The tones scream through the engine house indicating we have a fire alarm. The dispatcher announces, “Mobile home fire. 1432 Park Place. Report of a mobile home fire, caller states heavy smoke and flames coming from residence. Occupant is believed to still be inside. Time out, 1756.”
As our crews arrive at the scene we find a mobile home fully involved in flames and smoke. We lay several attack lines and enter the structure. We advance about five feet in the door and find a 54 year old woman lying on the floor. She was unconscious and aggressive resuscitation effort’s failed.
The victim lived alone, and according to family members she worked night shift. It appears that she was asleep when the fire started. She was apparently awaken by something and attempted to exit the residence. If she would have had just another minute of notice she may have been able to reach the door.
This case is one of many that occur each year, where a working smoke detector would have saved a life. There were a total of three detectors in her home but the batteries had been removed.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provides the following statistics:
In 2009-2013, smoke alarms sounded in more than half (53%) of. the home fires reported to U.S. fire departments.
Three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.
No smoke alarms were present in more than one-third (38%) of the home fire deaths.
One of every five (21%) of the home fire deaths, smoke alarms were present but did not sound.
In reported home fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate, almost half (46%) of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries.
Nuisance alarms were the leading reason for disconnected smoke alarms.
There are two types of smoke detectors.
Ionization smoke alarms are generally more responsive to flaming fires. This type smoke alarm has a small amount of radioactive material between two electrically charged plates, which ionizes the air and causes current to flow between the plates. When smoke enters the chamber, it disrupts the flow of ions, thus reducing the flow of current and activating the alarm.
Photoelectric smoke alarms are generally more responsive to fires that begin with a long period of smoldering (called “smoldering fires”). This type alarm aims a light source into a sensing chamber at an angle away from the sensor. Smoke enters the chamber, reflecting light onto the light sensor; triggering the alarm.
As you can see both alarms have their advantages. Many experts recommend a dual sensor alarm. In other words an alarm that combines both the ionization and the photoelectric sensors.
Where to install smoke detectors?
Smoke alarms should be installed inside each bedroom and the hallway outside the bedrooms. In the basement the alarm should positioned on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the next level.
When placing a smoke alarm in the kitchen it is recommended to locate the alarm at least 10 feet from the stove or other cooking appliances.
Smoke alarms should be installed on ceilings or high on walls about 10 to 12 inches from the ceiling.
By following these simple rules, you can make your home safe and assure you have ample time to vacate the residence. Remember, fires in homes today burn much faster than fires in homes 40 years ago. Forty years ago you would have approximately 15 minutes to vacate a home after the fire was detected. Unfortunately, today you may only have 3 to 4 minutes to escape. The reason is the contents of a home today burn much hotter and spread much faster. Smoke detectors do save lives.
Change your clock and change your smoke alarm batteries.