By Fire Chief Dustin Ulrich, Chambersburg Fire Department
Daylight Savings Time for most means time to change the clocks and adapt to the new daylight schedule. But for fire departments, it signifies the time of the year to remind everyone to change batteries in smoke alarms. It is also a good time to complete a few simple safety checks.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that each year there are over 350,000 home structural fires in the United States. Those fires unfortunately also account for over 2,600 civilian deaths. Many fires start by unattended cooking, improper usage of heating appliances, or overloading of electrical distribution systems within homes.
Having a properly installed and operating smoke detector is essential for early detection of a fire. It could also be a matter of life or death. Modern day fires burn quicker and produce highly toxic gases that can quickly overcome individuals within their home.
Each year, almost 65% of fire deaths in residences occurred where there were no smoke alarms, or alarms that were made inoperable by removing the battery.
How Often Should You Test Your Smoke Alarm?
Test each smoke alarm once every month to ensure the battery is not dead and the alarm is operating properly.
To test your smoke detector, hold down the test button until you hear a loud alert tone. In some cases, you may need to press the button again to turn the alarm off.
During the testing process, note the manufacture date of the alarm. Life expectancy of smoke alarms is around ten years. Newer homes have interconnected alarms so if one goes off, all of them go off. Follow all manufacture recommendations when replacing smoke alarms.
An additional recommendation is to look for alarms that have 10-year lithium batteries that do not need replaced every six months. Also look for alarms that have a “hush” feature where the alarm can be silenced for a few minutes if an unintentional activation occurs.
This “hush” feature is on many modern alarms to prevent someone from deliberately disabling the alarm. Permanently disabled alarms will not properly notify residents in a true emergency.
In addition to testing, smoke alarms also should be vacuumed at least once every six months to remove dust buildup and cobwebs. When vacuuming smoke detectors, make sure to use a soft brush attachment around and along each of the vents. Test the alarm again After each cleaning to verify it is operating as it should.
Develop a Fire Escape Plan
Each family should also develop a fire escape plan for their home. It’s important to choose both a primary exit and secondary exit in case one is blocked by smoke and fire. The plan should also include a pre-arranged meeting place.
Routinely reviewing this escape plan, as well as practicing day and night, could save valuable seconds when escaping a home fire. Review your escape plan with house guests and update it if renovations take place within the residence.
For more information on smoke alarms or fire safety in your home, contact your local fire department.
If you live in Chambersburg, the Fire Department has a wonderful fire prevention and community safety program providing no-cost smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and address signs.
For more information please contact the station at 717-263-5872 and on-duty personnel will be able to assist with more information.