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A fire system check can be unnerving

July 13, 2015
by Kathleen Mears
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One morning I was in the bathroom when I heard an alarm sounding. For a second, I thought someone had accidentally set my alarm clock. I put my call light on, but it was a while before my aide answered it. She came in a bit frazzled telling me the fire system was being tested. She said that when the alarms are sounding none of the exterior doors lock. She had been standing by the front door to make sure no residents left the building.

Fire alarm checks put even more work on busy nursing home staff. Some aides were held up in completing their normal tasks because of "standing at the door" duties. Housekeepers also watched the doors periodically and got behind in their work. All of us remembered the last fire system check in December. When you have that much noise for four or five hours, it is hard to forget.

All of the internal fire doors, which are normally open, closed when the fire alarm went off and stayed that way. That meant residents like me who use power or manual wheelchairs and walkers needed assistance to get around the building. Staff do not want residents to open a fire door. Consequently, some of us were temporarily stalled behind a closed fire door until a staff person opened it.

I was fascinated watching the maintenance man and the fire system technician during the testing. From their calm, unruffled demeanor, they acted as though they were working in the silence of a church. Obviously, they were deep in thought and hardly noticed the noise.

Periodically, the receptionist announced on the PA, "Please, ignore all alarms." We all wished we could ignore them, but our nerves were rattled.

The fire system check began early when they brought a device into my room which is held under the smoke detector—until it alarms. When it did, they were off to the next room.

After lunch I was sitting outside my room waiting for assistance to the bathroom. The fire alarm—20 feet away—was blaring and the light was flashing. I must have had a strange look on my face because one of the aides came up and opened my door. She said, "I will help you back in your room where it is not as noisy."

We all understand that testing our fire alarm system is very important. Reading about any commercial building fire makes us realize how much the fire system needs to be working well.

In another six months we will endeavor to stay cool during the next fire safety check.


Kathleen Mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...