Report stresses importance of smoke alarms

Four of every 10 home fire deaths resulted from fires with no smoke alarms from 2003 to 2006, according to a “Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires,” a report recently released by the National Fire Protection Association.

Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home structure fires in half. The 2007 edition of the NFPA’s national code requires smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level. They also should be interconnected so that when one sounds, they all sound.

Other key findings from the “Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires” report:

• Smoke alarm failures usually result from missing, disconnected or dead batteries.

• In one-fifth of all homes with smoke alarms, none were working.

• Most homes still have smoke alarms powered only by batteries.

• More than half of home fire deaths that occurred where no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms were present happened from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

• The death rate per 1,000 reported fires is 84 percent less when hard-wired smoke alarms and wet pipe sprinklers are present.

• People 55 or older were more likely to have smoke alarms that were more than 10 years old. Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years.

Roughly 3,000 people a year die in home fires, according to the NFPA, which offers the following tips for smoke alarms:

• Choose a smoke alarm that bears the label of a recognized testing laboratory.

• Install a smoke alarm in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home, including the basement.

• Interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home so when one sounds, they all sound.

• Replace batteries in all smoke alarms at least once a year. If an alarm “chirps,” warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.

• Replace all smoke alarms, including alarms that use 10-year batteries and hard-wired alarms, when they are 10 years old or sooner if they do not respond properly when tested.

• Test your smoke alarms at least every month, using the test button or an approved smoke substitute and clean the units, in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions.

• An ionization smoke alarm generally is more responsive to flaming fires and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, both types of alarms or a combination alarm — photoelectric and ionization — should be installed in homes.

• Be sure that all doors and windows that lead outside open easily and that everyone in the home knows the escape plan.

• Consider home fire sprinklers when building a new home or doing a major renovation.