Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Smoke Alarms and Maintaining a Fire-Safe Home (Fall 2012)

Maintaining a Fire-Safe Home

As the weather cools down with the arrival of fall, the risk of residential fires goes up. Heating is the second leading cause of home fires, accounting for 14 percent of all residential fires across the nation. In many cases, these tragic events can be avoided by taking a few simple precautions.

The following recommendations have been made by the United States Fire Administration (USFA):   
  • Hire a qualified professional to clean and inspect your furnace, chimneys, and other heating equipment on an annual basis.
  • Only use heating equipment that has been approved by a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Maintain adequate space around all heating equipment. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heat sources.
  • When using space heaters, plug them directly into electrical outlets rather than using extension cords or power strips.
  • Install carbon monoxide alarms and smoke detectors in your home.  Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for placement of these alarms, and replace the batteries at least once per year.

fire risk
  • An estimated 50,100 heating fires in residential buildings occur each year in the United States.
  • Heating is the second leading cause of all home fires; the leading cause of home fires is cooking.
  • Fires confined to chimneys, flues, or fuel burners account for 87 percent of home fires.
  • Thirty percent of nonconfined heating fires occur because the heat source is too close to combustibles.

This month’s newsletter discusses ways you can protect your family and home from the devastation of fire.

Smoke Alarms: 
Protecting your family and home from fire

smoke alarms

Smoke alarms that are properly installed and maintained can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Whether you are sleeping or awake, smoke alarms are constantly on the alert, scanning the air for fire and smoke.

In order for smoke alarms to do their job, it is important that they are properly installed and maintained.  The following tips are available through the United States Fire Administration (USFA):

Smoke Alarm Installation:
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement.
  • Because many fatal fires begin late at night or early in the morning, the USFA recommends installing smoke alarms inside and outside of sleeping areas.
  • Smoke and deadly gases rise, so it is important to install smoke alarms at the proper level to ensure the earliest warning possible.
  • Hardwired smoke alarms should be installed by a qualified electrician.
Smoke Alarm Maintenance:
  • Test the alarm monthly.
  • Replace the batteries once per year.*  
  • Replace the entire smoke alarm unit once every 8 to 10 years.*
Never Disable a Smoke Alarm
A smoke alarm is just doing its job if it sounds while you are cooking or taking a hot shower with a lot of steam.  Disabling a smoke alarm or removing the battery can be a deadly mistake.  Rather than removing the battery, here are a few tips for silencing the alarm:
  • Open a window or door and press the “hush” button.
  • Wave a towel at the alarm to clear the air.
  • If the alarm is not hard-wired, move the entire alarm several feet away from the location. 
  • Smoke alarms will only work when they are properly installed and maintained.  A smoke alarm with a dead or missing battery is the same as having no smoke alarm at all.  Always follow the manufacturer’s installation and maintenance instructions.
*Note: you cannot (and should not) replace lithium batteries.  If your smoke alarm is powered by this type of battery, the entire unit should be replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in properties without working smoke alarms. A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a home fire.

For more information on fire safety and prevention, visit