Tragic deaths of senior citizens and other residents in adult family homes during severe heat waves might be avoided, under legislation awaiting action in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

“In adult family homes, up to six residents can receive room and board and help with laundry, personal care and other aspects of daily living,” said Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah). “But the severity of our recent heat waves has increased the need for air conditioners to keep our more vulnerable neighbors safe.”

During last year’s heat wave, for example, firefighters responded numerous times to calls from adult homes to find residents who had died from the heat, Mullet said.

“I know lots of homes here in the Pacific Northwest don’t have air conditioning, and most of the year we don’t need it,” he said. “But our swings in weather are getting more extreme, and nowadays a lack of air conditioning can be fatal.”

Mullet’s Senate Bill 5606 would allocate $5 million to establish a grant program in the Department of Social and Health Services to ensure air conditioning is provided in adult family homes. The bill would also require applicants for licenses for new adult family homes to provide air conditioning.

Mullet was told of the need for the legislation by P.J. Knowles, a firefighter and EMT for Puget Sound Regional Fire who answered calls during last year’s record heat wave.

“We saw a lot of people in bad shape,” Knowles said. “Three people died in one shift that I was on.”

One of the victims was a 21-year-old woman with a rare medical condition. Knowles said he used a thermal imaging camera on the ceiling in one room, after removing an occupant whose internal body temperature was 107 degrees, and the ceiling read 115 degrees. In many homes, he said, the windows weren’t even open to allow a breeze.

“They were just baking inside those rooms,” Knowles said. “It was a really hard thing to see.”