Investigations into home fire deaths very often find that a smoke alarm did not sound. It may have been disconnected or not in working order. The batteries may have been dead, or someone may have taken them out.
Many fatal fires start at night. Smoke alone won’t necessarily wake you up. In fact, the fumes could put you into an even deeper sleep. Often, victims never wake up. Only a working smoke alarm can save your life.
The Canada Safety Council advises all Canadians to make sure their smoke alarms are working. A dead unit is worse than none at all — it can give you a false sense of security.
Smoke Alarm Basics
You need a smoke alarm on every level of your home. Single level homes and apartments should have smoke alarms near the kitchen and all sleeping areas.
Test your alarm monthly by pushing the test button. Once a year, use a smoldering cotton string, cigarette or incense until the smoke makes the alarm sound. If the alarm is battery-powered and doesn’t sound, replace it with a new battery and try again. If it’s electrically connected to household circuits and doesn’t sound, check the fuse and try again. In either case, if the alarm still isn’t working, replace the entire unit.
Replace the batteries twice a year, or when you hear intermittent beeping. Don’t use rechargeable batteries. Unlike regular batteries, they lose their charge without emitting any warning signal.
Smoke alarms can be electrically powered, battery powered or a combination of both. Whatever kind you have, remember they don’t last forever. Err on the side of safety – replace them every five years with new ones.
Make sure everyone in your home recognizes the sound of the alarm and knows what to do in case of a fire. Know two ways out of every room and have a prearranged meeting place outside. Practice your home fire escape plan regularly. Once out, stay out, and call the fire department from the nearest phone. Never go back into your home until the fire department says it is safe.
Types of Smoke Alarms
A flaming fire burns combustibles quickly, spreads rapidly and generates a lot of heat but only a little smoke. Cooking fat or grease, flammable liquids, newspapers, paint, and cleaning solutions all burn quickly and create more flames than smoke. Ionization type smoke alarms typically respond first to fast flaming fires. They are best suited for rooms that contain highly combustible materials.
A smoldering fire produces a lot of smoke but little heat. Careless smoking, for example, may lead to fires that can smolder for hours before bursting into flame. Photoelectrictype smoke alarms typically respond first to slow smoldering fires and are less prone to nuisance alarms near the kitchen area. These models are best suited for living rooms, bedrooms and near kitchens.
For maximum protection, install at least one ionization and one photoelectric type smoke alarm on each level of your home.
For more information on smoke alarms contact your local fire department.