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Smoke Alarms

By OCFA
 March 2015

 
Smoke alarms save lives. Almost two-thirds of all home fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarm or no working smoke alarm. In an effort to prevent these needless tragedies, the Orange County Fire Authority's Smoke Alarm Program highlights the following life-saving strategies:
 
Install
  • Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of your home, in every sleeping area, and in the hallway leading to every sleeping area.
  • Install smoke alarms according to manufacturer's recommendations. A licensed electrician should install hardwired smoke alarms.
  • Interconnect all battery powered (wireless) and hardwired smoke alarms. If one alarm sounds, they all sound.
  • Replace smoke alarms every 10 years.
Inspect
  • Test smoke alarms every month.
  • Replace 9‐Volt or hardwired smoke alarm batteries every 6 months. Lithium batteries last 8-10 years and do not need to be changed.
  • Replace the battery right away if an alarm "chirps", warning the battery is low.
  • Clean smoke alarms at least once a year.
Protect
  • Develop a Home Escape Plan showing 2 ways out of every room and an outside meeting place. Practice home fire drills at least twice a year.
  • If the smoke alarm sounds, crawl low where the air is cleaner and cooler and evacuate as quickly as possible.
  • Once you're out, go immediately to your outside meeting place. Call 911 from outside the home. Never go back inside a burning building for any reason.

Photoelectric vs. Ionization

In general, photoelectric smoke alarms are more effective during smoldering fires and ionization smoke alarms are more effective during flaming fires. Both types must pass the same test to be certified as UL smoke alarms.

Having Both is Best

It's impossible to predict what type of fire you may have in your home. Studies by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) show that no matter what type of fire occurs, photoelectric and ionization smoke alarms will both activate fast enough to give you time to escape. For best protection, the NFPA recommends having both smoke alarm types in your home. Combination alarms using both smoke detection technologies are also available.

Reduce Nuisance Alarms

Ionization smoke alarms are more likely to go off during normal cooking activity, the leading cause of nuisance alarms. Although cooking fumes may also cause photoelectric alarms to sound, they are usually the better choice near the kitchen. If steam from hot showers triggers nuisance alarms, try moving the smoke alarm further away from the bathroom.

Children and Smoke Alarms

Many children sleep so soundly during their developmental years that they remain asleep when smoke alarms go off. If you have children, it's important to test smoke alarms during sleeping hours. If they remain asleep, consider an alarm with a different tone or a recorded message. If you find you can't rely on smoke alarms to wake your child, make sure your escape plan addresses his or her special needs.