A man who became known as Gov. Nikki Haley’s deaf interpreter during Hurricane Matthew is now working to raise awareness of a statewide program he hopes will save lives. 

Waking up to the sound of a fire alarm in the middle of the night can be scary, but what’s even scarier is not waking up. For the deaf and hard of hearing, it’s a reality. It happened to Jason Hurdich, who teaches American Sign Language at Clemson University.

“I was dead asleep, unaware what was going on around me,” Hurdich said through an interpreter. “Then all of the sudden, firefighters were in my apartment. They busted the door down.”

He says they saved his life. Since then he’s helped other people by interpreting Gov. Haley’s words as Hurricane Matthew approached. 

Monday, the state helped him, presenting him with a smoke alarm for the deaf or those who are hard of hearing.

“I am thankful, truly, for that proactive effort here in the state of South Carolina for fire safety for people like me,” he said. “It’s truly extraordinary.”

The device is also called a “bed shaker.” It goes underneath the mattress and communicates with a standard home smoke detector via sound waves. When a fire is detected, it buzzes. 

“This is my first time right now in my life to have a fire alarm that is accessible to be as a deaf person,” Hurdich said. 

He applied for it under a program with Fire Safe South Carolina, which is a branch of the South Carolina Fire Marshal’s Office that works to reduce risk. They’re giving the alarms to members of the deaf and hard of hearing communities at no charge. 

“We have five million citizens in our state. We are processing right now one application for this resource every other day,” said Josh Fulbright, who is chief of Community Risk Reduction with South Carolina State Fire.

Fulbright said the device usually costs about $200.

Those who are deaf or hard of hearing can apply for the smoke detectors at www.firesafe.sc.gov.

“I’m encouraging people to apply to this important invaluable program through Fire Safe South Carolina,” Hurdich said.