Tag Archives: Alpha Fire Company

Protect disabled, elderly from fires and disasters

From Where I Sit: My column in Voices of Central Pennsylvania, November 2010

My only experience with an earthquake was in the Silicon Valley of California.  I was staring at my broken computer when the earth moved beneath me. The following day The San Jose Mercury News put the earthquake on page one because of its intensity and also contained an editorial on the importance of being prepared.

My home (wife, two daughters, two cats) was back in North Carolina.  There I had worked in Research Triangle Park for two years (focusing on linking a computer to a telephone switch) had disappeared. Without warning jobs in documentation had become the moral equivalent of famine where two years previously had been feast. [At  a Northern Telecom job interview I had been told being a technical writer had secured me a guaranteed income for life (gold watch and all)] .

At the same time as my gold watch turned into costume jewelry, my ability to walk disappeared. I had gone from being able to jog on the beautifully wooded track on the corporate campus, to being unable to stand without holding onto something, to tripping on my toes and dislocating my right shoulder.

 

 An extensive search of databases showed San Jose, California, could not hire technical writers quickly enough. A longtime friend had extra room nearby and invited me to go west. I was hired immediately. I fell three times during a critical interview. My cane could not hold my weight. I had not yet acquired my first mobility device, a frontwheel drive scooter.

 

 After my third fall, directly in front of my prospective boss’ feet, Vicki, who was in charge of the corporate quality assurance team, said, “Don’t worry. We have to hire you.” The reason I had to be hired was that the company, a global leader in computer wafer inspection devices, needed a writer for its new product which could predict when a wafer in the production process would be faulty and remove it from its production line on a timely basis. What the company had not prepared for was any safety orientation for disabled workers.

***

 

 These details are relevant to the evolution of fire safety policies at Addison Court in downtown State College. They are relevant because first, until recently the idea of protecting the disabled and elderly from fire and other emergencies was low on our society’s consciousness. Second, limiting safety and access to one location and one building has long-term negative consequences to our country’s economy—an economy which to its detriment fails to make use of the talent of its disabled and elderly population.

 

 R e g a r d i n g safety at Addison Court, a residence for 90 elderly and disabled individuals, where as a result of faulty fire alarms about two years ago, we learned from Steve Bair, fire director of Centre County’s Council of Governments (COG) and head of Alpha Fire Company, the proper way of evacuating a building made of brick with adequate sprinklers:

Do not evacuate. Wait for the fire company to come. Evacuation of disabled and elderly residents (in a multi-story building), especially when they have power chairs, wheel chairs, and the like, can induce panic.

 

 More on this do not evacuate concept which the fire authorities refer to as “defend in place” later. It makes good economic sense to protect disabled and elderly individuals from dying or being hurt in a fire or in some other disaster. A larger question is whether this society has the will to pay for safety, the understanding of where safety belongs in our order of priorities, and the willingness to teach and implement concepts like “defend in place.”

The most recent available Census Department statistics for Centre County (based on a 2006-2008 estimate) shows a total population of a little more than 144,000; 45,000 residents are 45 years old and older. Nearly 16,000 residents range in age from 65 years to over 85. What is the cost to Centre County and society at large to keeping these 16,000 residents safe and productive if many of them require special safety procedures? Who should pick up the tab? IWe need to invest in quieter, gentler fire alarms so that residents stay in place until the fire trucks come.

Several subjects require elaboration on the voiceswepage.org webpage: direct your browser to future blogs on the following subects:

  • Administrative efforts to reduce panic.
  • The continuation of my meandering earthquake story and where it fits into a larger picture.
  • Plans to make Lady Gaga Fire Prevention Celebrity for Centre County.

—Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food. For a continuation of themes raised in this column, see Joel;s blog at voicesweb.org.Tell me how you liked the photograph of Lady Gaga and an illustrated critique of her disability-related video Paparazzi.

Firefighter Love: From Addison Court Report February, 2009

[Note: Addison Court is an independent living facility in Downtown State College for citizens aged 55 and older and individuals with disabilities. Many of its residents are aged 70, 80, and 90. Last year we had problems with faulty fire alarms which demonstrted residents did not know what to do when the alarm went off at 1:30 in the morning. The residents formed a fire safety committee with wardens to provide assistance on each of the building’s 8 floors. We were trained by Steve Bair, Council of Governments Director of the Office of Fire Administration. A major part of the training consisted of what to do when the excellent Alpha Company, four blocks away, comes to help us in the event of fire. Alpha’s Chief is Keith Yocum]

Hug a Firefighter Two Days After Valentine’s
at Noon or 6:30; Get a Bowl of Chili

This invitation has 6 parts (some of which the author did not complete because he is too wordy):

  • Details of the Tuesday February 16th event at the Addison Court social hall. There will be two sittings; Noon and 6:30 PM. Feel free to go to one or the other and fill out the signup sheet. Be there or be square.
  • Why hug a firefighter (male or female) from the Alpha Fire Company’s Main Office on Beaver and Atherton. [No question mark required.]
  • What to do in the case of a fire.
  • Come spring you can bring your grandchildren to the fire house and see the pretty trucks. When 83 year-old Lillian Hutchison swings down the fire pole I want to take a photograph.
  • Participation as a fire warden—the Arnold Addison Court Fire Safety Committee, Carol Ames co-chair, needs you to volunteer as a part time FIRE WARDEN so we can have back up wardens in case your floor’s regular fire warden decides to spend two days gambling in Harrisburg. Please give Sherry your name and I will get back to you.
  • As my maternal grandmother once told me (and she was a wild one) when it comes to hugging, be moderate.

Details:

  • One hundred bowls of Webster’s Bookstore and Café’s famous vegetarian chili will be served at the noon and 6:30 sittings.
  • That chili will be served to our frontline firefighters, you, Steve Bair, Council of Governments Director of the Office of Fire Administration, Alpha Chief Keith Yocum, Alpha’s Jackie Richardson, and government officials.
  • Residents are asked to provide additional food and cash donations.

In the event of a fire:

  1. Call 911 and report (even if you are not sure if someone else has reported). Addison Court is a safe building. It has an excellent sprinkler system. The biggest danger to residents is if we panic and do not rely on our fire wardens and most importantly the men and women of Alpha Fire Company to come and tell us what to do. Even on the 8th floor, Alpha firefighters will know how to get you and your power chair safely out of the building.
  2. Relax. Stay in your apartment and wait for your floor’s fire warden. It takes fewer than 10 minutes for Alpha firefighters to get in their trucks and come here.

During that time:

Do NOT take the elevator. Do NOT go downstairs. Do NOT evacuate the building. Listen to your fire warden who may decide to have you move to the stair well to wait for Alpha. If you move, be
sure to close your door. One reason it might be a good idea to move is because there might be smoke
and staying on your floor but moving to a stair well where there is no smoke will make your
breathing easier.

**Note well; Your February 16th hug will not save your life. It will make you feel better to know
you expressed appreciation before you needed help.

–Joel Solkoff, co-chair, Arnold Addison Court Fire Safety Committee.