CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — For many of us, we see a fire and the first thing we do is either put it out, or if it’s a larger fire, we call the fire department.
However, that may not be the case for some blind or visually impaired people who may have a harder time spotting a fire.
Andy Tamez has learned to use his other senses to spot a fire. He was born legally blind and works at the South Texas Lighthouse for the Blind where he makes binders.
“Here we use more of our sense of smell because most of us can’t see,” Tamez said.
Tamez said in his 19 years with the STLB, he has gone through fire safety drills where they rely on a buddy system. He said people who are sighted help the non-sighted to safety.
“We develop a friendship and sort of a code like, 'hey you know what, we’re all working here, so if something happens, we’re going to go outside and they’re going to guide us, help us, or do whatever we have to do',” he said.
The STLB’s building has some safety features that help blind and visually impaired employees make their way through the building. They’re important features that would help them in case there was ever a fire.
The painted yellow lines on the floor, they’re kind of like the Wizard of Oz’s yellow brick road. They have traction on them that employee’s can feel with their feet, so they know where they’re going.
Alana Manrow serves as the STLB’s director of public affairs and development. She slowly lost her sight over time. She developed diabetic retinopathy and lost her right eye to glaucoma and has partial vision in her left eye. She said they practice fire drills in order to be organized if there were ever a fire.
“We have designated meeting places for every department and of course the lead or the supervisor makes sure that they account for everyone in their department,” Manrow said.
She said, being legally blind, like Tamez, has also helped her use her senses, allowing her to not rely on her sight too much. She said going from inside the building to the outside, is a challenge for her because her vision has to adjust to the lighting. When it comes to touch, she said she would be able to feel the heat on the door if there were a fire on the other side.
“Sometimes I’d say that the blind can get out of these situations maybe a little bit quicker because we’re used to not seeing as well as sighted people,” Manrow said.
This week is fire prevention week and the theme is: Learn the Sounds of Fire Prevention.
It’s something important that Randy Paige, the assistant chief and fire marshall for the Corpus Christi Fire Department, said could help visually impaired or blind people.
He said it’s important for blind and visually impaired people, and really all people in general, to make sure they don’t wear loose-fitted clothing around fires. He said it’s also important to make sure that all the pots and pans on the stove are turned the correct way.
He said for the blind and visually impaired, there are pillow and bed shakers that react to a smoke alarm.
Paige said it’s important to have a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm installed and know the difference between their sounds.
“Normally a smoke detector has three longer beeps…beep…three times and then you’ll have some silence and it’ll do the same thing….keep doing that. A carbon monoxide detector has shorter bursts of 4…quicker…so you can tell the difference,” Paige said.
He said the important thing for people to do is to get out of the house as quickly as possible, and to never go back in, even if there is someone trapped in there. Leave that to Paige and other firefighters.