Homes for seniors, disabled made safer through city program

Homes for seniors, disabled made safer through city program

Jess Anderson

The Alameda Fire Department and the Community Development Department have partnered to fund a citywide Safety and Accessibility Modification Program, a fire and fall safety program that aims to keep Alameda's seniors and disabled people safer in their homes.

Since 2009 the program, whose target population is low-income disabled people and seniors ages 62 and older, has served more than 300 Alamedans and has employed numerous licensed contractors to complete the work.

While improving safety, the program's goals also include reducing fire and medical calls through prevention efforts.

"If we can prevent somebody form tripping on loose carpeting or from slipping in the tub, that’s something that's important not only to them, it's important to us," Fire Chief Mike D'Orazi said.

In Alameda, 17.1 percent of the population are seniors and 11.4 percent are persons with disabilities, U.S. Census figures show, exceeding the statewide average of 15.9 percent seniors and 10 percent disabled residents. Seniors and disabled people have an increased risk of injury or death in case of fire or fall.

According to the Burn Institute, people over the age of 65 have a home fire death rate nearly twice the national average. For those over 75, the risk nearly triples and after age 85 that risk increases to four times the national average. Meanwhile, most falls are caused by environmental factors such as a home not truly suited for an elderly person experiencing physical and mental impairments that reduce reaction times.

According to the United States Fire Administration, the risk of death or injury from fire is greater for people with physical, mental or sensory disabilities. The USFA advises people with disabilities to take special precautions to protect their home from fire. For example, the USFA promotes fire prevention education to those with disabilities regarding special fire warning devices in the form of smoke alarms with a flashing light and devices for the deaf or hard of hearing.

During the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the Alameda Fire Department received a one-time, $52,102 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The city used federal Community Development Block Grant funds for its required 20 percent match.

The goals of the fire prevention and safety grant were to provide Alameda seniors and disabled people with the training, literature and resources they needed to prevent fires and resources to prevent falls. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, rug grippers, reaching devices and bathtub treads were among the supplies provided.

The city decided to continue the program after the grant ended. Over the last four years the fire and community development departments have partnered to continue funding and implementation of the safety and accessibility program. The program expanded in 2012 to include accessibility grants for seniors and disabled people to ensure safe mobility in their homes by installing items like handrails, grab bars and raised bowl toilets – a job that requires more technical expertise, the help of licensed contractors and additional funding.

The cost to install grab bars averages $320, and for handrails, $780. Other program funders include Home Depot, the Alameda Hospital Community Fund, the Alameda Hospitality Club, and individual donations from the community; the department will be seeking additional donations as the program continues.

There are various types of similar programs with a focus on fire and fall prevention throughout the state. Some are administered by fire departments and some by non-profits like Rebuilding Together. Alameda County's Senior Injury Prevention Partnership, which includes the local fire department in its membership, is a coalition of organizations working together to reduce older adult injuries.

Income limits for the Alameda program are $45,500 for single people, $52,000 for a household of two, $58,500 for a household of three and $64,950 for four. To confirm eligibility and request an application – or for those interested in providing donations – call 337-2133.