Time to change clocks, detector batteries

Posted: Friday, October 26, 2001

The time change Sunday gives people a chance to sleep in an extra hour but also brings with it a responsibility to protect their homes and families from fire by changing the batteries in smoke detectors.

Fire safety officials advise that smoke detector batteries should be changed twice a year, and smoke detectors should be changed every 10 years. Combining that obligation with the twice-yearly duty of changing the clocks makes it easier to remember.

Between 70 and 80 percent of the fire deaths in this country result from fires in homes without working smoke detectors, according to a report from the "Change Your Clock, Change Your Battery" program.

That statistic raises to anywhere from 80 to 90 percent in Alaska, said Kenai Fire Marshal James Baisden.

"In the last three to four large fires in homes that we responded to, we found smoke detectors without batteries in them," Baisden said.

Last year in Alaska, 13 of the 15 fire deaths that occurred in homes happened in structures that either had nonworking smoke detectors or no smoke detectors at all, said Gary Hale, fire marshal for Central Emergency Services in Soldotna.

The national average for homes that have smoke detectors, working or not, has dropped from 97 to 94 percent in the past two to three years. But the percentage of homes that have detectors that do not work has dropped from 25 to 30 percent to 20 percent, Hale said. He attributes this drop to fire safety education.

"We've been in schools all this week, and one of the things we tell the kids is that a smoke detector is kind of like a nose when you sleep," Baisden said. "Most of the kids have been going home and telling their parents to change the batteries."

The National Fire Alarm Code recommends a minimum of one smoke alarm on each level of the home, one outside each sleeping area and one inside each bedroom.

Sometimes smoke detectors can be a nuisance, as in small homes or when they are placed too close to bathrooms or kitchens. In those cases, Baisden recommends getting a smoke detector that has a hush feature. These alarms have a button that can be pushed to reset and silence the alarm for five to 10 minutes while the smoke that caused the alarm dissipates.

Ten-year lithium batteries are another new feature available for smoke detectors. These can be ideal for people who have a hard time remembering their smoke detectors.

"I don't know why, but most people overlook smoke detectors," Baisden said. "They go by them every day and don't pay attention to them."

Along with checking the date and replacing the batteries of smoke detectors, Hale recommends that every family create and practice a fire exit plan.

"Having an exit plan increases the chances of survival in that fire that may happen tonight, tomorrow or in the future," Hale said. "I'd encourage any family, whether they have children or not, to have a plan, and that includes elderly families."

Nikiski, Kenai and CES fire departments participate in a smoke detector program where they provide smoke detectors to people who don't have them and can't afford them, Hale said. The departments also assist people in installing them.

"We would rather that smoke detectors get up and operational to save a life if we were to have a fire that night," Hale said.

Hale also recommends installing carbon monoxide detectors in homes or contacting a fire department to do a carbon monoxide check if there is suspicion that high levels of the deadly gas are present.

Working smoke detectors cut the risk of dying in a home fire nearly in half by providing an early warning and critical extra seconds to escape, stated the "Change Your Clock, Change Your Batteries" program.

Those statistics clarify the need to maintain home smoke detectors.

"There's nothing we hate to see more -- where we've had a tragic fire in a home with either property loss or loss of life and find these smoke detectors not working," Baisden said.

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