In a fire, every minute counts!
Smoke alarms (also called smoke detectors) are inexpensive, life-saving devices designed to be the first line of defense to help families safely escape a residential fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), half of all home fire deaths occur between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when occupants are asleep.
When properly maintained, smoke alarms sense smoke when a fire is still small, alerting occupants of eminent danger and allowing time to escape. Contrary to what some believe, the smell of smoke typically does not wake a person from sleep; in fact, smoke's poisonous gases will actually numb the senses, causing one to fall into an even deeper slumber.
The following are some key points to know about smoke alarms:
Maintenance | Top
The maintenance of smoke alarm involves selecting the proper alarm, proper placement, monthly testing, annual battery changes, and routine cleaning. Two types of battery-powered alarms are on the market today, ionization and photoelectric. These devices differ in the types of sensors used to detect smoke, yet both offer adequate protection if they are properly installed and maintained. Always purchase a device meeting the approval and bearing the label of the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL). The RSF Fire District recommends the installation of a hard-wired (or direct line), 110-voltage smoke detector system with battery back up.
Placement and Installation | Top
Proper placement is crucial to the effectiveness of your smoke alarm. The Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District's Ordinance No. 03-01 and current building codes require smoke alarms to be installed and maintained inside every bedroom, within every hallway, and at the top of all staircases in new homes and homes undergoing remodeling. The same placement is recommended for homes that have not undergone any remodeling. On floors without bedrooms, place the alarm in family rooms and living rooms. Avoid installing smoke alarms near the kitchen or bathrooms, as cooking vapors and steam often cause false alarms. If your home has a hard-wired smoke alarm system without battery back up, the RSF Fire District recommends upgrading the system to meet current code requirements. Hard-wired systems without battery-back up will not function if a fire occurs during a power outage.
Smoke rises; therefore, it's best to install alarms at the highest point on the ceiling, at least four inches away from the nearest wall. Install alarms away from windows, doors, or fireplaces as these areas may inhibit smoke from activating the unit.
Testing Your Smoke
Alarms | Top
Testing is another essential component in the maintenance of smoke alarms. Whether your home contains battery-powered or hard-wired alarms, make it a point totest each device once per month. As with any technical device, smoke alarms may malfunction at some point without warning, regular testing is the only way to ensure detectors are working to their fullest life-saving potential.
To test your alarms, press and hold the button on the outside of the unit until the alarm sounds. If the unit is out of reach, stand under it and use a broom handle to press the button. Whenever possible, have family members help out during monthly smoke alarm testing. Teaching children and grandchildren fire-safe practices early in life will help them carry fire-safe actions into adulthood.
In addition to monthly testing, it is important to remember to exchange the old batteries in your smoke alarms with new ones once each year. Pick a date that will be easy to remember, like when you change your clocks each spring or fall, New Year's Day, or September 11. Batteries are considered to be "universal waste" and should be recycled properly, never in a trash can or blue recyle bin. 9v batteries, the type used most frequently in smoke alarms, should have electrical tape placed over the positive/negative end prior to disposal to prevent accidental fires. For more information on universal waste, including disposal locations, please visit EDCO or San Diego County's Universal Waste's webpages.
False alarms can be a nuisance, and are the main reason people remove the batteries from their alarms. Proper placement and cleaning should help curb false alarms. Since smoke alarms are prone to the collection of dust and cobwebs; follow the manufacturer's suggestions for cleaning. Typically a light dusting with a vacuum cleaner attachment works best. If false alarms persist, evaluate whether the unit is too close to the kitchen or bathroom, reinstall it in another area and the problems should subside. Try to determine whether your smoke alarms are 10 years or older. Older units are subject to random failures, and should be replaced. If the unit is making a "chirping" noise, it may simply need a battery replacement. Should problems continue, the alarm may be faulty and should be replaced immediately.
It's a fact: smoke alarms save lives. Set aside some time to discuss fire safety with your loved ones. Walk through your home and evaluate whether your smoke alarms are in tip-top shape.
Ask yourself the following questions:
For more information about smoke alarms, click on the following links: