The Day – Firefighters Union buys fire safety device for Waterford family

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Waterford — Lexi Dickenson started losing her hearing two years ago. She received a cochlear implant in March, but when she takes it out at night to recharge, she is completely deaf in one ear.

It left the 6-year-old’s parents, Natasha and David, worried about her safety in the event of a fire.

“There was a time in the past when (the smoke alarm) went off in the middle of the night because of a low battery and it didn’t wake up, so that was concerning,” said Lexi’s mother.

In April, the Waterford Professional Firefighters Association Union, which represents the city’s 14 professional firefighters, used its own funds to purchase a bed-shaking fire alarm for Lexi.

Natasha Dickenson had contacted the Cohanzie Fire Department, one of Waterford’s five departments, during a Girl Scout outing which included a tour of the Cohanzie Fire Station. She asked about the bed-shaking device, which she had heard of but didn’t know much about.

“It started it all,” she said.

In consultation with Kathleen Peterson, Community Safety Educator for the Waterford Fire Service, the union agreed that this was an important safety issue.

“They had a lot of talks behind the scenes and they agreed that the firefighters union would buy it for us, which was great because it’s an expensive unit,” Natasha Dickinson explained.

“The family was in need, and we were in a position to be able to help, and we wanted to be able to,” union secretary Ronnie Williams said.

The union relied on the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford to help them choose the right system for the Waterford family, and together they settled on a Sonic Alert fire and carbon monoxide alarm. HomeAware, which costs around $200.

“There’s a unit that sits next to your bed that looks like an alarm clock, and … attaches to a round disc that you place between your box spring and your mattress,” Williams said.

The union also bought two sound receivers for the house. When a smoke or carbon monoxide detector goes off, receivers, programmed to recognize specific alarm sounds, send a signal to the unit, which triggers a strobe light and simultaneously vibrates the disc under the mattress, shaking the bed to wake up its occupant.

“It was all new to us,” Natasha Dickenson said. The union “took the initiative to get the ball rolling and really dug into it, which they didn’t need to do, so it was… very generous of them – of their time and resources – to do it for us.”

Williams, who started with the city as a junior firefighter at 15 and spent 10 years as a dispatcher before becoming a professional firefighter three years ago, said the union wanted to bring community attention to the existence of the assistive technology device.

“There are so many people in the audience who could benefit from a device like this, who just don’t know it exists,” Williams said. “I’ve been there a long time and seen a lot of things, but this particular unit, I had never even heard of anything like it. It stood out.

Natasha Dickenson echoed that sentiment. “That’s what we’re hoping to get out of it: that other families are made aware that this is available.”

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