5. Functioning Smoke Alarms Are Highly Effective in Preventing Fire-Related Deaths

Key Messages

  • Smoke alarms both detect smoke (as contrasted with heat or gases) and notify occupants of the presence of the threatening fire so they can escape.
  • Smoke alarms are the life saving success story of the past 30 years in the fire safety world.
    • Seventy percent of home fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.
    • The presence of a working smoke alarm in a home reduces the risk of dying in a fire by 50%. Approximately 890 lives could be saved annually if all homes had working smoke alarms.
  • Section 313 of the NYS residential code requires that smoke alarms be placed on every level of home including the basement; inside every sleeping area; and outside every sleeping area.
  • Smoke alarms contain one or two types of sensors. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that homes have both types of alarms (either placed side by side or contained in a dual unit.) The two types of sensor technology are:
    • Ionization technology: Smoke alarms with ionization sensors are generally more effective at sensing small smoke particles, which tend to be produced in greater amounts by hot, flaming fires. These types of fires may consume combustible materials rapidly and spread quickly.
    • Photoelectric technology: Smoke alarms with photoelectric sensors are generally more effective at sensing large smoke particles, which tend to be produced in greater amounts by smoldering fires. These types of fires may smolder for hours before bursting into flame.
  • Home occupants must perform routine smoke alarm maintenance to ensure they are operational:
    • Remove dust and debris regularly from outside of alarm using a vacuum cleaner attachment.
    • Test batteries at least monthly with fingers, not a broom handle or pole.
    • Replace smoke alarms at least every 10 years.

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