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Ask a Firefighter: What can I do to help first responders?
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By Captain Jane Perkins, Watch Hill Fire Department
January 5, 2020

Rhode Island Southern Firefighter's League Fire Safety Specialist Jane Perkins has published another monthly column in The Westerly Sun. It can be found below:

Ask a Firefighter: What can I do to help first responders?

The New Year brings opportunity for change and many residents want to know what they can do to help others. Your local first responders are encouraging you to also focus on helping yourself by make safety a priority when you make your New Year’s resolutions. By installing highly visible address numbers, residents can help fire, police, and medical personnel improve emergency response times.

As part of their ongoing community risk reduction efforts, first responders have suggestions. Firefighters are always keeping an eye on hazards that are trending and they want to assist you in protecting you and your family. After an investigation of local streets, firefighters have some advice for how you can help first responders find you. Your house number may not seem to be a very important element of your outdoor landscaping efforts, but you should not disregard this little detail. While some house number designs are simply made of materials that are not very visible, some residents have failed to number their home at all. Poorly marked homes and homes with no numbers at all slows emergency response times, because first responders cannot find the houses. If you cannot see your house number when you drive up to your home in the daylight, then imagine how difficult it would be for a first responders to see it, and how much more challenging it would be to see it in a snow storm or at night.

First responders are asking residents and business owners to help us help you. Seconds can make a huge difference in response to an emergency. Local firefighters are continuing their educational campaign to remind property owners of the local town ordinances and common methods used regulate and require the numbering of all structures to reduce confusion and decrease the response time of first responders.

Even if the emergency is not a life or death situation, the length of time that someone may be in great discomfort or inconvenienced can be impacted by the time it takes to find an address. Emergency responders don’t always know the exact location of every residence in your town, and if the responders are coming as mutual aid from a nearby town, it is even less likely they will know your location. When responding to an emergency call, police officers, firefighters, and medical personnel look for house numbers when they first arrive to verify they are at the correct location. If you have numbers that blend in with the siding of your home or are not visible at night, it makes it hard for emergency personnel to help you.

There are a few simple things that you can do to help first responders help you. Make sure all your number is posted and has not become faded or detached from the house or mailbox from typical wear and tear from weather. Verify that your numbers are large enough to be seen from the road. First responders suggest the numbers be a minimum of 4 inches tall. If your front door is visible from the road, the numbers should be placed near the front door, in a location that will not become obstructed, and in a place that will always be visible from the road. To verify that your numbers can be seen easily, stand at the end of your driveway or in the road to see how visible they are. Please note that many towns have ordinances regarding the size, color, and location of the numbers.

Sometimes a post at the end of a driveway makes more sense. For example, Westerly’s Ordinance 94-6 Display of numbers states that if the house is more than 50 feet from the road, the house number should be visible and posted at the street line. Remember, it is important to hang the numbers at the street line either on the mailbox or high on a post, rather than on a small yard sign. Although yard signs, engraved rocks, and logs may be more aesthetically pleasing to homeowners, they are not acceptable because they can easily be moved or covered by snow or growing vegetation.

Your house numbers will be most visible if they are a color that clearly contrasts the color of your home. Keep safety in mind that when it comes to numbering your home. The ability for first responders to see the numbers on your home in an emergency is much more important than fashion or aesthetics. Another suggestion is to consider getting reflective numbers so your address is highly visible when the emergency lights of responding vehicles reflect off them.

Keep in mind that when putting the number on your mailbox, it should be placed on both sides of the box. Mailboxes often only have a number on one side to accommodate mail deliveries, but this is not helpful to first responders who could arrive from either side of the mailbox.

First responders suggest that even if your mailbox is numbered appropriately, you should also display visible numbers on the house as well. This will assist emergency responders when they get to the end of your driveway so they can find your home quickly and verify they are at the right address. Remember, these numbers could be a lifesaver in case of an emergency, so you want to make sure you have them visible, large, and in an appropriate color! While it is ideal if someone can be waiting outside to signal the emergency responders as they arrive, even making sure an outside light is on can be helpful.

There are many first responders willing and able to help you in an emergency. You can make their job a little easier by making your address more visible and your home easier to locate. We cannot help you if we cannot find you. For more information about house numbering in your town, call your town hall, visit your hometown website, or just ask a firefighter.

This column was written by Jane Perkins, Fire Safety Specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and Captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at askafirefighter@yahoo.com.

Hyperlinks: The Westerly Sun
 

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