Safety: Smoke Detectors
Here are some statistics that may shock you.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), “U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,240,000 fires. These fires resulted in 3,240 civilian fire fatalities, 15,925 civilian fire injuries and an estimated $11.5 billion in direct property loss. There was a civilian fire death every 2 hours and 42 minutes and a civilian fire injury every 33 minutes in 2013. Home fires caused 2,755, or 85%, of the civilian fire deaths. Fires accounted for four percent of the 31,644,500 total calls. Seven percent of the calls were false alarms; sixty-eight percent of the calls were for aid such as EMS.”
- Three out of five home fire deaths in 2007-2011 were caused by fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.
- Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home fires in half.
- In fires considered large enough to activate the smoke alarm, hardwired alarms operated 93% of the time, while battery powered alarms operated only 79% of the time.
- When smoke alarms fail to operate, it is usually because batteries are missing, disconnected, or dead.
- 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, or where extra time is needed, to awaken or assist others, both types of alarms, or combination ionization and photoelectric alarms are recommended.
Here’s the worst statistic of all. A working smoke alarm is not present in two-thirds of residential fires in which a child is injured or killed, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. What makes this statistic particularly frustrating is that the chances of dying in a home fire can be cut nearly in half when, states the NFPA, there is a working smoke alarm in the home. The operative word in the previous sentence is “working.” A poorly maintained smoke alarm is like playing Russian Roulette with your families’ lives. It is worse than having no smoke alarm at all as it can provide a false sense of security.
Where are we going with this? First, if you don’t have smoke detectors, install them. A smoke detector should be installed in each bedroom and on every level of the home. If you do have smoke detectors, make sure that they are in good working order. Batteries in battery-operated models should be changed at least twice annually. We suggest that you change batteries when you change your clocks for daylight savings time. Spring forward, Fall back, change smoke detector batteries!
When smoke detector shopping, keep in mind that there are tow basic types – photoelectric and ionization. A photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more effective at detecting slow smoldering fires –a fire that may smolder for hours before bursting into flames. Ionization smoke alarms, on the other hand, are more effective at detecting fast-flaming fires – fires that consume materials rapidly and spread quickly.
Given the numerous potential combinations of ignition sources and combustibles, it is next to impossible to develop steadfast rules for which type of alarm — ionization or photoelectric – is best suited to protect any given environment. To help keep your family safe from the various fire dangers, the NFPA suggests installing a combination of both of these state-of-the-art sensing technologies on each level of your home. This double protection can provide early warning of all types of fires and offers the greatest degree of security. To minimize consumer confusion and limit mass duplication of detection devices throughout the home, at least one major manufacturer of smoke alarms has created a single alarm that contains both photoelectric and ionization sensors.
With smoke detectors, cleanliness is next to Godliness. A dust or lint-laden smoke detector can’t do its job properly. Thus, it should be vacuumed with an upholstery attachment periodically to remove dust build-up. Keep in mind that a smoke detector is particle sensitive. Therefore, even if it tests as opera¬tional, a dusty smoke detector might not operate correctly. What’s worse, disconnecting a smoke detector because it is an annoyance is really asking for trouble – leaving you and your family without warning of a fire when you most need it.
When it comes to maintaining your smoke detectors, it doesn’t stop with cleaning and battery changing. Every smoke detector should be tested at least once each month. Every smoke detector is equipped with a “test” button which, when pressed and held down for a few moments, will activate the alarm. Many people fail to do this because they consider it an inconvenience to pull out a ladder, etc. Wrong! In most homes, a broomstick is all you need to test a smoke alarm. Use the end of the broomstick to depress the button. It’s easy and takes no time at all to go through the home and test every alarm.
If your smoke detectors are over 10 years old, consider replacing them. The NFPA recommends that residential smoke alarms be replaced after 10 years due to an accumulation of significant levels of dust, dirt and debris. When you think of it, a smoke alarm works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s more than 87,000 hours over 10 years! Thus, it makes good sense to be safe and replace your smoke alarm just as you would any other household appliance that has reached the end of its useful life – especially on that could save your life.