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Smoke Detectors - Are You Protected?

December 11, 2015

Most of us are aware that smoke alarms are an important safety item that we should have in our homes.  Unfortunately, the majority of us pay little attention to the one item that could someday save our life and the lives of those we love.  Three of every five home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (38%) or no working smoke alarms (21%).  Missing, disconnected or dead batteries were to blame for the majority of alarms that failed to operate in a fire.  Check your batteries and better yet, interconnect your detectors with AC power so that all, not one, alarms to notify you of a fire.  If your detectors are approaching 10 years old, they need to be replaced!

Speaking of alarming, did you know that the Ionization type of smoke detector most commonly found in our homes does not provide timely and reliable alarm of slow burning, smoldering fires!  Many fires start out as a slow burning smoldering fire that can burn for some time before they become a full blown fire - and once they reach that point, the opportunity for escape and survival rapidly diminishes.  Ionization type detectors, while poor at alarming for slow burning, smoldering fires have been shown to be more effective at alarming for large flaming fires.  To improve safety, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends the additional use of Photoelectric type detectors.  This type of alarm has been shown to be much more effective for the slow burning, smoldering fire.  The use of BOTH Ionization and Photoelectric detectors is the best way to protect people in the home from death or injury due to fire.

The MINIMUM requirement for existing home is a smoke detector on every level of the house.  The MINIMUM... when it comes to saving lives, time is of the essence and the minimum isn’t enough.  Here’s what the National Fire Protection Agency recommends:

  • Choose smoke alarms that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement.
  • On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the living room (or den or family room) or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations.
  • Smoke alarms installed in the basement should be installed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level.
  • Smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet (3 meters) from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking.
  • Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises). Wall-mounted alarms should be installed not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling (to the top of the alarm).
  • If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm within 3 feet of the peak but not within the apex of the peak (four inches down from the peak). 
  • Don’t install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.
  • Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers, or other decorations could keep the alarms from working.
  • For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms. When one smoke alarm sounds they all sound. Interconnection can be done using hard-wiring or wireless technology.
  • When interconnected smoke alarms are installed, it is important that all of the alarms are from the same manufacturer. If the alarms are not compatible, they may not sound.
  • There are two types of smoke alarms – ionization and photoelectric. An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires, and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, both types of alarms or combination ionization-photoelectric alarms, also known as dual sensor smoke alarms, are recommended.
  • Keep manufacturer’s instructions for reference.

 Testing smoke alarms

  • Smoke alarms should be maintained according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Test smoke alarms at least once a month using the test button.
  • Make sure everyone in the home understands the sound of the smoke alarm and knows how to respond.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning to keep smoke alarms working well. The instructions are included in the package or can be found on the internet.
  • Smoke alarms with non-replaceable 10-year batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away.
  • Smoke alarms with any other type of battery need a new battery at least once a year. If that alarm chirps, warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.
  • When replacing a battery, follow manufacturer’s list of batteries on the back of the alarm or manufacturer’s instructions. Manufacturer’s instructions are specific to the batteries (brand and model) that must be used. The smoke alarm may not work properly if a different kind of battery is used.

Call to Action

Most people don’t know it but the cause of death in a house fire is NOT due to burns.  It’s due to smoke inhalation and asphyxiation.  A full blown fire will rapidly deplete the oxygen in a house, oxygen you and your loved ones need to breath in order to escape and survive.  The more time that passes between when a fire begins and when you are alerted, the greater the odds that you may not make it out to safety.  Technology exists that can provide effective alarming/notification of a potentially deadly fire.  Every day, 10 people die and 35 people are severely injured in a house fire.  Following these simple guidelines will help ensure that you and those closest to you will not be part of these statistics.

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