Brockville.

“We’re hoping that this type of a program is adopted throughout the province,” Bentley said. “And Canada-wide would be nice, too.”

For more information on Sightline to Safety, contact Kyle at 705-325-2315, ext. 248, or visit

Twitter: @MikeMcWriter

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