LIVINGSTON — It’s a documented fact — smoke alarms save lives. Most fatal house fires happen in homes without working smoke alarms. In addition, many take place at night when the victims are sleeping. People think they will be awakened by the smell of smoke, but the truth is, the smoke and gasses from a fire actually put people in a deeper sleep. And victims often die from the smoke and fumes long before the fire reaches them.
Already, during this extremely cold winter, The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center has seen an increase in the amount of injuries sustained in home fires. “It appears that many people are having difficulty paying their home heating and electric bills and are relying on alternative sources, like space heaters, ovens and even candles,” says Lisa Jones, BS, JFIS, a community burn educator with The Burn Center of Saint Barnabas. She explained that doing so greatly puts a home at an increased risk for fire.
During Burn Awareness Week, Feb. 6-12, The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, New Jersey’s only certified burn treatment facility, reminds homeowners that the best defense against a home fire is to have working smoke alarms installed throughout their home.
“It is estimated that one-third of all residential smoke alarms in the United States aren’t functioning properly,” says Jones. “For your safety, it is important to make sure your smoke alarms are working, placed in the right parts of your home and that you and your family practice home safety.”
Functioning Smoke Alarms
When it comes to smoke alarms, the rule of thumb is to replace them every 10 years. Over time, the alarm’s components may become less reliable and the potential of failure increases. “If you have any smoke alarms that were installed before January 2001 or you are not sure how old your alarms are, it is best to replace them,” Jones advises. The additional tips will help keep smoke alarms functioning properly:
- Run a test of every detector in your house anywhere from once a week to once a month. All units should have an easily-accessible test button.
- Check your batteries every six months and change them every year. A good way to remember is to check the batteries when you turn your clocks ahead in the spring, and then change the batteries when you turn your clocks back in the fall. If a battery is starting to lose its power, the unit will usually chirp to warn you.
- Don’t ignore false alarms! Smoke detectors don’t just sound for no reason. If your unit seems to have more than its share of unfounded false alarms, replace it.
- Keep your detectors clean by regularly vacuuming or blowing out any dust that might accumulate inside the unit and in the slats on the outside cover.
- Don’t ever borrow a battery from an alarm to use somewhere else. You might forget to replace it, or the battery might get worn down faster from the other appliance.
- Don’t paint a smoke detector as it can block the vents in the cover, preventing smoke from getting to the sensors.
Smoke Alarm Placement
Where you put your smoke detectors is almost as important as making sure they are working. Jones advises that homeowners place smoke detector on every level of their home, including the basement, attic and garage. She says, “Alarms are especially important in the bedrooms since most house fires happen in the middle of the night.” In addition, she recommends the following:
- Place an alarm near spaces where fires might break out — like a workbench or laundry room.
- Place a detector at the bottom of any stairwells which are often full of fuel and oxygen.
- A one-level home should have a minimum of two smoke detectors.
- Smoke alarms should be placed on ceilings whenever possible, at least four inches away from the nearest wall. If you have a pitched or cathedral ceiling, the alarm should placed at or near the ceiling’s highest point. But wherever you put them, make sure they’re AWAY from ceiling fans or air ducts. You don’t want anything that might push smoke away from the unit.
- If you mount the smoke detector on the wall, it should be between 6 and 12 inches below the ceiling.
- Try to keep smoke detectors away from bathrooms that might let out a lot of steam when the door is opened after a hot shower and produce false alarms.
Home Safety and Fire Escape Planning
In the event of a fire, remember that time is the biggest enemy and every second counts. In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. “Talking about home safety and creating and practicing a sound fire escape plan is important and can help a family get out of their home quickly,” says Ms. Jones. She says this is especially important for homes with young children, older adults or a disabled family member. The following are some suggestions for family to do and talk about to be better prepared should a fire occur:
- Create a fire escape plan; for a template and more ideas, visit The Burn Center website at: njburncenter.com
- Teach a child what a smoke alarm sounds like and what to do if they hear it — put your family’s escape plan into effect.
- Practice your fire escape plan once a month.
- Know two ways out of your home and how to escape from every room in your home.
- Decide on an outside meeting place.
- Leave a home immediately if a fire starts; do not try and save valuables.
- Never open a door that is too hot to touch.
- To escape through smoke, remember to crawl low, under the smoke and keep your mouth covered.
- Escape first, call 911 and never go back into a burning building for any reason.
The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center is New Jersey’s only certified burn treatment facility. With 12 intensive care beds and an 18-bed Step-down unit for less critically injured patients, The Burn Center is one of the largest in the U. S. and Canada and cares for more than 400 patients annually. To arrange for educational programs, contact The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center Outreach/Education Office at 1-973-322-8071.
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