This weekend, we spring forward. As you adjust your clocks, it’s also a great time to check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Two-thirds of fire-related home deaths result from fires in homes without a working smoking alarm, according to the National Fire Protection Agency.
The NFPA also reports that working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a home fire in half. Since carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas, often the only warning sign of exposure is a working CO detector.
More than 2,300 people die each year in home fires, and carbon monoxide emergencies are on the rise. Having a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm that works 24-hours a day greatly increases your chance of survival if your home catches on fire or a CO emergency.
It’s best to install a dual-purpose alarm in every bedroom, outside of every bedroom and on each floor of your home. For the best protection, interconnect all alarms. For example, with interconnected alarms, a bedroom detector would activate if the kitchen detector senses smoke or fire, and vise versa. When one alarm sounds, they all sound. This way people in unaffected areas can be alerted before dangerous fire, smoke or carbon monoxide can spread to where they are.
Understand your alarm
Not all alarms and detectors are the same. Variations include smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, or a combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector. Power sources vary as well, they can be directly wired, battery powered, or wired with battery backup. In regards to alerting the fire department, some are local only so that you still need to call for help, or are directly connected to your alarm system and notify help automatically. Some detectors are connected via Wi-Fi as well. Detector “alarms” vary too, some explain the event with words along with its alert tones, or have digital displays. Special smoke alarms are also available for those who are deaf or hearing-impaired.
Check the back of your detector when you test it
Read the back of your detector. It should have its manufactured date and directions printed. Read the explanations of what the different alerts are. For example, four- or five-staggered beeps usually means that an alarm is alerting an emergency. A single chirp every 30 seconds usually means a malfunction or dead battery. If there is no date, looks old, or no instructions you are better off replacing the whole thing. Not all detectors alert the same way, so it is very important to understand what is protecting you.
A recent law mandates that all battery-powered detectors have a fixed 10-year battery installed, so you cannot change the battery in these, and should still check them at least monthly. These also expire and when they do your should replace the entire device including the built in battery.
Remember, preventing a tragedy can be as simple as checking your alarm and batteries monthly and changing your batteries at least once a year. Replace your smoke alarms every seven to 10 years or as per manufacturer’s recommendation. Remember, every family should have an EDITH (Exit Drills In The Home) plan. Update and practice it in coordination with you detector maintenance.
Lt. Sam Pinto is a career firefighter, paramedic, nationally certified fire instructor, and certified fire and life safety educator. He can be reached at SPinto@iaff287.org.