Test of smoke detectors reveal which ones you can trust with your life

Test of smoke detectors reveal which ones you can trust with your life
Published: Feb. 26, 2015 at 2:40 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 26, 2015 at 2:50 AM CST
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90 percent of homes across America have ionization smoke alarms.
90 percent of homes across America have ionization smoke alarms.

(WAFB/WBRC) - A recent test shows which type of smoke detector you have in your home could make a big difference in how fast you're alerted to a fire.

National Fire Protection Association statistics show half of all fire deaths are due to smoke inhalation and a common type of smoke alarm may be partially to blame.

According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, 90 percent of homes across America have ionization smoke alarms. Those alarms detect fast, flaming fires. Photoelectric is another type of alarm. Those detect smoldering fires which start out slow.

Firefighters in Alabama recently tested the two kinds of detectors at a training house.

A room was outfitted with multiple cameras and six smoke alarms: two ionization, two photoelectric and two combination alarms that use both types of technology.

Within 10 to 15 seconds after firefighters started the flaming fire in a bucket, the ionization and combination alarms went off. And within one or two minutes, all the alarms were sounding.

In the next test, firefighters set a smoldering fire. Within a few seconds, the photoelectric alarms and combination alarms went off but not the ionization alarm.

Fifteen minutes ticked by and still no alarm. Twenty minutes later and no alarm. Finally, at the 32 minute mark, both ionization alarms sounded.

A similar scenario could easily happen in your home and firefighters say given the amount of time it took for the ionization alarms to go off, carbon monoxide levels in the room could be deadly.

"Especially at night where folks are sleeping," said Northport, Alabama Battalion Chief Jason Norris. "One of the things you worry about most in a fire is the smoke. So the quicker you can be alarmed to the smoke, the quicker you can be able to get out to a safe place," Norris added.

Some states have banned ionization alarms and are making photoelectric the standard.

"You never know what type of fire you going to have. There's no way to predict that. So what we along with the National Fire Protection Association recommends are both type of detectors or even better the combination detector which includes ionization and photo electric," Norris said.

No matter your alarm, Norris says it's key to make sure it works.

"They save lives. Statistics show that they save lives. We see firsthand they save lives," Norris said.

The manufactures of all the smoke alarms tested by these firefighters say their detectors meet industry standards.

In Louisiana, there are 70 to 80 deaths a year due to fires, according to State Fire Marshal Butch Browning. Browning says in nearly all of those cases there are no working smoke detectors in the home.

"It's real simple," Browning said, "if you have a fire in your home and you do not have a working smoke alarm and you're sleeping, your chance of getting out is less than 30 percent."

Browning says he suggests using both types of detectors or detectors that use both technologies. "If you want to account for every second, we recommend both," he said.

Browning added that it's also important for families to have an escape plan that they regularly practice carrying out. He suggests having "fire drills" in the middle of the night. Browning says everyone should know two ways out of a house, have a set meeting place outside, and should not call 911 until they are safely outside (unless they are trapped).

The Louisiana State Fire Marshal's office has a program that offers free smoke detectors to those who can't afford them. Click here for more information: http://sfm.dps.louisiana.gov/fi-fd_save-a-life.htm This Saturday, Red Cross volunteers will be going door-to-door offering free smoke detectors in Port Allen (see more information below).

If you have a multi-level home, you can also consider buying a collapsible ladder.. Several types can be found online for about $35.


What: Volunteers in teams will go door-to-door to discuss fire safety and other emergency preparedness techniques with residents. Volunteers will provide fire safety materials, including information about smoke alarms, creating a household fire escape plan and tips for cooking and heating a home safely. The volunteers also will work with residents in need of smoke alarms; firefighters will install them.

When: Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, 9 a.m.- noon.

Where: Gathering at Port Allen Fire Station, 700 N. Alexander Ave. (Highway 1), Port Allen, La. 70767

Why: Home fires are Louisiana's most prevalent disaster threat, yet most fires can be prevented. In the 10-parish Capital Area last year, Red Cross volunteers responded to help more than 500 families after residential fires. In the past four months (October 2014 to January 2015), volunteers helped more than 115 families, including more than 350 people, here in the Capital Area.

RSVP: Anyone interested in joining the volunteer effort, such as families, social or religious groups, or high school students seeking service opportunities, please RSVP to Gilbert.Arvie@redcross.org or (225) 456-4623.

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