According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were more than 1.3 million fires reported in the U.S. in 2012. These fires resulted in more than 2,800 deaths; many deaths may have been prevented had the homes been equipped with the right kind of smoke alarms.
When installed and maintained properly, smoke alarms can greatly reduce the risk of fire deaths, injuries, and damage. Here are a few tips from the Mississippi Alarm Association that will help homeowners properly select and maintain the smoke alarms in their homes.
Choose the right alarm. In the past several years, the effectiveness of common smoke alarms has been called into question. For example, in 2007, a house fire took the lives of four children while they slept in a home equipped with working smoke alarms. The alarms didn’t detect the fatal fire and never sounded, allowing the sleeping children to inhale lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.
The alarms didn’t detect the fire because of the type of smoke alarms that were installed. There are two types of smoke alarms – ionization and photoelectric – and both are effective when installed correctly and in the right location. In this case, the family had exclusively installed ionization smoke alarms that weren’t designed to detect a smoldering fire with heavy, toxic plumes of smoke that erupted in the house that night.
No one can predict what type of fire will ignite in a home because there is a multitude of factors that influence how a fire starts and how it spreads. That’s why the Mississippi Alarm Association recommends that homeowners enlist a professionally licensed alarm company to survey their homes and recommend the proper smoke alarms. Unlike an ionization smoke alarm that detects heavy flames with little smoke, a photoelectric smoke alarm reacts solely to the presence of smoke. A trained professional can look at the combustible items in a room or area of the home, determine which type of fire could occur, and recommend the appropriate type of alarm.
Proper installation and maintenance are crucial. A licensed professional should install smoke alarms on every level of the house, as well as inside and outside of each sleeping area. Additionally, smoke alarms should never be placed within three feet of an air-conditioning/ heating vent or ceiling fan, which can prevent the flow of smoke to the smoke alarm in an emergency situation.
The Mississippi Alarm Association also recommends that the installation meets all of the adopted codes in the homeowner’s city, county, and state. Homeowners are encouraged to check with local building code officials for more information. Homeowners can find security professionals who are members of the Mississippi Alarm Association on www.ms-esa.org.
Once the alarms are professionally installed, maintenance becomes the key to protection. Alarms are only useful if they work. Test alarms each month, change all batteries twice a year, and replace the entire alarm every 10 years.
Monitored systems help prevent tragedy. Monitored alarm systems offer the best protection against fire damage. In the event of a fire, an operator will be able to contact the fire department on the homeowner’s behalf. This quick exchange can prevent major damage to the home, especially if the home is vacant at the time of the fire.
To further reduce the risk of a home fire, homeowners are encouraged to implement these fire safety tips into everyday life:
- Never leave fire or heated surfaces unattended (stoves, candles, space heaters, barbecues, etc.).
- Properly dispose of coals by letting them cool before tossing them in the garbage.
- Use surge protectors to avoid overloaded circuits.
- Clean and inspect fireplaces on a regular basis.
- Develop and practice a fire escape plan with everyone living at the home.
No one can predict when or how a fire will occur, so it’s important for homeowners to be prepared in the event of an emergency. Proper, professionally installed equipment, along with the use of everyday fire safety precautions, could be the difference between victim and survivor.