Westfield Fire Department Prioritizes Senior Safety

Council on Aging Director Tina Gorman (WNG File Photo)

By Tina Gorman, Executive Director, Westfield Council On Aging

What happens when two City departments join forces with a local service club?  In the case of the Westfield Fire Department and the Council On Aging partnering with the Westfield Rotary Club, the answer is a safer home environment for some of the City’s older adults.

Each year, the Westfield Fire Department, in partnership with the Westfield Council On Aging, is awarded a ‘Senior Safe’ grant from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services.  This grant supports a variety of Westfield’s Retire the Fire! programs which are specifically targeted for the City’s older residents.  With the Rotary Club joining forces, the grant money can be stretched so that in essence, the City is getting a bigger bang for the buck.

Last year’s grant money was used to purchase thirty-two residential lock boxes.  The goal of the Residential Lock Box Program was to expedite access to the homes of older adults during medical or other emergencies through the use of a wall-mounted residential lock box.  Program participants included those who live alone and were identified by Council On Aging staff as being most likely to call 9-1-1 and least likely to be able to get to the door for first responders.  The lock box alleviates the problem of forced entry.

The lock boxes were installed by members of the Westfield Rotary Club after receiving training from then Deputy Fire Chief, Patrick Egloff.  After the boxes were installed, members of the Westfield Fire Department visited each household to put a spare house key in the lock box and close it.  The master key is available in all of the City’s fire and ambulance vehicles.  Shortly after installation, we received word that the key inside the lock box had already been utilized by first responders on several occasions.

The response to the Residential Lock Box Program has been overwhelmingly positive.  Staff from the Council On Aging continue to assess those older adults who might benefit from the program.  Future Senior Safe grant money may be utilized to purchase additional lock boxes.

In an effort to provide valuable information to first responders before they arrive on the scene, the Administrator for the City’s Public Safety Communication Center developed Westfield’s Emergency Information Form.  Information from the form is entered into the City’s database so that first responders have access to critical information such as major medical conditions, sensory and mobility deficits, and emergency contacts.  Forms were distributed at the Senior Center throughout the past year and assistance in completing the form was provided by Council On Aging staff.

Last year’s grant money was also used to purchase four-inch house numbers.  That was a continuation of the House Number Visibility Project started the previous year.  Massachusetts law requires that every building in the Commonwealth have a number affixed to it.  The Westfield Fire Department and the Council On Aging have made the distribution and installation of house numbers on the homes of older adults an ongoing priority.  Precious time is lost if firefighters, paramedics, or police officers drive right by a house because it is not clearly identified.  The Council On Aging maintains a supply of house numbers and the Westfield Rotary Club continues to assist with installation during the spring, summer, and fall months.

The key to the success of any grant is sustainability.  Grant funding is essentially seed money.  It provides a way for cities, towns, departments, organizations, and agencies to move an idea from concept to reality.  During these challenging economic times, it is imperative that City departments, service clubs, and human service agencies charged with the health and safety of the public work together in a coordinated effort.  The older residents of Westfield can feel confident that our Fire Department, Council On Aging, and Rotary Club are doing just that.

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