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Safer Homes

Home safety month focuses on making homes more secure

June 22, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald
According to the Home Safety Council, June is Home Safety Month and the council wants people to make it a “hands-on” issue.

The Home Safety Month campaign theme – Hands on Home Safety – asks the public to take some simple hands-on steps to create a safer home environment from the five leading causes of home injury – falls, poisonings, fires and burns, choking/suffocation and drowning.

But what constitutes home safety and what has priority depends on who is consulted.

The first of the items on the list — falls — is a concern at the Fulton County Nursing Service-Home Health Agency. Director of Clinical Services Karen Hogan said when a nurse goes into a home, objects that may cause a fall are things her nurses watch for.

“The first thing they do when they enter a home is survey for the risk of falls,” Hogan said. “Scatter rugs are culprits and an in-depth environmental screening is done.”

Hogan said her nurses also look for adaptive devices, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and pets that may trip up the occupants.”

Hogan said her nurses check for medications that may cause dizziness and compute a score for risk prevention of falls.

“They look for hazards, make sure chemicals are stored properly and that there are clear pathways so occupants can get out safely in the event of a fire.”

Hogan said that while people have a lot of faith in home health care representatives and open the door to them easily, she was concerned they might be too open and should use caution with unfamiliar people who came to the home.

At Fulton County Public Health Department, Educator Christina Akey said they routinely have those coming for a dental, inoculation or screening clinic fill out a home environmental survey form.

“Items on the check list include whether they have a pool that is fenced, if they heat with wood and have fire extinguishers,” Akey said.

The list also includes child safety issues like whether they have booster seats, bicycle helmets, window guards and stair gates for second-story apartments and if lead paint testing has been done.

“Things like window guards and bike helmets can be provided through Medicaid or [Women, Infants and Children programs,]” Akey said.

Candy Opalka at the Lexington Center said weekly “walk-throughs” help keep falling and other safety issues at the fore-front.

“We have evacuation plans in place and make sure everyone knows what the plan would be in case of a tornado or power outage,’ she said. “Our safety committee is very helpful in this.”

Opalka said seasonal surveys for ice formation and clearing hazards that might cause falls are examples of preventative maintenance.

“Our focus is always on prevention,” she said.

While residential homes may not have as regimented safety checks as an agency like Lexington Center, some of the issues overlap. Knowing how to get out of a burning building and having a common meeting point planned before an emergency happens can be key.

Gloversville resident Kathy Smith said while they had a designated spot to meet in the event of a fire while her children were growing up. Since they have grown up, those plans tend to be forgotten, which may not be a good thing, she said.

“We always made sure kids’ toys were picked up before going to bed,” Smith said. “We keep batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, don’t use throw rugs and don’t let clutter accumulate.”

She said they always keep their hot tub covered when not in use and have a safety switch for hot tub to turn off in an emergency as well.

Ernie Gagnon said when he built his home on West Caroga Lake he made sure the first floor was easily accessible and the basement could be entered directly without going inside and downstairs with the possibility of falls that would entail. He also has a walk-in shower with only a three-inch lip and a bench seat for ease of entry and less chance of falling.

“We have hard-wired smoke detectors as well as battery powered devices and a generator for power outages that everyone seems to experience these days, even in the city,” he said. “If someone needs oxygen and for other reasons it’s important to have back-up power.”

Gagnon said new technology was helpful as well, with reverse 911 capability so that a cell phone with GPS capability attached to a wandering elderly person could let someone know a person’s location within 3 feet.

Luella VanNostrand said she valued her sensor lights at her home and anyone coming through her neighborhood at night would activate sensor lights all down her road.

“I also have a good neighbor I can call on anytime,” she said. “He’s great and that gives peace of mind.”

VanNostrand said she also had an “attack cat” for protection.

“He used to live in a boat yard and made it his business to keep other animals out,” she said with a laugh.

At True Value Hardware in Gloversville, Ed Mally pointed out electric outlet covers and portable child-proof gates that would help keep children safe. He also noted new technology in the way of “talking” smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

“It will say whether it’s a fire, smoke or carbon monoxide problem,” he said.

He also said the store carried Radon as well as carbon monoxide detectors.

“Radon will kill you slow and carbon monoxide will kill you quick,” he said.

Other items Mally pointed out included ear protectors for using things like a chain saw and eye protection in the way of goggles.

“Sometimes someone will take a battery from a smoke detector to put in a kid’s toy and never put it back,” Mally said. “They also have a floating alarm for pools that go off if the water is disturbed and of course pools have to be fenced off for safety by state law.”

Mayfield resident Mike Lewy said he not only has sensor lights, but also four heavy-duty 20 pound fire extinguishers. He said he has been told by firefighters that nothing smaller will have enough sustaining power to put out a fire.

“I have them hung in conspicuous places so they are easy to find if needed,” he said.

Lewy said that since the typical ABC fire extinguisher has powder which clumps after long periods of time, he turns them over and hits the bottoms with a rubber mallet to make sure the powder is free, once a year, usually as part of his new year’s celebration.

Gloversville Police Capt. Jim Lorenzoni said many of the safety issues were common sense.

“Having motion activated sensor lights is huge,” he said. “They are an excellent deterrent.”

Lorenzoni said shoveling walks and stopping mail when away from home were good things to do as well as having a neighbor keep an eye on the home.

“Make sure locks are secure with deadbolts, not slip-locks,” he said. “Also it’s a good idea to advise the police when you will be gone.”

At E.S.S. Security in Fultonville, Carmen Sinicropi said said external lighting in remote areas is very important.

“Security starts at the perimeter,” Sinicropi said. “A local siren and strobe light will scare most prowlers away. And motion lighting should be at rear and basement windows where 95 percent of break-ins happen.”

He said more break-ins have been in rural areas of late and the combination of a local light and sound alarm with a remote signal to have someone check the home if a window is broken was a good combination to limit damage and loss.

“Most burglars casing homes who see the stickers for an alarm system will move on to an easier home to break in,” Sinicropi said.

Gloversville Fire Department Chief Doug Edwards said keeping batteries in smoke detectors was number one in his estimation.

“They are the biggest change to come along and save lives,” he said. “People get complacent and don’t make sure they are maintained.”

He said the life expectancy of a smoke detector was 10 years and then it should be replaced.

“Smoke detectors should be in every bedroom and outside every bedroom as well as on every floor, including the attic and basement.”

He added that some places now require sprinkler systems in all new housing, that it was a small expense in construction and definitely saved lives as well as property.

“Practice fire drills at home whether or not you have children,” he said. “Decide where to meet. When there is a fire, get out and stay out.”

He also added some people are shy about calling the fire department if they have a cooking fire because they may be embarrassed.

“They need to call us to come check it out,’ he said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Ed Mally of True Value in Gloversville places the Talking Alarm units on the shelf at the store Tuesday.



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