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Smoke alarms - Make them work for your safety

by Airman 1st Class Andrea Thacker
Thunderbolt editor

Smoke alarms are the residential fire safety success story of the past quarter-century. Smoke alarm technology has been around since the 1960s, but the single-station, battery-powered smoke alarm we know today became available to consumers in the 1970s. Since then, the home fire death rate has been cut in half.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates 94 percent of U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm today, and most states have laws requiring them in residential dwellings. At MacDill, all military family housing as well as each dormitory room is required to have smoke alarms installed.

Working smoke alarms are essential in every household. It is necessary to practice home fire drills to be certain everyone is familiar with the smoke alarm signal, and to determine if there are any obstacles to a quick and safe evacuation (including the inability for some to awaken to the smoke alarm signal.

In a recent study conducted by a California-based news channel, it was determined that a percentage of children did not awake from the sound of a smoke alarm. It's extremely important for parents to show the location of all smoke alarms in the household to their children and have them present during the monthly testing of the alarms.

Facts and Figures

  • 15 of every 16 homes (94 percent) in the U.S. have at least one smoke alarm.
  • One-half of home-fire deaths occur in the 6 percent of homes with no smoke alarms.
  • Homes with smoke alarms typically have a death rate that is 40 to 50 percent less than the rate for homes without alarms.
  • In three of every 10 reported fires in homes equipped with smoke alarms, the devices did not work. Households with nonworking smoke alarms now outnumber those with no smoke alarms.
  • Why do smoke alarms fail? Most fail because of missing, dead or disconnected batteries. Installation Tips
  • Install at least one smoke alarm on every floor of your home and outside each sleeping area. If you sleep with the door closed, we recommend installing smoke alarms inside the room.
  • Mount the smoke alarms high on ceilings or walls. Remember, smoke rises. Ceiling-mounted alarms should be installed at least four inches away from the nearest wall; wall-mounted alarms should be installed four to 12 inches away from the ceiling.
  • Don't install smoke alarms near windows, outside doors or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.
  • Never paint your smoke alarms; paint or other decorations could keep them from working when you most need them. Maintenance Tips
  • Test smoke alarms at least once a month by using the alarm's "test button." Clean the unit in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms once a year, or as soon as the alarm "chirps," warning that the battery is low. Hint: schedule battery replacements for the same day you change your clock from daylight savings time.
  • Regular vacuuming or dusting your smoke alarm following manufacturer's instructions can help keep it working properly.
  • Replace your smoke alarms once every 10 years.
  • Never "borrow" a battery from a smoke alarm.
  • Make sure everyone in your home can hear and recognize the sound of the alarm and knows how to react immediately.

    If you have any questions about smoke alarms or any other fire safety issue, contact Tech. Sgt. Troy Wright or Todd Bute at the Fire Prevention Office, 828-4236. (6th CES/CEF)




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