Fire Prevention

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Focus on Fire Safety: Smoke Alarms

Every year, approximately 2,600 Americans die in home fires.  Over half of these deaths (52%) occur between the hours of 10:00pm and 7:00am, when residents are typically sleeping. Smoke and toxic gases from a home fire are as deadly as heat and flames.  Just two or three breaths of toxic smoke can render you unconscious.  The majority of fire victims die or are injured from exposure to smoke and toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, not actual burns.  In addition, smoke obscures vision, decreasing your ability to escape.

Smoke alarms save lives, prevent injuries, and minimize property damage by detecting fires early and alerting residents, allowing crucial time to escape.  The risk of dying from a fire in a home without working smoke alarms is twice as high as in a home that has working smoke alarms.

What types of smoke alarms are available?

There are many different brands of smoke alarms available on the market but they fall under two basic types:  ionization and photoelectric.

  • Ionization alarms sound more quickly when a flaming, fast moving fire occurs. 
  • Photoelectric alarms are quicker at sensing smoldering, smoky fires. 
  • There are also combination (dual sensor) smoke alarms that combine ionization and photoelectric into one unit.

Because both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms are better at detecting distinctly different yet potentially fatal fires, and because home residents cannot predict what type of fire might start in a home, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends the installation of both ionization and photoelectric or dual sensor smoke alarms.

In addition to the basic types of smoke alarms, there are alarms made to meet the needs of people with hearing disabilities.  These alarms may use strobe lights that flash and/or vibrate to assist in alerting those who are unable to hear standard smoke alarms when they sound.

How long will my smoke alarm last?

Most alarms installed today have a life span of about 8-10 years.  After this time, the entire unit should be replaced.  It is a good idea to write the date of purchase with a marker on the inside of your alarm so you will know when to replace it.  Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for replacement.

Visit http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/citizens/focus/smoke_alarms.shtm for more information on smoke alarms.