Firefighter's BSL skills prove vital during incident

A few days before the start of Deaf Awareness Week (Monday 28 June to Sunday 4 July) an Avon Fire & Rescue Service (AF&RS) firefighter has used her British Sign Language (BSL) skills to help a woman who is deaf during an incident.

Siobhan Urch, who is normally on White Watch at Avonmouth Fire Station, was covering at Weston-super-Mare Fire Station when crews received a call to alarms activating in the early hours of Wednesday 23 June at a property in the local area.

When crews arrived on the scene they were unable to raise the occupier of the house, who they had been informed may be deaf, and feared the worst.

Crews entered the property and as there was no sign of fire, Siobhan went into the bedroom and switched on the light. The occupant, a woman in her 40s, was asleep and hadn’t been woken by the alarm or the firefighters banging on the door.

Siobhan said: “I put the back of my hand on to the woman’s shoulder to gently wake her. She was a bit surprised but otherwise OK. I then used my BSL skills to communicate with her about why we had been called. I asked her if she was OK and told her crews were checking the rest of the house for signs of fire.

“I am really pleased that I had been detached to Weston-super-Mare Fire Station that night and I was able help.

“Fortunately this incident was a false alarm but had there been a real fire, it would have been very important to reassure the woman and assist her to safety.”

AF&RS works with a number of partner agencies to forge better links with the deaf community and is supporting events throughout Deaf Awareness Week.

Some of the initiatives include:

  • Fitting specialist smoke alarms designed for deaf and hard of hearing people.
  • Offering an SMS (text message) service to enable deaf and hard of hearing people to contact Avon Fire & Rescue Service for fire safety advice and free Home Fire Safety Visits.
  • Training firefighters in deaf awareness with some going on to learn British Sign Language.
  • Having a dedicated fire safety section on its website for BSL users. This can be found at

The SMS number 077 814 82627 allows deaf people to contact Avon Fire & Rescue Service and ask for fire safety advice or book a free Home Fire Safety Visit.