Nursing home vigilant in fire prevention

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Once in a while, residents at the Autumn Care nursing home facility just can’t go on without lighting up a smoke. Cindy Rogers, the facility’s director of nursing, has helped prepare her staff for the hot occurrence.

&uot;We have a smoking lounge for them, and we’re developing an outside smoking area,&uot; Rogers said. &uot;But no one ever smokes without the supervision of a staff member. We have fire aprons that we can put on residents if they might drop a cigarette in their lap, and the beds have smoking blankets.

&uot;We also do monthly training with our staff in fire and rescue procedures. Every month we have ‘in-service’ sessions that look into new services and keep everybody abreast. Our sprinkler systems are checked several times a year; the last time was just a few weeks ago. We have a fire alarm system that automatically notifies the fire department every time an alarm goes off.&uot;

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All of that is more than necessary, she emphasized, for the facility’s &uot;irreplaceables.&uot;

&uot;Extinguishing fire isn’t our top priority; that’s left to the professionals. We work on finding a fire, rescuing the people in the area, and evacuating the area. We can replace any building, but we can never replace a single life.&uot;

Fire marshal’s office investigator Dave Taylor hopes that every facility takes every precaution to protect its residents. &uot;Fire safety starts with the building’s design,&uot; he said. &uot;Besides sprinkler systems, there are required widths or doors and hallways, fire alarm systems, things like that.&uot;

The width issues often come into play when non-ambulatory residents (those who are unable to get out of bed on their own) are involved. &uot;With patients that have wheelchairs, walkers, or even beds, we need to make sure that the staff has room to go right out the door and down the hall with them.&uot;

His office provides several provisions for aiding nursing homes with such prevention. &uot;Our inspections include fire drills, a written plan for evacuations, and a ‘high-life hazard plan’ – knowing who to call and how to operate alarm systems.&uot;

Because large fires rarely break out in nursing homes, evacuation isn’t always necessary.

&uot;The ‘protect-in-place’ program is a safe and easy way to move patients to an isolated area. Rather than evacuate the entire building, which might send everybody out into the freezing rain, the residents are taken to a safe part of the building until the fire is contained.&uot;

Effective sprinklers and staff are two of the most important components of an effective fire prevention program, Taylor said. &uot;About 90 percent of the fires in equipped buildings can be contained with four or less sprinkler heads. If every building and home had sprinklers, fire departments would have far fewer fires to fight.

&uot;A staff has to know how to function in fire safety, so we help with their education. We also help them to educate their residents on fire prevention.

&uot;Look at it like this,&uot; he said. &uot;When kids are in schools, we teach them about fire prevention and safety for years. But after they finish high school, nobody really talks about it. By the time a person is 50 or 60, they’ve forgotten some of what they learned. So the key issue is making the staff and residents aware of fire safety.&uot;