c. Chicago Tribune
Those plastic bumps on the ceiling are easy to forget about, but they can make all the difference. About 70 percent of fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms or ones that didn’t work, usually because of dead or missing batteries, according to Judy Comoletti, assistant vice president for public education of the National Fire Protection Association in Quincy, Mass. Here are some things to know about these essential household safeguards; for more information, see www.nfpa.org and go to «Research and Reports» to find fact sheets on home-safety and fire-protection equipment.
1. There are two technologies:
* Ionization detectors note changes in electrical charges; they are better at catching still-smoldering fires that produce lots of smoke, but are more prone to nuisance alarms when toast burns or the oven is being cleaned, says John Hall, a statistician at the association.
* Photoelectric detectors use a beam of light to spot smoke particles; they are better at sensing fires with a lot of flame.
Some devices include both types. Make sure any alarm you buy has been tested by an independent testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
2. Special features: A pause button, which silences the alarm temporarily when that toaster smokes, is handy. Some detectors can be paused with a remote control.
3. All wired up: New homes are required to have all the alarms wired into the electrical system and interconnected, so they all go off if smoke is detected anywhere in the house. For older homes, new wireless systems are interconnected by a radio signal, like a cordless phone, according to Mary Brophy, home safety spokeswoman for the maker of First Alert smoke detectors. Alarms shrieking in the upstairs bedrooms could save lives if a fire started in the basement.
4. The right place: Have a smoke alarm on every level of the home, including the basement and attic, and one inside every bedroom — but not in the kitchen. «The nuisance alarm rate would be sky-high,» Hall says, which could lead family members to take the noise for granted.
5. The juice: Test the battery once a month and change it faithfully once a year, whether it seems to have juice left or not. Replace the whole device every 10 years. As smoke alarms age, more and more of them fail, Hall says
Final note: What smoke alarms give you is precious time to escape a fire. But that time won’t save you if you aren’t ready to move fast and smart. Sit down with your family and make a plan for how everyone would get out of the house if an alarm sounded and where you would meet outside.
March 6, 2006