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Smoke alarms: a fire safety success story

By Ricardo S. Campos | JBSA Fire Emergency Services | Jan. 10, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —

The fire safety success story of the past quarter century has been smoke detectors. The battery-powered smoke detector has reduced home fire deaths by half since its introduction on to the market.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, an estimated 94 percent of homes in the United States have at least one smoke detector in the home. The death rate has been 40-50 percent less than the rate for homes without smoke detectors.

While an essential part of any home is a smoke detector, practicing fire drills in the home is certainly a plus. Making sure everyone in the home can hear and recognize the sound of the alarm and knows how to react immediately for a safe evacuation.

The NFPA recommends that people with hearing impairments install smoke detectors with louder alarm signals and or strobe lights to alert them to smoke or fire.

Mounting smoke detectors:

Smoke detectors should be installed on at least on every floor of your home. This includes the basement, as well as in each sleeping room. Mount smoke detectors high on ceilings or walls.

Ceiling-mounted alarms should be installed at least four inches away from the nearest wall, while wall-mounted alarms should be installed four to 12 inches away from the ceiling.

For homes with vaulted ceilings, the smoke detector should be mounted at the highest point of the ceiling. 

Maintenance tips:

Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors once a year, or as soon as you hear the “chirping” sound. A good way to remember this is to change your batteries is during Daylight Savings Time in the spring and fall.

Follow manufactures recommendations by vacuuming or dusting the alarm to help it keep working properly. Hardwiring a smoke detector into the home’s electrical system should be accomplished by a qualified licensed electrician.

Carbon monoxide detectors:

Often called the silent killer, carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels, such as methane, natural gas, propane, wood, and coal burn incompletely. Sources that burn fuel in the home can include cooking and heating equipment.

CO alarms should be mounted in a central location outside each sleeping area and also on every level of the home. Interconnecting all CO alarms thru the home is the best insurance to ensure when one sounds they all sound.  

Test your CO alarm at least once a month. If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If batteries are low, replace them. If they continue to sound, immediately call the fire department and move to fresh air or open a window or door.

If you do go outside, ensure all family members are accounted for and stay outside until emergency responders arrive.

For more information about smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, visit the National Fire Prevention Association website at https://www.nfpa.org/education or contact the Joint Base San Antonio Fire Prevention Offices at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston at 210-221-2727, at JBSA-Lackland at 210-671-2921, or at JBSA-Randolph at 210-652-6915.