Two recent fires in our region have proven the effectiveness of properly operating smoke alarms. In both cases, heavy fire damage occurred to the homes, but news reports stated that the occupants were alerted about the fire by smoke alarms, and were able to escape uninjured. Smoke alarms are a proactive means of protecting your family, in the event of a fire in your home.
How many times have you heard me or any other firefighter say, a proper number of properly placed and operating smoke alarms saves lives? Any deviation from the previous statement renders a house or apartment unprotected. Let me explain. When there is not a proper number of smoke alarms, then a portion of a home is not protected. Improperly placed alarms may end up being nuisance alarms that get disabled. The example here is an alarm that is placed too close to the kitchen and goes off every time that cooking is taking place. Another example would be an alarm that is placed too close to the point where a wall and a ceiling meet, which constitutes a void space where an alarm may not activate. The last part of the equation, a properly operating smoke alarm is just that. If a smoke alarm will not activate, due to a dead battery, no battery, excessive dust, or a broken wire, then that smoke alarm is useless.
Concerning the proper number of smoke alarms, there should be at least one smoke alarm per level of your home, as well as one alarm in every bedroom. Depending on the layout of the home, there may need to be multiple smoke alarms on the different levels of your home. As I have shared before, my son’s newly built home required five smoke alarms downstairs and three smoke alarms upstairs, all connected in series with battery backups. In other words, when one smoke alarm goes off, then they will all activate. Keep in mind that battery-operated smoke alarms operate individually of the others. Multiple alarms may sound, but it is only when smoke or heat have reached each detector, whereas those connected in series will all sound when one detector activates. As I have stated at other times, I never found a family sleeping in the middle of the night when all of the smoke alarms were activating simultaneously.
Proper maintenance of smoke alarms is relatively easy, if the alarm is accessible. Alarms placed on vaulted ceilings are, in many cases, inaccessible or accessed with difficulty. For those alarms that are accessible, maintenance consists of occasional vacuuming, replacing the batteries periodically, and pushing the test button at least once a month. This is a painless and inexpensive way to ensure that your smoke alarms will work when a fire occurs. Incidentally, smoke alarms that have been in place for over ten years should be replaced.
The last thing that I will mention in this article is the need to make sure that everyone will wake up, based on the smoke alarm configuration in your home. Multiple alarms connected in series will work best, but not everyone has this level of protection. What if your home only has one smoke alarm? It will be necessary to ensure that this one smoke alarm is capable of waking your family up from a dead sleep, no pun intended. I can still remember watching a video with a news anchor from Channel 8, and having to respond to the fact that children in the home slept through the activating smoke alarms. The only way to prevent this from happening in your home is to activate your alarm(s), after your family has gone to sleep. It may take multiple times before they recognize the sound and associate it with a sound that requires action.