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Fire Safety for People with Disabilities​

The NIH Fire Marshal would like to share a few tips on fire safety for people with disabilities. Each year, there are hundreds of home fires involving people with physical and mental disabilities. Millions of people live with disabilities and many others are temporarily disabled after surgery, injuries or medical conditions. With a bit of additional planning, they can stay safe from fires and other emergencies.

Install and maintain smoke alarms

Smoke alarms with a vibrating pad or flashing strobe light are available for the bedrooms of people who are hearing impaired. Smoke alarms connected to a horn, bell, or strobe light outside the home can alert neighbors in an emergency and who can call 911 for help. Have at least one smoke detector installed on each level of your home. Test your smoke detectors at least once a month. If you live in Maryland and your battery-powered smoke detectors are over 10 years old, they must be replaced with a new one that has a 10-year life battery. For more information: (anyone unable to view the video may contact the NIH Fire Marshal for a verbal explanation)

Live near an exit and plan your escape.

If you live in a multi-story building it is best to live on the ground floor. Being near an exit will make escape easier in a fire or other emergency. Plan your escape around your disabilities and know two ways out from each room. If you use a walker or wheelchair, check all exits to be sure you can fit through the doorway. It may be necessary to make changes to your home by installing ramps and widen doorways to make escape easier. Cooking is one main cause of fires, so it's best to plan escape routes that do not pass through kitchens. For more information: (anyone unable to view the video may contact the NIH Fire Marshal for a verbal explanation)

Plan with your family and neighbors

Discuss your fire safety plan with your family members, building manager or neighbors and practice it with them. Contact your local fire department through their non-emergency number and explain your needs. They can suggest escape plan ideas and may perform a home fire inspection for you. Escape first if a fire occurs but keep a phone near your bed to call 911 in the event of a fire or medical emergency.


In hotels, request a room that accommodates your disability. This can mean near an exit or with a direct outside exit for the mobility impaired, fire alarm strobes for the hearing impaired, or verbal evacuation instructions for the visually impaired. You can also inquire about these features with the owners of bed and breakfast properties or short-term home rentals. In any setting, the presence of a fire sprinkler system greatly increases the chance of survival.

If you have any questions regarding this information or general fire safety precautions, please contact the NIH Fire Marshal at 301-496-0487. Use their hazard reporting tool for situations on the Bethesda campus:​. You may remain anonymous when reporting a hazard, but it always helps to have a contact so they can obtain information as needed.

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