How You Can Significantly Reduce Home Fire Fatalities

An overwhelming number of fire deaths occur in homes across the United States either because there are no alarms or the alarms that are there do not work.

“Seventy percent of all home fire fatalities occur in homes where there are no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms,” confirms the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) of Quincy, Mass. “Despite a drastic rise in home smoke alarm use over the last 25 years, nearly one-quarter of the home smoke alarms in reported fires are not working.”

It’s one thing to perish in a fire because there is no clear path of retreat, but it’s a shame when someone dies because of a simple, relatively inexpensive 9V battery or any number of other factors. Yet, firefighters repeatedly find this to be exactly the case.

According to an NFPA report, “In half of the reported fires where there were no working smoke alarms, batteries were missing or disconnected, and batteries were dead in 15 percent of these incidents.”

Dealers Can Make a Big Difference
In my opinion, security dealers have it within their power to significantly reduce the number of fire fatalities in residential settings. Most security dealers do not install battery-operated, single-station smoke alarms, as it’s the homeowner or an electrician that does it. But, they could check these devices when they conduct an inspection on a burglar alarm system, even though their firm did not install it. The question is, should they?

“I think that would be a tremendous service. We had six people die here in Chicago last week in a fire, and it was determined that someone had taken the batteries out, probably to use in a radio or something. I think this is such a practical, common-sense approach,” says Tom Chapin, general manager, Fire Safety & Security Strategic Business Unit with UL of Northbrook, Ill.

“I wouldn’t have any problem with this, but in terms of the specifications, in terms of how to properly clean and service them, that could be a problem,” says Joe Brosch, vice president with Eagle Security of Akron, Ohio. “Most of these 120VAC units are self-contained and designed not to be opened.”

Of course, the concern that many fire alarm companies will have is the additional liability they might incur if they service someone else’s devices. “Once you touch it, it does become your problem, and that’s something worth talking about with your insurance provider,” says Brosch.

“I can understand that there would be a concern about liability,” says Chapin, “but I think your readers … would be highly regarded because of their concern about the well being of the occupants of the home.”

Brosch says since he is state-licensed and understands the technology better than they do, it’s well worth the effort to help protect customers in this manner. “The trained people that we are, we shouldn’t sell our trade short for certainly we’re more suited for this than anyone else.”

Make Extra Money Though Service
Technicians should keep a variety of batteries in their trucks and make extra money doing it. In fact, why not carry a select brand of single-station, battery-operated smoke alarms as well?

I might refrain from doing the same with 120VAC, battery-operated smoke alarms as there are several brands to choose from. Each one works differently so far as how the tandem line interface works.

However, if the tech knows where to buy them, the client’s fire safety needs will still be met and the dealer can make additional money doing it. Local electrical suppliers are a good place to start as most of them are more than glad to accommodate electronic security companies, provided they can present a vendor’s license number. I also encourage technicians to add “smoke alarms” to their yearly inspection forms.

Also, be sure to capitalize on the importance of system smoke detectors and always explain why they are better. For example, they can be tied to a home burglar/fire alarm, which means they will have the benefit of a reliable, supervised source of back-up power. In most cases, they will be monitored by a supervising central station facility so firefighter response is better assured, even when there’s no one at home.

You might even provide the client with a quotation for wireless or hardwired smoke detectors as an add-on to their existing system — where applicable, of course.

Qualified Techs Required by Code
If you knew how many newly installed residential fire alarm systems there are that really do not work, you would be shocked. One of the most obvious aspects of installation is testing, and yet many technicians fail to do so even after installing a new system. In most cases, when a technician fails to conduct a thorough test of newly installed smoke alarms or detectors, it’s because of complacency. As they say, familiarity breeds contempt, and the same holds true of the fire technician’s daily work.

In some cases, it’s not complacency that causes the problem but rather a lack of knowledge. Of course, the qualifications of technicians performing this work are of immense importance.

According to Section 907.20.5 of the International Fire Code (IFC), published by the International Code Council (ICC) of Country Club Hills, Ill., the first point of responsibility for proper maintenance is the homeowner. It also specifies NFPA 72 where it comes to the qualifications of service personnel that perform testing, inspection and general maintenance in the field.

According to Section of NFPA 72, 2002, “Service personnel shall be qualified and experienced in the inspection, testing and maintenance of fire alarm systems. Examples of qualified personnel shall be permitted to include, but shall not be limited to, individuals with the following qualifications … ”

The list includes: 1) Factory trained and certified; 2) National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) fire alarm certified; 3) International Municipal Signal Association fire alarm certified; 4) Certified by a state or local authority; and 5) Trained and qualified personnel employed by an organization listed by a national testing laboratory for the servicing of fire alarm systems.

The bottom line for management is, if a technician does not possess an adequate body of knowledge when it comes to fire alarm work, you should not put that person in a position where he or she could jeopardize the life-safety needs of a family as well as your own firm’s financial viability.

This is especially important when a new technician works alone. It would be wise to carefully scrutinize all applicants in order to avoid injuries, deaths and potentially expensive litigation.


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