Statewide fire fatalities climb: Proper use, maintenance of smoke detectors urged

Posted: Friday, March 06, 2009

It's no surprise that the winter months in Alaska bring with them an increase in fires, however, just two months into 2009, the Last Frontier is headed for a record-setting year for fire-related fatalities.

Last year there were 19 fire-related deaths in the state, this year there already have been nine. Out of those nine deaths, five of the homes involved did not have properly working smoke detectors.

"That's way above the national average," said CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale.

Hale said 97 percent of homes in America have smoke detectors, 33 percent of which are not in working order.

Out of the 19 deaths recorded in 2008, only 11 percent of the homes involved had smoke detectors.

"We're at that same pace right now," Hale said.

He said just one structure out of the nine fire-related fatalities this year had a working smoke detector. In two of the incidents it is unknown whether or not a smoke detector was present and one case is still under investigation.

In order to stress the importance of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, CES is promoting its, "Change your clock, change your battery" campaign.

Hale said batteries should be changed twice a year and daylight saving time can serve as a reminder to check both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

It's also important to note the year the detector was manufactured. If it's more than 10 years old, Hale said the device can be ineffective and should be replaced.

"Statistics show that you need to replace those," he said. "Nothing lives forever."

Hale said a carbon monoxide alarm should be installed on every floor of a person's home. For the best protection, smoke detectors should be in every room of the house but they especially should be installed in every sleeping room, he said.

All detectors should be checked monthly. If after pressing the test button the alarm doesn't sound, it's time to replace the batteries. If the device still isn't working, it needs to be replaced, Hale said. "Chirping" sounds, too, indicate weak batteries.

It's also a good idea to clean smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms periodically. This can be done with a vacuum to remove any particles that might interfere with proper operation.

Hale said a smoke detector's owners manual should be consulted prior to installation. He said many put the manual away and only look at it when a problem arises.

"That is not the time to figure it out," he said.

Hale said the manuals contain useful information not only about the product but also about what to do in the event of a fire such as proper placement of the smoke detector, having an escape plan and knowing local emergency numbers.

"The most important thing is having smoke detectors and checking them," Hale said.

Mike Nesper can be reached at

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