An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : News
NEWS | Jan. 22, 2016

Learn the facts about smoke detectors and fire extinguishers

Joint Base San Antonio Public Fire and Life Safety Educator

An early warning of fire smoke alarms can provide additional time to escape.

The National Fire Incident Reporting System and the National Fire Protection Association’s fire department survey from 2009-2013 showed that there was an average of 940 deaths per year, which translates to 38 percent of home fire deaths.

Fires in which smoke alarms were present, but failed to operate, caused an additional 510 people per year (21 percent of home fire deaths) to be fatally injured. The leading cause of smoke alarm failures were power source problems.

Virtually all households specify having smoke alarms, however less than three-quarters of reported home fires and roughly half of smoke alarms were present. When fires were large enough to actuate them, they initiated a response 87 percent of the time. Hard-wired smoke alarms were more probable to operate than those powered solely by batteries. 

The death rate in homes with no or non-functional smoke alarms was more than twice as high (1.18 deaths per 100 fires) as it was in fires with working smoke alarms (0.53 deaths per 100 fires).

Homes with hard-wired smoke alarms and sprinklers had the lowest fire death rates. Victims in homes with working smoke alarms were more likely to have been in the area of origin. They were also more likely to be 65 or older, have a physical disability or tried to fight the fire themselves.

Residents should install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home, and the alarms should be tested every month. The smoke alarms in your home should be replaced every 10 years. And when a smoke alarm sounds, get outside and stay outside.

A portable fire extinguisher can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives; but portable extinguishers have limitations. Because fire grows and spreads so rapidly, the number one priority for residents is to get out safely.

Here are some safety tips for using a fire extinguisher:                           

• Use a portable fire extinguisher when the fire is confined to a small area, such as a wastebasket, and is not growing larger; when everyone has exited the building; when the fire department has been called or is being called; and when the room is not filled with smoke.

• To operate a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym PASS:

Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you, and release the locking mechanism. 

Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire.

Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.

Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side.

• For the home, select a multi-purpose extinguisher that can be used on all types of home fires. Make sure it’s large enough to put out a small fire, but not so heavy as to be difficult to handle.

• Choose a fire extinguisher that carries the label of an independent testing laboratory.

• Read the instructions that come with the fire extinguisher and become familiar with its parts and operation before a fire breaks out. Local fire departments or fire equipment distributors often offer hands-on fire extinguisher trainings.

• Install fire extinguishers close to an exit and keep your back to a clear exit when you use the device so you can make an easy escape if the fire cannot be controlled. If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately.

• Know when to go. Fire extinguishers are one element of a fire response plan, but the primary element is safe escape. Every household should have a home fire escape plan and working smoke alarms.

To learn more about smoke detector and fire extinguisher safety tips, visit the National Fire Protection Association’s website at or contact the Joint Base San Antonio fire prevention offices by calling 221-2727 at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, 671-2921 at JBSA-Lackland or 652-6915 at JBSA- Randolph.