During the winter, it seems that almost every local newscast opens with a catastrophic home fire. Sadly, these fires are often deadly. The National Fire Protection Association reports that approximately three out of five deaths from fire happen in homes with no smoke alarms or whose alarms aren’t working. If you are changing your batteries regularly and think you are protected, you may be surprised to learn that you need to do more to protect yourself and your family from fire. Below are some safety tips to prevent you and your loved ones from becoming a victim of fire.

  • Install smoke alarms on every floor of the house, especially near sleeping quarters. Ideally, a smoke alarm should be installed in each bedroom.
  • There are two types of smoke detectors: ionization alarms which are faster to warn about flaming fires, and photoelectric which detect smoldering fires better. It is recommended that both types of alarms be installed in your home, or you can install alarms that are both ionization and photoelectric.
  • Still have that smoke alarm you installed when Mario Lemieux was playing? Then it’s time to get a new one. Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years or according to your alarm’s direction.
  • Even though your alarm may be new, you need to change the batteries regularly. A good time to do that is every six months when we change to clocks in spring and fall.
  • However, merely changing batteries is not enough. You should test your alarm at least monthly.
  • You should also make sure that the alarm is clean. You don’t want a pesky stink bug making a home in your smoke alarm and rendering it useless. Vacuum or dust the alarm regularly.
  • Testing a smoke alarm should involve more than pressing the test button that sounds the alarm. While a smoke alarm may appear to be working because it is receiving power from its battery, it is also possible for the sensors to no longer work. Therefore, it’s advisable to test the alarm’s sensors.
  • There are two ways to test the reliability of the sensors. You can simply strike two or three matches together and hold them a few feet from the detector to see if the alarm sounds. If it doesn’t, it’s time to get a new one. If you are afraid of burning your fingers, you can purchase an inexpensive aerosol can of smoke detector test spray. Purchased at your local hardware store, many of these smoke aerosols will test both ionization and photoelectric alarms by simply spraying the “aerosol smoke” near the alarm. You may have to fan the alarm once it sounds to clear the sensors.
  • For those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, there are alarms with strobe lights and bed shakers that can be installed. This may be something to consider for your elderly relatives, friends, or neighbors. If you suspect that their hearing has diminished since their last smoke alarms were installed, it would be a kind gesture to replace the old ones with these special types of alarms.

Finally, smoke alarms can help to save lives, but fire safety is a two-part endeavor. The next step after ensuring that your alarms are working properly is to prepare an escape plan should they ever sound. Knowing what to do in the event of a fire is essential Each room should have at least two means of escape. If one of those routes is a high window, it may be wise to invest in a safety ladder. If there are family members who would need assistance in a fire, such as an elderly person or small child, someoene should be assigned responsibility for helping them to escape. A safe meeting place should be established. It could be the neighbor’s driveway or under the corner lamppost. Wherever it is, everyone in your house should know to head there immediately in event of fire.
With just a little added extra diligence, your chance of surviving a fire are greatly increased.


By Janice Lane Palko