One of the most important things in a house is not the furniture or the appliances, but the smoke detector.
“It’s been published for the last 20 to 30 years: smoke detectors save lives. And they do,” Kilgore Fire Marshal Brandon Bigos told the Kilgore Lions Club. Bigos’ discussion with the club was to highlight the importance of smoke detectors following a fatal fire last week.
Smoke detectors should be in each bedroom and hallway in a home as well as one in the larger rooms, including the kitchen and living room.
Bigos encourages homeowners to sleep with the bedroom door closed, creating a barrier between the fire and smoke.
The types of smoke detectors needed in bedrooms and hallways are different than those needed in the kitchen, he added, noting the kitchen is the top cause for residential fires.
Bedrooms and hallways need ionization smoke detectors that register smoke particles in the air and smoldering type fires. Kitchens, though, should have photoelectric smoke detectors that identify flames caused by kitchen fires, including an electric fire that starts in the toaster or a grease fire begins on the stove. The photoelectric smoke detectors helps keep them from going off when a meal produces a lot of smoke.
“Nobody wants to burn bacon and the detector go off. What do we do as humans, we fan it and it still won’t go off because the smell of that burnt bacon or toast is in the air,” Bigos said. “And so what do we do? We end up taking that smoke detector off the ceiling or off the wall and we take the batteries out. And then we forget to put it back in.”
Smoke detectors without batteries is the most frequent violation he finds during inspections. When a smoke detector chirps every few seconds, he said, it is just signaling that it needs new batteries or is malfunctioning, not that there is an imminent danger.
Newer homes require the smoke detectors in the house to be connected, so when one goes off, they all alert. Older homes do not have that requirement.
“Sometimes with sound barriers in our homes the way they’re built and in large homes, they would be very difficult to hear that smoke detector go off, but when they’re interconnected together, they all go off and therefore alert us,” Bigos said.
Remote interconnected smoke detectors are also available without the need for additional wiring. The systems can also be expanded as needed beyond the initial set available in the kit.
If there were a garage or a vehicle fire and the homeowner didn’t hear the smoke detector going off, Bigos said, the fire could grow in capacity and doubles in size every minute.
“You can see it wouldn’t take long; in ten minutes or so that fire could engulf a whole room,” he said.
He also suggested putting smoke detectors near the furnace or air conditioning unit and in the laundry room. Both locations are listed in the top 10 sources of residential fires.
Attics are also vulnerable to fires and typically do not have smoke detectors to alert homeowners to the situation.
Smoke detectors cost between $7 and $10, Bigos said, and they need to be replaced about every seven years because they do go bad.
Bigos suggested getting a manual wind-up heat detector that the owner can preset to a certain temperature and the device will go off when the room reaches that temperature. It does not rely on batteries or electricity, but is spring-loaded with a key similar to a wind-up toy.
“Say it’s preset at 175 degrees or 215, anything over 215, the metal that is in there will actually shrink, and once it shrinks, that wind-up spring releases and then it sounds an alarm… That way if you’re laying in bed and you hear something in your attic go off, you know that there’s some kind of heat or smoke in the attic,” he explained.
Two of the last three residential fires here were attic-related.
One homeowner, he said, was in her home at the time of an attic fire did not know the fire had started until she walked outside to get her mail and then saw flames when she turned around to go back inside.
“They had smoke detectors in the home, but if the smoke can’t get to the detector, it’s not any good,” Bigos said. “She had an attic fire above her bathroom from one of the exhaust fans – caught on fire – and it started an attic fire. She didn’t even know. If she wouldn’t have went out and turned around to go back in the house, she would never have known that she had a fire, and it was actually blazing through the roof. That’s how quick these things can happen and you not even know it.”
If the fire is small or there is a small amount of damage, the home can be salvaged with some repairs. In the case of a full attic fire, Bigos said, the house is usually too damaged to repair once the roof is gone.
Attic fires can also be caused by lightning strikes, power surges, electrical shorts or havoc caused by wild animals and vermin getting into the attic.
Smoke detectors for the hard-of-hearing exist also with flashing lights to alert people and also one that will shake a person’s bed to alert them to a danger occurring while they are asleep.
In addition to smoke and heat detectors, Bigos suggested getting carbon monoxide detectors to place throughout the house to detect the colorless, odorless gas that can be fatal. These detectors need to be lower on the wall to detect the heavier-than-air gas.
“You can’t smell it, you can’t see it, but it’s very dangerous… If you have gas or you have a garage, get one of those,” he said.
Furnaces, generators and car exhaust are all examples of things around the house that can generate carbon monoxide.
As car manufacturers make vehicles quieter, Bigos noted it can be harder to hear a car when it is idling and some people may forget the car is idling in the garage and go inside the house as the car exhaust is building in the garage and can then seep into the house.
People who are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning many times will just feel tired, lightheaded, disoriented or have a headache.
“It creeps up on you very slowly, and then you really have those affects take place… When you lay down, may not wake up, so get those devices in your home,” he said.
A person could fully cover their home with smoke detectors, heat detectors and carbon monoxide detectors for between $40 and $80.
“This could save your life. It could save your family’s life. It could save your kids, relatives, anybody staying in there. Pass that word along to your mom, your dad… Everything that you can do to help prevent or catch a fire in the insipient stage, which is the very beginning of a fire, that’s always helpful.”