Friday, March 11, 2011

What I Have Learned About The Smoke Alarm

By: Daniel the Intern

Here at the MCFRS, I hear about smoke alarms almost everyday and how crucial they are to surviving a fire.  Although they seem like simple, plastic devices that are stuck to the ceiling, they require a little more thought and maintenance than people give them.  Here are a few things to consider regarding smoke alarms in the home.

Before any alarms are installed, consider hiring an electrician to install wires to connect all of the alarms together and to the home's electrical system (hardwired).  Remember that hardwired alarms, even though they receive power from the home's electricity, need a battery backup in case the power goes out.  There are also smoke alarms that can communicate wirelessly and are just as good.  Once they are communicating, all of them will go off together even if only one of them detects smoke.  This will dramatically decrease the time it takes for the occupants to realize a fire is in the home, especially if it is two floors away.

Another point to consider is installing both types of smoke alarms: ionization and photoelectric.  Ionization are better at detecting flaming fires while photoelectric are better at detecting smoldering fires.  Since no one can predict the type of fire that will start, it is suggested that both kinds are installed throughout the home.  However, there are dual sensor smoke alarms, which contain both sensors and are the ideal choice.

The placement of the devices can be very influential to their response times.  First of all, there must be alarms on every floor of the home.  It will take too long for an alarm to go off when the fire is a floor away and that can be disastrous.  Second, they should not be installed near vents or anything that is creating air movement.  A vent blowing air can push smoke away and will also increase the response time of the smoke alarm.  Finally, they must be placed inside and outside of sleeping areas.  It is devastating when a fire starts and smoke fills the home while all the occupants are sound asleep so it is crucial these are working at all times.  In fact, over half of all the American deaths in home fires “occur between the hours of 10:00pm and 7:00am, when residents are typically sleeping."

Once they are installed and working, they must be maintained.  It is advised to test each smoke alarm once a month, even if they are connected to the home's electrical supply.  If they use a 9 volt battery, even if they are hardwired alarms, the battery should be replaced at least once per year.  To make sure all the necessary steps are taken, make sure to check the instructions supplied by the manufacturer. 

A popular time to check the alarms is during daylight savings time, which happens to be this weekend.

Just hold down the button for a few seconds and if the alarm chirps, it is working.  However, if they are at least 10 years old, it is strongly advised that they should be replaced.  The bottom line is a smoke alarm with a dead battery is not a smoke alarm at all but a piece of plastic, and is endangering everybody in the home.

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