Making your Home First Responder-Friendly

Relief washes over you when you hear the sirens and see the lights. Here are some things you can do today to make first responders’ jobs easier—help them reach you, provide help, and get you out of the house safely. 

ONLINE 

Our fire department recommends creating an account at Smart911.com and enable “share with 9-1-1 operators.” With this free service, you can add a profile and as much or little detail about your household, medical background and family members. If you don’t have a computer, someone else can create your profile and add their own name as your “assistant”. 

Your profile will help law enforcement recognize what or who should be in your home and what might be out of place. Data regarding your medical history or special needs will help EMS better prepare to respond. The fire department will know how many people and animals they need to look for in the smoke, or if there is a gate or neighborhood code to avoid delays in access. 

You can also add garage door codes or notes like spare key is under the frog so dispatch can inform police or EMS performing a welfare check and enable them to enter a residence politely if no one answers the door. 

The Georgetown Fire Department reports only 1500 of our city’s 20,000+ residences have an account on the site. 

It’s up to the homeowner to decide what to include, but providers recommend including only the most pertinent information. Remember, a first responder is likely to be speed-reading the information for the first time on the way to your home to address an emergency. Keep it clear and brief.

Anything that will make a positive difference in the way first responders interact at your home or with your loved one is a good idea: de-escalation techniques, sensory sensitivities, tendency toward aggression, processing speed, if an individual is non-verbal, typical hiding places, etc. There is even a checkbox to indicate if a person is susceptible to domestic abuse, which may trigger an automatic law enforcement response for good measure.

Family members can be flagged in the system, so if there is an emergency at school or work, first responders will receive the same information they would if they were coming to your home.

It’s also important to consider how your home environment may be unique. Extra or unusual locks on doors or windows may affect how first responders enter your home, for example. The presence of a service animal would also be important to note.

communication

Kelly Cruz, Communications Manager at Georgetown PD adds, “Many people have moved to cell phones only, but it is a good idea to maintain a landline in the home. Children or elderly family members can dial 9-1-1 and leave the house, or hide in silence—an open landline will let us know the exact location of the emergency.” 

The “Ring” doorbell (ring.com) has a motion-detection camera and may help police identify people stealing packages or trying to make entry to a residence. Homeowners can call 9-1-1 from anywhere when they get an alert on a smart device.

OLD SCHOOL 

Georgetown Fire Department Lt. Jonathan Gilliam says, “Even if you don’t sign up on Smart911, it helps us if you have a written medical history available, and a list of the medications you take. Often we find a pill box or a basket of bottles, but we can never be sure of the exact medication or if a patient might be taking additional, or not all of, their prescriptions.”

Even without an online profile, citizens can always have their address flagged with police, fire or EMS. Experts say it may take persistence, but if you have a family member with a particular need; e.g., deaf, memory care, epileptic, you can make sure responders are aware of the circumstances ahead of time. 

Gilliam also recommends, for EMS response, to put pets outside or in another room to avoid distractions or even aggressive behavior if an animal becomes anxious about strange activity around its human. 

He also says, while it may be an awkward topic, clutter or hoarding can be problematic for rescuers. “People need to make sure we have clear access to a patient and a path to remove them safely from the home. A home with a lot of clutter creates a hazard for a gurney and, worse, in a fire, it is more things we can become entangled in or that will burn and fall on us.” 

For the home, Cruz adds, “We’ve long suggested people keep shrubs trimmed to have clear views out of windows. You want to see who is knocking and also to be aware of your surroundings.” She also says citizens should not be afraid to make a call or be concerned with making a fuss. “It is our job to check things out so it helps us to know if you consider something suspicious—call us. You never know if others have already called about the same thing and a police presence is warranted. Get a good look, write down a license plate number; it’s better to call us than to worry about it alone.”   ↔ 

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