Exhausting Smoke Detection

A man’s home is his castle, or so the adage goes. Naturally along with this famous saying comes the feeling of safety and security, misplaced as it often is for a surprising number of homeowners are killed in home fires every year.

According to a new report published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), “There was a civilian fire death every 158 minutes and a civilian fire injury every 31 minutes in 2008. Home fires caused 2,755, or 83 percent, of the civilian fire deaths. Fires accounted for 6 percent of the 25,252,500 total calls,” says Michael J. Karter, Jr., author of Fire Loss in the United States 2008.

One of the most important aspects of fire protection in the home is automatic detection using smoke alarms and smoke detectors. The difference between the two, simply put, is that smoke alarms are usually self-powered by a battery or powered via 120VAC. These automatic detection devices usually can be used in standalone or in multiple-station mode. Smoke detectors on the other hand are powered by a centralized, low-voltage power supply as they operate in conjunction with a central alarm panel.

Another point of difference is how occupant notification occurs. Smoke alarms commonly utilize their own onboard sounder while smoke detectors most often rely on notification devices installed separately throughout the home. (For more info, see the March 2007 “Fire Side Chat,” “Detecting the Difference Between Smoke Alarms and Detectors.”)

This month, we take a closer look at the statistics, installation techniques, codes and notification requirements associated with smoke detection.

Home Fires: An Alarming Fact

Of great concern is the fact that in 46 percent of the fires investigated between 2004 and 2008, there was a conspicuous absence of working smoke alarms or detectors. According to NFPA, “The rate for communities under 2,500 population was more than twice the national average rate,” writes Karter.

The fact there were no working smoke alarms or detectors in more than 46 percent of the homes investigated where fires occurred is alarming, especially when 94-96 percent of all U.S. households have automatic detection.

Perhaps what this points to is improper maintenance and the deliberate removal of batteries with regard to standalone, single-station smoke alarms. NFPA publicly suggests that ” … more people use and maintain smoke detectors and develop and practice escape plans.”

Smoke alarm and detector maintenance is the key to getting the attention of homeowners when there’s a fire. Obviously without batteries in a smoke alarm there can be no detection.

Thus it would behoove alarm dealers working in home security to go that extra mile by asking their clients if they would like them to 1) check the operation of their smoke alarms, and 2) replace the batteries on a routine basis.

Far too many homeowners will not take the time to do this for themselves. Perhaps alarm dealers can earn a few dollars doing it for them, which will further assure the alarm dealer’s future recurring monitoring revenue stream. After all, if the home burns down, the homeowner won’t be monitoring the alarm system.

Proper Installation Practices

The maintenance of home smoke alarms and detectors is equally important when it comes to life safety. Many alarm dealers specialize in upselling their security clients in the area of smoke detection, which is an excellent idea. Along with this comes a responsibility to install them according to code – specifically NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code, 2007 Edition, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, 2006 Edition.

The primary difference between the two is application. NFPA 72 applies to the mechanics behind how fire alarm systems are installed and NFPA 101 applies to the “where” and “when.”

Chapter 24 covers one- and two-family dwellings and Chapter 25 deals with lodging or rooming houses where people stay overnight, usually for short periods of time. The remainder of our discussion will involve one- and two-family dwellings.

For more information on proper installation of smoke alarms and smoke detectors, refer to the March, April and November 2008 “Fire Side Chat” columns.

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About the Author


Al Colombo is a long-time trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. His work includes more than 40 years in security and life-safety as an installer, salesman, service tech, trade journalist, project manager,and an operations manager. You can contact Colombo through TpromoCom, a consultancy agency based in Canton, Ohio, by emailing [email protected], call 330-956-9003, visit www.Tpromo.Com.

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