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Smoke alarms for the deaf

The information in this section has been taken from a fact sheet produced by the Action on Hearing Loss formerly known as the RNID.

Surrey Fire and Rescue are able to provide free information about fire safety in the home and provision of the specialist equipment and alarms for the deaf and hard of hearing. For information about other hard of hearing services and equipment please contact Sensory Services.

What types of smoke alarm are available?

Information about different models of smoke alarms for the deaf, is available from Action on Hearing Loss. The information also provides links to the Action on Hearing Loss Shop where you can also purchase smoke alarm systems. For more information, please contact Action on Hearing Loss.

Three types of smoke detector are available. You need to choose these according to where they are to be installed in your home. They can be used with most smoke alarm systems designed for the deaf.

Heat detectors

Heat detectors are not sensitive to smoke, but detect heat. They are ideal for use in kitchens where you do not want cooking fumes to set them off. You may have difficulty finding heat detectors as they are not widely used. They are also expensive.

Ionisation smoke alarms

Ionisation - a complicated looking name - but really just a smoke alarm which reacts best to a fast-flaming fire, such as an oil/fat fire from the kitchen. It is a bit less sensitive to a smouldering fire where more smoke is given off before flames occur.

This is by far the most common type of alarm because it was the first to be mass-produced for the home market and it is more than likely to be the one you have in your home. It is also the cheapest, costing less than £5 (or £7 for a twin-pack).

Optical smoke alarms

This type of smoke alarm reacts best to smouldering fires, where a lot of smoke is produced, such as soft furnishings and PVC wiring insulation. They are a bit less sensitive to the flaming fire, such as oil/fat fire from the kitchen. They are also a bit more expensive but are becoming more widely available at DIY stores.

What do smoke alarm systems for the deaf do?

Conventional smoke alarms are compact self-contained units that emit a high-pitched alarm sound. Smoke alarms designed for deaf people are different in that they have several separate parts and produce vibration and a flashing light to wake or alert you.

A typical smoke alarm system for deaf people consists of a smoke detector, vibrating pad, flashing strobe light and control box (batteries,circuitry and connections). Most systems use a conventional smoke alarm for detecting smoke so it also emits an audible alarm.

Some systems can be expanded to give a wider coverage of your home, for example by adding extra strobe lights and smoke detectors. On some systems, you can also connect an optional alarm clock so that one vibrating pad can give a warning of fire and also act as a clock alarm.

How much do smoke alarm systems for the deaf cost?

If you wish to purchase your own system, Smoke alarms for the deaf cost from £50 for a battery-operated system which gives basic protection. A mains-operated system with battery back-up and monitoring costs up to £150.

These costs cover the additional components in the system such as the vibrating pad and flashing strobe light. The relatively small market for these systems means that they are not mass-produced and manufacturing costs are therefore higher.

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service are currently able to supply and fit these systems free of charge for deaf and hard of hearing people, who live in Surrey. For this service please contact Surrey Fire and Rescue Service on: 0800 085 0767 or email: with your details.

How do I install a smoke alarm system for the deaf?

To install a smoke alarm system, you must fit the parts of the system into different places in your home and link them together. This can usually be done by anyone with good DIY skills and experience of wiring.

To give the earliest possible warning of fire, the part of the smoke alarm system that detects smoke - the smoke detector - has to be fitted in a position where smoke is most likely to build up, such as on the ceiling outside the bedroom. The control box, containing the connections and built-in strobe light can either be fixed to a wall or placed on a flat surface, such as a bedside table, and is linked by wire to the smoke detector.

To give you protection while you are asleep, a vibrating pad, which goes under the pillow or mattress, is plugged into the control box. On most systems, if the vibrating pad is unplugged, you will see a visual warning either from the strobe light or from a smaller lamp on the control box.

If a smoke alarm that is not suitable for use by a deaf person is already installed, it might be possible to connect it to one of the systems. However, before doing so you should consult the manufacturer or supplier. Most are happy to give advice and some may even do this work for you, but you should find out how much it will cost first. If the existing smoke alarm is a mains-powered one, you should call in an electrician to do the work.

If you are fitting a smoke alarm system for the deaf then it is not possible to connect additional detectors of different types on some alarm systems. All the systems listed under 'the models available for the deaf' can be used with additional smoke detectors. The type of additional smoke detector you choose will depend on the system so contact the manufacturer or supplier for further advice.

How can I test my smoke alarm system?

Test buttons, on smoke alarm systems for the deaf, are usually fitted to the smoke detector and control box to check that the system is working. Pressing the control box button only tests the flashing strobe light and vibrating pad. The button on the smoke detector enables you to check the whole system.

This test usually involves two people, one to press the test button, and the other to check that the flashing strobe light and vibrating pad are working, as the detector will be some distance from the other parts of the system.

What is fail-safe monitoring?

Many smoke alarm systems have fail-safe monitoring circuits. What this means is that if a fault develops in the wiring that connects the different parts of the system, then the strobe light will be activated automatically.

As a further safety measure, the strobe light will also be activated automatically if the vibrating pad gets unplugged from the control box. Therefore, as well as being a safety feature, fail-safe monitoring can help you to wire and install the system correctly.