Don’t Wait—Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years

Fire Prevention Week Occurs Oct. 9-15

Smoke alarms provide an early warning of a fire, giving people additional time to escape smoldering, flaming homes. In a September 2015 report entitled “Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires,” the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that three out of five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (38 percent) or no working smoke alarms (21 percent).

Check the date on your smoke detectors, and be sure to test them frequently. Photo credit: Highwaystarz-Photography via istockphoto.com

Check the date on your smoke detectors, and be sure to test them frequently. Photo credit: Highwaystarz-Photography via istockphoto.com

The United Kingdom’s Fire Service Resources Group reports that a person is twice as likely to die in a house fire that has no smoke alarm than a house that does. In October 2015, a law when into effect in the UK requiring landlords to install working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in their properties. This move is expected to help prevent up to 26 deaths and 670 injuries per year.

But here’s the skinny on smoke alarms: Several might be needed depending on a home’s size; they need tested frequently and replaced when a decade old.

2016 marks the final year in a three-year NFPA campaign to educate the public about the basic but essential elements of smoke alarm safety. In October 2015, nearly 200 Crawford & Company® employees took part in this campaign as the company partnered with the Atlanta Red Cross and the City of Smyrna, Ga., fire department to install 500 smoke alarms and help families in at-risk Smyrna neighborhoods develop home fire escape plans. This was part of Crawford®’s annual Global Day of Service, in which employees worldwide volunteer for local projects that help better their communities.

Crawford volunteers in Atlanta install smoke alarms as part of the company's Global Day of Service in October 2015.

Crawford volunteers in Atlanta install smoke alarms as part of the company’s Global Day of Service in October 2015.

Established in 1896, the NFPA is a global nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. The organization’s survey data shows that the public has many misconceptions about smoke alarms, which may put them at increased risk in the event of a home fire. For example, only a small percentage of people know how old their smoke alarms are, or how often they need replaced.

As a result of those and related findings, the NFPA addresses smoke alarm replacement this year with a focus on these key messages:

  • Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years.
  • Know how old the smoke alarms are in your home.
  • To find out a smoke alarm’s age, locate the date of manufacture on the back of the alarm, and replace the unit if it’s 10 years or older.

Reasons Smoke Alarms Don’t Work

According to the NFPA, thousands of fires occur in which smoke alarms don’t operate, and here’s why:

  • Nearly half (45 percent) have missing or disconnected batteries. Nuisance alarms were the leading reason for disconnected smoke alarms.
  • Dead batteries caused 24 percent of the smoke alarm failures.
  • Only 7 percent of the failures were due to hardwired power source problems, including disconnected smoke alarms, power outages and power shut-offs.
  • Lack of cleaning rendered 6 percent of smoke alarms unworkable. Western Australia’s Department of Fire & Emergency Services (DFES) offers these tips on smoke alarm cleaning maintenance.

Have Enough Smoke Alarms for Size of Home

The NFPA recommends installing a smoke alarm inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of a home, including the basement. That means a two-story, three-bedroom home needs a minimum of five smoke alarms.

Consider Two Types of Smoke Detectors

When choosing smoke alarms, the United States Fire Association (USFA) recommends installing both ionization and photoelectric alarms. Ionization alarms sound more quickly when a fast-moving fire occurs, and photoelectric alarms prove faster at sensing smoldering, smoky fires. You can even purchase alarms with both types of sensors. In fact, interconnected or linked smoke detectors are helpful in saving lives. With linked detectors, if there’s a fire in an upstairs bedroom but you are in the basement, all detectors will go off, giving you more time to escape your home.

For help installing smoke detectors, contact your local fire department. Some offer free detectors and could even install them for you.

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