Waterford — Lexi Dickenson began to lose her hearing two years ago. She received a cochlear implant in March, but when she takes it off at night to charge, she is completely deaf in one ear.
That left the 6-year-old’s parents, Natasha and David, concerned about their safety in the event of a fire.
“There was a time in the past when (the smoke alarm) did go off in the middle of the night due to a low battery and she didn’t wake up, so that was concerning,” Lexi’s mother said.
In April, the Waterford Professional Firefighters Association Union, which represents the 14 professional firefighters in town, used its own funds to purchase a bed-shaking fire alarm for Lexi.
Natasha Dickenson had reached out to Cohanzie Fire Department, one of Waterford’s five departments, during a Girl Scouts outing that included a tour of the Cohanzie firehouse. She asked about the bed-shaking device, which she had heard of but did not know much about.
“That sets everything in motion,” she said.
In consultation with Kathleen Peterson, community safety educator for the Waterford Fire Department, the union agreed that this was an important safety issue.
“They had a lot of discussions behind the scenes, and they agreed the firefighters union would buy this for us, which was great because it is an expensive unit,” Natasha Dickinson said.
“The family was in need, and we were in a position to be able to help, and we wanted to be able to do that,” Union Secretary Ronnie Williams said.
The union relied on the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford to assist in choosing the right system for the Waterford family, and together they settled on a Sonic Alert HomeAware Fire and CO Signaler, which retails for approximately $200.
“There’s a unit that sits next to your bed that looks just like an alarm clock, and … attaches to a round disk that you place in between your box spring and your mattress,” Williams said.
The union also purchased two sound receivers for the house. When a smoke or carbon monoxide detector goes off, the receivers, programmed to recognize the specific sounds of the alarms, send a signal to the unit, which sets off a strobe light and simultaneously vibrates the disk under the mattress, shaking the bed to awaken its occupant.
“This 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 that was … very generous of them — of their time and their resources — to do this for us. “
Williams, who started with the town as a junior firefighter at age 15 and spent 10 years as a dispatcher before becoming a professional firefighter three years ago, said the union wanted to bring the community’s attention to the existence of the assistive technology device.
“There are so many people in the public that could benefit from getting a device like this, that just don’t know it exists,” Williams said. “I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of things, but this particular unit, I had never even heard of anything like this. This stood out.”
Natasha Dickenson echoed that sentiment. “That’s what we’re kind of hoping to get out of this: that other families are made aware that this is available.”
Although the firefighters union purchased this device for the Dickensons as a way to promote fire safety, the general public can search online for the unit mentioned above and others at sonicalert/home-aware-signaling.com.