Smoke alarms save lives. However, for smoke alarms to do their job, it is important that they are installed AND maintained properly. The most important part of the smoke alarm is the battery whether the smoke alarms are the single station alarms found in older homes or the double station alarms that have been required by the building codes for several years. The difference between these two types of alarms are how many of the alarms are activated upon detecting smoke. A single station alarm is stand alone. The only alarm that sounds is the one that detects the smoke. They may be battery powered only or hardwired with a battery backup depending on the age of the home. Double station alarms, which are found more often in newer homes, are interconnected with the other alarms in the home. Only one has to detect smoke in order for all to sound the alarm.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 59% of home fire deaths results where no smoke alarms were present (38%) or were not working properly (21%). In almost half of those cases (46%), the alarm failed to sound due to improper maintenance (disconnected, missing batteries). 24% of the failures in smoke alarms are due to dead batteries. Having properly maintained smoke alarms reduces the risk of death from a home fire by 50%. It is recommended that batteries in all smoke alarms, whether single station or double station, be replaced twice per year. An easy way to remember when is “Change Your Clock, Change Your Batteries”. Replacement of batteries should be done any time the battery no longer operates. A smoke alarm will emit a “chirp” when batteries are no longer functioning properly. Removal of a “chirping” battery in a hardwired, double station alarm will cause a continue chirp indicating no battery is in the alarm.
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) recommends replacing smoke alarms every 10 years from the date of manufacture or if they do not sound when tested. The date is stamped on the bottom of the alarm. While alarms older than 10 years may still sound when the test button is pushed, the recommendation centers around the sensitivity of the parts that detect the smoke. Testing alarms at least once per month is also recommended for proper maintenance.
Locations of alarms in the home are as important as the alarms being properly maintained. Half of home fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. when most people are asleep. According to many local codes and national organizations (USFA, NFPA), smoke alarms should be installed in all sleeping rooms, outside of each sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the sleeping rooms, and on each level of the dwelling unit including basements.
Your reaction to a smoke alarm activation can also make the difference between life and death. When an alarm sounds, get outside and stay outside. A meeting place familiar to all residents of the home needs to be established. Special assistance may need to be provided to children and older adults ensuring they are awake when an alarm sounds. Once outside, call the fire department (911) from a cellphone or a neighbor’s phone. Under no circumstances should anyone go back into the structure.
In an effort to reduce fire deaths, Simpsonville Fire Department started a smoke alarm program several years ago. As part of that program, upon availability, the Department will provide and/or install smoke alarms/batteries free of charge. Since January, 2012, Simpsonville Fire Department has installed and/or provided residents of the District with over 500 single station smoke alarms and over 250 batteries. ♦