Getting a Smoke Alarm and Fire Extinguisher for Your Home.

Fire Safety Checklist
Getting a Smoke Alarm and Fire Extinguisher for Your Home.

Residential fires are one of the most likely dangers you may have to face. The absolute, most important thing you can do to help protect your family is get smoke alarms installed throughout your dwelling. Home fires are the most likely disaster you may face and according to the National Fire Prevention Association “The death rate … was twice as high in homes without a working smoke alarm as it was in home fires with this protection.” We recommend buying smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors separately as smoke alarms should be mounted high and carbon monoxide detectors should be mounted low.

If finances are holding you back, call your fire department and ask what kinds of programs they have for free or low-cost fire alarms. Please don’t let your pride make you shy away from asking. Remember, it’s in their best interest as well that you all get out safely so they don’t have to go in and look for you.

If you can afford it, get a smoke alarm that is both an ionization and a photoelectric smoke alarm (one is more responsive to flaming fires, the other more responsive to smoldering fires). See here for options on fire alarms. In a test done by the Building and Fire Research Laboratory they found that these dual alarms activated 539 seconds faster(that’s 9 minutes!) than ionization alarms alone and 79 seconds faster than photoelectric alarms alone, on average. This gives you and your family much more time to act.

Besides your main fire alarms some neat little fire alarms you screw into light sockets could be a great supplement. They need to be mounted in wall-mounted sockets as they need to be within about 8 inches from the ceiling (smoke rises), but they don’t require periodic battery replacement and they’re small and unobtrusive.

How To Install Smoke Alarms:

*Install a smoke alarm on each level of the house installed at the highest point on the ceilings (such as if you have a pitched roof) as smoke rises and as close to the middle of the room as possible. Do not affix them to outer walls as changes in temperature from weather can cause them to malfunction.

*Place alarms in other high risk areas such as near the laundry room, near the furnace, and near the kitchen. Don’t place them where they will be too close to cooking fumes and fireplaces as this will increase the number of ‘nuisance alarms’. For these areas perhaps buy a unit with a hush feature.

*Don’t install smoke alarms within 3 feet of windows, doors, or vent ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.

*Have an electrician interconnect the alarms if possible so that when one sounds they all sound. If you cannot hardwire them, you can buy alarms that will broadcast a signal to each other.

*If you have members of your family who are hearing impaired, invest in smoke alarms with strobe lights to help alert those members.

How To Maintain The Smoke Alarms:

*Test your fire alarms on the same day each month (most types of units have a test button, otherwise refer to your owner’s manual).

*Let the children experience the sound of the alarm so that should they hear it they will know what to do rather than panic – make it a family affair. (Of course have them cover their ears or stand in the other room so as to not damage their ear drums).

*Vacuum your alarms regularly. Dust can lead to false alarms or impair its functioning.

*Replace the batteries at least once a year. Even if your battery-operated alarm has never sounded, it is important to replace the batteries. In most battery-operated models, a “chirping” noise will sound for approximately 30 days when the battery needs replacing, but it is best to replace the batteries annually. Mark it on your calendar.

*Replace your smoke alarm, regardless of the type, at least every 10 years. Smoke alarms deteriorate over time, so they must be replaced.

Besides fire alarms, every household should have a fire extinguisher in each potentially hazardous location and all capable adults and older children should know how to use it and know when to use it. But it is always dangerous to fight a fire, even a small one. Using the wrong extinguisher can make things worse, so if in doubt, shut the door to slow the spreading, leave the area, and dial 911.

When shopping extinguishers take into account the most likely types of fires you may encounter in each area of the house that you have deemed hazardous.

Class A puts out fires fueled by paper, wood, cloth, rubber, and many plastics.

Class B puts out fires fueled by flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, grease, and other chemicals.

Class C is for electrical fires.

Your best bet is to look for a combination extinguisher that fights at least two, or even all three, types of fires.
Take the number rating into account as this will tell you how large a fire your particular extinguisher can fight. While it might seem advantageous to get one to fight the largest fire also be aware that this also means for a larger and heavier extinguisher. If it’s too unwieldy to use it won’t be of much use to you.

Make sure the extinguishers you choose have been approved by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Some hazardous areas to consider putting a fire extinguisher include the kitchen, the garage, near the furnace, and the laundry room, and one in each vehicle either in the trunk or if there’s no trunk, behind the driver’s seat.

Fire extinguishers should be serviced once a year to make sure they’ve maintained pressure. Call your local fire station to find out if they do this or to get a recommendation as to where you should go. You can do this when you change your fire alarm battery.

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