Carers armed with accessible info to prompt fire safety among clients

(From left to right) FRNSW's Paul McGuiggan, Health Minister Ryan Park, aged care resident Gina Zammit, and FRNSW's Paul Dorin launching the program. [Source: FRNSW]

Inspired by a firefighter’s own experience caring for his older mother with dementia, Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) is trialling the innovative use of smartphone technology and partnering with care providers to protect older people from house fires this summer.

Australia’s upcoming summer season has been forecast to be a scorcher which has further prompted this initiative that relies on Quick Response (QR) codes that users can scan with their phone cameras to access fire safety resources. The most important resource is access to an electronic form to book safety visits from local firefighters to identify potential fire hazards around the home, develop solutions to them, and offer specific fire safety advice.

During these visits, fire crews will also ensure working smoke alarms are present within the homes or, if not, install new or additional smoke alarms at no cost.

FRNSW is rolling out the QR codes through its newly formed network of partners across the aged, disability and home care sectors in the Illawarra, Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands areas with the hopes of the program being rolled out Statewide.

The pilot project is the idea of Paul Dorin, Captain at Corrimal Fire Station in Wollongong, who was a stay-at-home carer for his mother, Margaret, who had dementia.

In his discussions with other carers, he recognised many older people didn’t consider fire safety either due to complacency or being ill-equipped. Others were found to be short of time or didn’t have family or friends who could assist them in guarding their homes against fire.

“This program trial taps into that connection with the aim of making fire safety something that is top of mind and achievable for the elderly and vulnerable.”

Carers participating in the pilot are provided with A4 sheets and stickers containing the QR code, which can be placed inside their diaries and client communications folders to embed fire safety in routine discussions carers have with their clients.

FRNSW Acting Commissioner Jeremy Fewtrell said the uptake of the QR codes among care providers has already been significant.

He said FRNSW had “Many care organisations come onboard, including some major players in the sector.”

Wollongong CatholicCare is one of those organisations and aged care team leader Natasha Hristovska vouched for the program, claiming it was easy to use.

“It’s the small things we miss as carers, so having a clear mind for 10 years, knowing they will have a working smoke alarm, helps us know our parents and loved ones will be safe,” she told ABC News.

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Aged care workers Natasha Hristovska and Vicky O'Bree, with CatholicCare resident Gina Zammit, welcome the technology. [Source: ABC Illawarra - Justin Huntsdale]

Captain Dorin said 50% of New South Wales residents don’t have working smoke alarms and in recent local house fires, no houses had working smoke alarms.

FRNSW recommends that working smoke alarms should be in any room of a home where a battery is charged as e-batteries, hoarders, and overloaded power boards were areas of concern this fire season.

The QR code trial complements other community engagement initiatives across the Illawarra including attendance of clubs, healthcare clinics and social group meetings.

To book a home safety visit, go to the FRNSW website here.

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