NEWS | Jan. 3, 2018

Smoke alarms and fire extinguishers: the dynamic duo of fire safety

By Richard S. Campos JBSA Fire Safety

Often taken for granted is the smoke detector, which is a common feature in American homes. Surveys conducted for National Fire Prevention Association, or NFPA, found that 97 percent of the household surveyed reported having, at minimum, one smoke alarm. Based on those surveys, that means almost five million households do not have any smoke alarms at all.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, in the United States alone, some 3,500 people die each year in fires and another 18,300 are injured. Many of them would be alive today if they had learned what to do if there was a fire. A working smoke alarm is vital in the home.

If there is a fire in the home, smoke spreads fast and working smoke alarms to give you time to escape. Having a smoke alarm cuts the chances of dying in a reported fire in half. Three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms according to the NFPA.

Follow these safety tips in choosing a smoke alarm for your home:

  • Choose a smoke alarm that bears the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
    Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of your home, including the basement.
  • Interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home for the best protection. When one sounds, they all sound.
  • Make sure you can hear the sound of the smoke alarm.
  • Replace all smoke alarms, including alarms that use 10-year batteries and hard wiring alarms, when they are 10 years old or sooner if they do not respond properly when tested.
  • Test your smoke alarms at least every month using the test button.
  • Smoke alarms with non-replaceable long-life batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm. For smoke alarms with any other type of battery, replace batteries at least once a year. If that smoke alarm chirps, replace only the battery.
  • An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires, while a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, or where extra time is needed to awaken or assist others, both types of alarms, or combination ionization and photoelectric alarms are recommended.

Another effective method in curbing the loss of property is the usage of fire extinguishers. The time to purchase a fire extinguisher or learn to use one is not after a fire starts.

However, a majority of adults have not had fire extinguisher training and may not know how and when to use one. Using a fire extinguisher correctly can be a life-and property–saving tool.

Different types of fires require different types of extinguishers. For example, a grease fire and an electrical fire require different extinguishing agents to be effective.

Basically, there are five different types of agents. Most fire extinguishers display symbols to show the kind of fire on which they are the kind of fire on which they are to be used.

Class A extinguishers put out fires in ordinary combustible materials such as cloth, wood, rubber, paper and many plastics.

Class B extinguishers are used on fires involving flammable liquids, such as grease, gasoline, oil, and oil-based paints.

Class C extinguishers are suitable for use on fires involving appliances, tools or other equipment that is electrically energized or plugged in.

There are also multi-purpose fire extinguishers such as those labeled “B-C” or “A-B-C” that can be used on two or more of the above types of fires.

Portable fire extinguishers are valuable for immediate use on small fires. For example, when a pan initially catches fire, it may be safe to turn off the burner, place a lid on the pan and use a fire extinguisher.

But if the fire has spread beyond the pan into other areas of the stove, kitchen or house, only trained firefighters can safely extinguish the blaze. Some people have physical limitations that might diminish or eliminate their abilities to properly use a fire extinguishers. People with disabilities, older adults or children may find that an extinguishers is too heavy or too difficult to exert the pressure in order to operate it.

Sound decision making, training and maintenance are required to safely control a fire with an extinguisher. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends that only those trained in the proper use and maintenance of fire extinguishers consider using them.

To learn more about smoke alarms and fire extinguishers visit the National Fire Protection Association’s website at or contact one of the Joint Base San Antonio fire prevention offices. At JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, call 210-221-2727; at JBSA-Lackland, call 210-671-2921; and at JBSA-Randolph, call 210-652-6915.