Many lives have been saved over the past 30 years due to home smoke alarm systems. Safety groups such as the National Safety Council (NSC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and our local Fire/Rescue professionals have done a tremendous job in educating the public about smoke alarms and their role in saving lives.
Some Alarming Statistics
For whatever reason, many homeowners do not take fire safety seriously. According to the NFPA:
- almost five million homes still do not have a smoke alarm;
- the fire death rate is more than twice as high in homes with no smoke alarm or no working smoke alarm;
- no smoke alarms were present in 38% of home fire deaths;
- in home fires that had inoperative smoke alarms, 46% of the alarms had missing or disconnected batteries;
- dead batteries were present in 24% of smoke alarm failures.
Smoke alarms must be properly installed and maintained in order to alert residents of a fire. Smoke alarms are vital in reducing fire-related deaths and injuries. If there is a fire in your home, deadly gases and smoke will spread rapidly. Smoke alarms will alert you and give you time to get out.
The question is not, “What are the odds of my home catching on fire?”. No, no, no! Ask yourself this question, “If my home catches on fire, what are the odds of my family members and me getting out safely?”. Once a fire starts, you only have two minutes, at the most, to get everyone out to safety.
Types of Smoke Alarms
Make sure your smoke alarms have been tested by an approved and recognized testing laboratory. The laboratory’s label should be present on each alarm. If not, replace them.
There are two basic types of smoke alarms. For the best possible protection, use both types.
Ionization: this type of alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires.
Photoelectric: this type of alarm responds more to a smoldering type of fire.
Fatal fires in homes, regardless of time of day, include both types of fires – flaming and smoldering. There is no way to predict which type of fire could break out in your home or what time of day it could happen. Therefore, it is best to have both types of alarms in your home.
Smoke Alarm Locations – No Room For Error!
In your home you need a smoke alarm in each of the following locations:
- one in every sleeping room,
- one outside each sleeping area,
- one on every level (floor) of your home, one or more extra for a large home.
Notice in this one-level floor plan we have three bedrooms – one on one end of the home and two on the other end. So we need the following: 3 for the bedrooms + 2 for outside the separate sleeping areas = 5 smoke alarms.
Interconnected Smoke Alarms – Every Second Counts
If a fire breaks out in your home, you have two minutes or less to get out safely. And if there are others in your home who will depend on you to alert them and help them to safety (those with special needs, the hearing impaired, the elderly, etc.), you have no time to lose.
Current standards require smoke alarms to be interconnected. When one alarm sounds, all alarms sound. Having alarms interconnected improves your chance of getting out quickly.
If your home does not have interconnected smoke alarms, don’t dismiss it and say, “It’s grandfathered.”. You cannot grandfather safety. It will be worth the money to hire a licensed electrical contractor to upgrade your system. If you rent, ask your landlord to pay for the upgrade.
Plan to Win – Everyone Gets Out
According to the NFPA, research shows that children are not always awakened by the sound of a smoke alarm. Be sure everyone in your home is familiar with the sound a smoke alarm makes and know that it means trouble. You should also test the alarms when family members are asleep to determine if they will be awakened by the alarm sound. Special plans need to be implemented to ensure everyone gets out safely.
Others who may need help are the elderly, those with special needs, the hearing impaired, and so on. Special devices are available for the hearing impaired, including strobe lights and bed-shakers to wake them up.
Be sure to test your smoke alarms at least once a month. Again, everyone in your home should be familiar with the alert tone, know the escape plan, know where to meet outside to make sure everyone gets out, whether others need help, and so on. Of course, once you are outside, do not go back inside.
Then, of course, someone must call 9-1-1 to report the fire. Be sure to practice, practice, practice so everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire.
Take Action Now – Check the Following
- Replace smoke alarms that have not been tested by an approved and recognized testing laboratory.
- Replace alarms that are 10 years old or older.
- Replace the batteries at least once a year (January 1 is a good time).
- Install alarms in every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area, one on each level, and additional alarms if you have a large home.
- Install alarms on the ceiling or within 12 inches from the ceiling.
- Install alarms at least 10 feet away from the stove.
- If your alarms are not interconnected, adjust your budget and pay for this upgrade.
- Maintain smoke alarms according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Install at least one carbon monoxide alarm according to manufacturer’s instructions, even if you have no fireplace and your home is all electric.
During my 32 years as a police officer, I responded to a number of house fires (for crowd control and to block traffic). I found no delight in seeing the homeowners standing by watching their home and all their possessions burn.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose everything in a fire – or tornado or hurricane or mudslide, etc. – because I’ve never experienced it. And while you might not be able to prevent a fire from breaking out in your home, you can and must do everything possible to ensure you and your family members can escape to safety. You might only have one minute, maybe two, to get out.
There is much more that can be said about fire safety. As always, your comments, questions, experiences, are welcome.