Fire Department

Facts About Home Fire Detection

Fire fighting is not a 9-5 job. It can't be left solely to the municipal fire departments. It takes the foresight of citizens like yourself to have an impact on decreasing the number of fire deaths in the country.

Fire experts agree that 40 to 50 percent of the 3700 lives lost in residential fires in the country last year could have been saved if the families had used smoke detectors.

We're pleased that you've taken the first step to making your home safer for your family by learning about smoke detectors and home fire safety.

If you have any additional questions, we're here to help.

Smoke Detector song for Children

Little Rosalie - PBS Star SteveSongs, with the help of Sparky the Fire Dog®, helps kids stay fire safe by leading them through the four key steps for fire safety in this unforgettably catchy sing-along video, complete with fun and easy to follow dance steps and moves. Share this music video and spread the fire-safety message to everyone you know!

Why do I need a smoke detector in my home?

Most fire fatalities occur between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.-when people are asleep and their natural "fire sensing equipment" is least effective. These deaths are caused by the inhalation of poisonous gases or smoke, which reach victims before the flames.

Many suffocate without ever waking or even becoming aware of the fire. They die because they had no warning.

A smoke detector can sense a fire and sound aloud alarm while there is time to escape safely.

How does a smoke detector work?

Smoke detectors are designed to sense particles given off by developing fire.

There are two types of residential fire detection sensing systems: the ionization type and the photoelectronic type.

The ionization type detectors sound their alarm when tiny, invisible products of combustion enter the chamber where air has been ionized. These combustion particles interrupt the ionized current, causing the loud alarm to sound.

Ionization detectors incorporating a bright stationary light are also available. This type of detector is designed to turn on its light when it goes into alarm, thereby providing illumination for an escape path or stairwell.

Photoelectronic type detectors contain a light source whose beam is deflected into a photocell by smoke, sounding an alarm.

There are also new state-of-the-art detectors which combine the ionization and photoelectronic sensing systems in one unit. These provide the optimum coverage for all types of fires.

How do I select the right detector for my home?

Tests conducted by the National Bureau of Standards showed ionization detectors to be slightly more effective in detecting flaming fire and photoelectronic models are slightly more effective detecting smoldering fires. Both offer effective protection.

For the best coverage of all types of fires, select one of each type or the combination ionization-photoelectronic model.

A very important thing to look for in purchasing a detector of either type is a listing mark from a licensed testing laboratory. The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing will assure you of a quality product.

Where should a smoke detector be installed?

There are two key points to consider here: location in the house and location within the room itself. Photoelectronic type detectors are recommended for each upper level and ionization type detectors are recommended for basements for optimum protection. For small houses or ones where bedrooms all open and one corridor, one detector may be enough. Larger homes need two or more smoke detectors to alert the family to a fire in any part of the house.

What should be done to keep the smoke detector in working order?

Smoke detectors are relatively simple to maintain. Manufacturers recommend that the unit be tested once a week. This can be done by pressing the test button or blowing a small amount of pipe or cigarette smoke into the detector.

Replace the battery twice a year, with time change in all battery-operated smoke detectors and replace the entire unit every ten years. (The detector is designed to emit short "beeps" with increasing frequency when the battery is losing power).

What should we do if the alarm ever does go off in response to a fire?

A smoke detector can give a family additional minutes to escape safely. But don't wait until an emergency arises.

Develop and practice an escape plan-and route. Take into account the layout of your home and the ages of your children.

To be able to escape quickly and safely:

  1. Have two alternate escape routes using the front or back door and the bedroom window. A window ladder may be necessary.
  2. Smoke rises. Teach the children-and adults-to crawl out under the smoke.
  3. Discuss and rehearse the escape procedure.
  4. Test the bedroom door before opening it. If it is already hot, use the window as an alternate escape route.
  5. Meet at a prearranged spot outside the house. Then call the fire department from a neighbor's home.

Other important considerations include:

  1. Strategically locate detectors so they can be heard from the main bedroom. If only one detector is to be used, place it on the ceiling in the hallway outside the bedrooms.
  2. Keep the detector away from drafts created by fans or air ducts. The moving air can blow smoke away from the sensor.
  3. Mount the detector in the middle of the ceiling, or, if that is not possible, detectors should be placed on the wall at least three feet away from a corner and 4-6 inches away from the ceiling.
  4. Avoid placing detectors too near the kitchen stove and bathroom shower.
  5. Check the manufactures recommendation for the spacing of smoke detectors when a bedroom hallway is 30 feet or more in length.
  6. Put basement detectors at the bottom of the basement stairwell.
  7. Dust the inside of a smoke detector when changing batteries. This removes any dust that has accumulated on the sensors. Dust decreases the sensitivity of the detector.

Home Fire Safety Checklist

  • Keep the furnace in working order.
  • Don't store flammable liquids.
  • Use a fireplace screen.
  • Have proper ventilation for heaters.
  • Don't smoke in bed.
  • Use the correct size fuses.
  • Don't use worn out electrical wiring or run it under rugs or out windows or doors.
  • Clear refuse away-the less clutter, the less fuel a fire has to feed on.
  • Install and maintain smoke detectors.
  • Develop and practice an escape plan.
Prepared as a public service by the Pittway Corporation.
Manufacturers of FirstAlert® and BRK® smoke detectors.
Aurora, Illinois 60504


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