St. Paul Police Offers Visual Smoke Alarm to Needy

Deaf and hard-of-hearing St. Paul, Minn., residents and their families are getting some peace of mind from a new program that offers a "visual smoke alarm" with a piercing siren and a strobe light.

The siren alerts neighbors or a person with partial hearing loss, said Marie Koehler of the Minnesota Department of Health. The siren is much louder than the beeps of a regular smoke detector.

The strobe light can help wake those who don't hear the siren. The light is similar to a flashlight being turned on and off in a person's face. Officials recommend the alarms be installed in bedrooms.

Clayton Zimmerman, 61, of Arden Hills said he can sleep better knowing his 92-year-old mother has the new alarm in her house.

Despite her hearing loss, his mother did not want to move out of her St. Paul home, Zimmerman said. He worried about her not being able to hear a smoke alarm.

"It helps her be independent but also safe from fire," Zimmerman said. "These devices are so important for people like her."

The Minnesota Health Department and the St. Paul Fire Department are working to provide 250 alarms to deaf and hard-of-hearing residents who apply and who complete a fire safety course. So far, the Health Department has given away about 40 alarms and the fire department has held two safety courses.

Zimmerman said he installed his mother's smoke alarm near her bedroom. The siren is so loud, he said, that neighbors would be able to hear it.

"You wouldn't want to have your ear up to one of those," he said. "It's like a siren on police cars when they've got it going full blast."

The alarms were purchased with a $15,600 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a $5,600 grant from the St. Paul Fire Department, said Koehler.

She said without the grants, residents would have to pay more than $170 for this type of alarm.

"A lot of people don't even know they are available because they are so expensive," Koehler said. "The giveaways are a very touching experience because people tell you they feel so much safer."

In the fire safety course, put on by the St. Paul Fire Department, applicants learn how to install the alarm and use it properly, as well as general fire safety rules.

"The smoke alarm isn't going to save your life, but it is going to alert you so you can get out and save it yourself," said Paula Peterson, public educational officer with the St. Paul Department of Fire and Safety.

It is extremely important to practice fire escape routes and to teach young children what to do if there is a fire, said Peterson at one of the training sessions. The United States averages 3,000 fire-related deaths annually, she said, and about 80 percent of those occur in the home at night.