Working smoke alarms decrease the risk of dying according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). However, the same NFPA statistics have shown for many years that approximately 40% of fire victims die in fires with operating alarms and 20% die in fires with disabled alarms.
The IAFF has developed a toolkit for affiliates to provide recommendations on smoke alarms and to promote the testing of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms during Daylight Saving Time – both when it ends in the fall and begins in the spring.
As the voice of public safety in your community, now is the prime opportunity for your local to spread the message about this simple, life-saving habit to start incorporating into their everyday lives.
This toolkit includes general recommendations, infographics for social media, and PSA videos. Share the infographics and videos, along with a strong message (tag your friends in the media in any tweets to maximize your reach) on social media.
As stated above, working smoke alarms decrease the risk of dying according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). However, the same NFPA statistics have shown for many years that approximately 40% of fire victims die in fires with operating alarms and 20% die in fires with disabled alarms.
In addition, despite the increasing use of smoke alarms, as well as the gradual introduction of better alarms (e.g., hard-wired, 10-year batteries, interconnected) the fire death rate (deaths per thousand fires) has increased since 1980.
Fatal Fires in Which the Smoke Alarm Operates While there are several reasons for why people die in fires when the smoke alarm operates, one may be that it may not provide adequate time to escape a fire.
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Ionization detectors have been shown to sometimes fail to alarm in a smoldering fire even when visibility in the room is significantly degraded by smoke. Most photoelectric detectors alarm substantially sooner in these situations. In the NIST experiments the photoelectric detectors sensed smoldering fires on average 30 minutes earlier than the ionization detectors. The same study demonstrated that ionization detectors responded, on average, 50 seconds earlier than photoelectric detectors during flaming fire experiments.”1
Smoke Alarm Susceptibility for Nuisance Alarms The same NIST Study cited earlier states the following, “Most field data suggest that ionization alarms have a greater propensity to nuisance alarm than photoelectric alarms, possibly indicating that certain activities such as cooking dominate reported nuisance alarms in the field.”2
A research paper on smoke alarms recommended that one way to reduce nuisance alarm rates was “encouraging use of photoelectric smoke alarms.”3
From an IAFF Resolution Passed in 20084:
“IAFF members should advocate for their mandatory requirement for placement and use of photoelectric alarms in fire and building codes, in a manner similar to recent legislation in Vermont and Massachusetts.”
From an IAFF Resolution Passed in 20205:
“The increase in the use of photoelectric technology, or alarms that pass the new 8th Edition UL217 Standard, have the potential to save hundreds of lives each year and should be promoted as the technology of choice by members of the IAFF in their home.
IAFF members should advocate for their mandatory requirement for placement and use of photoelectric alarms, or alarms that pass the new 8th Edition UL217 Standard, in fire and building codes.
IAFF members who currently have ionization smoke alarms should be replace them soon as possible with photoelectric or new 8th Edition UL 217 smoke alarms and if IAFF members currently have photoelectric smoke alarms they should replace them after 10 years with the new smoke alarms that have passed the UL217.”
Note: The new UL217, 8th Edition was originally passed in 2015. It effective date was extended twice and did not become effective until January 1, 2023. In late 2022, the NFPA 72 Committee voted to allow non-8th Edition alarms to be used until January 1, 2025.6 As a consequence, it is advised that current legislation that mandates photoelectric alarms be updated to include the new “multi-criteria” alarms that are listed as resistant to cooking nuisance. The IAFF also wants to encourage members who investigate fires to collect data on the smoke alarms regarding type, location, etc. (this is required by NFPA 921).
If it is determined that occupants or fire fighters were injured because of a disabled alarm, or an alarm that operated too late, and any of the factors highlighted here may have been responsible, it should be documented in the narrative and forwarded to the CPSC.
Nearly 60% of home fire deaths occur in homes without a working smoke alarm. Check your smoke alarms when you change the clock. #IAFF #IAFFSafetyTips
Smoke alarms with non-replaceable 10-year batteries are designed to remain effective to up to 10 years. If the alarm beeps, warning that the battery is low, replace the smoke alarm right away. #IAFF #IAFFSafetyTips
Make sure to always replace your smoke alarm every 10 years. Don’t see a date on the back? Replace it! #IAFF#IAFFSafetyTips
Your fire fighters recommend you install a smoke alarm in every bedroom, outside of bathrooms, near stairwells and on each floor of your home. #IAFF #IAFFSafetyTips
For best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms. When one alarm sounds, they all sound. #IAFF #IAFFSafetyTips
Check your smoke alarms when you change your clocks for Daylight Saving Time. Press and hold – you should hear a loud beep if it is good. #IAFF #IAFFSafetyTips
More than 400 people die each year in the United States from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. When you install smoke alarms, install carbon monoxide detectors. #IAFF #IAFFSafetyTips
Install carbon monoxide detectors where you install smoke alarms. If the audible trouble signal sounds, first check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department. #IAFF #IAFFSafetyTips
Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement.
On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the living room (or den or family room) or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations.
Smoke alarms installed in the basement should be installed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level.
Smoke alarms should be installed at least 20 feet from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking. This may not be possible in many cases due to the layout of the house or apartment. In those cases, locate it as far away as possible and, if less than 20 feet, consider using a photoelectric alarm as required by several states.
Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises). Wall-mounted alarms should be installed not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling (to the top of the alarm).
If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm within 3 feet of the peak but not within the apex of the peak (four inches down from the peak).
Don’t install smoke alarms near windows, doors or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.
Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers or other decorations could keep the alarms from working.
For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms. When one smoke alarm sounds they all sound. Interconnection can be done using hard-wiring or wireless technology.
When interconnected smoke alarms are installed, it is important that all of the alarms are from the same manufacturer. If the alarms are not compatible, they may not sound.
Keep manufacturer’s instructions for reference.
Testing Smoke Alarms
Smoke alarms should be maintained according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Test smoke alarms at least once a month using the test button.
Make sure everyone in the home understands the sound of the smoke alarm and knows how to respond.
Follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning to keep smoke alarms working well. The instructions are included in the package or can be found on the internet.
Smoke alarms with non-replaceable 10-year batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away.
Smoke alarms with any other type of battery need a new battery at least once a year. If that alarm chirps, warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.
When replacing a battery, follow manufacturer’s list of batteries on the back of the alarm or manufacturer’s instructions. Manufacturer’s instructions are specific to the batteries (brand and model) that must be used. The smoke alarm may not work properly if a different kind of battery is used.
Carbon Monoxide Alarms
More than 400 people die each year in the United States from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) whose data includes consumer products and vehicles. Often called the invisible killer, carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel can be sources of carbon monoxide.
CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
If the audible trouble signal sounds, first check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.
If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.