Daylight saving time serves as a home fire safety reminder

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published November 6, 2019

METRO DETROIT — Although most homeowners already turned their clocks back an hour for the end of daylight saving time Nov. 3, it doesn’t mean they’re off the hook.

After changing clocks, fire safety experts say residents should also inspect their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and make sure to have a family escape plan in place.

Three out of every five home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms, according to the National Fire Protection Association. So the first step in fire prevention is to make sure that you have smoke alarms — with the label of a reputable testing agency, like Underwriters Laboratories (UL) — in every bedroom and in the common areas on each floor of your home.

Experts recommend that smoke alarms be mounted at least 10 feet from the stove, to prevent false alarms; less than 12 inches from the ceiling; and away from windows, doors and ducts. A Consumer Product Safety Commission survey found that the best way to notify everyone in a home if there is a fire is to have smoke alarms that are interconnected wirelessly — which means that when one sounds, they all sound.

Once your smoke alarms are in place, you should test them every month and replace the batteries at least once a year. If you hear a chirping sound, it’s an indication that the battery should be replaced immediately.

Smoke detectors usually last about 10 years and should be changed when the 10 years are up to ensure effectiveness, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

“If it’s time to replace your detector, we recommend you replace it with one of the dual detectors — that is a carbon monoxide and smoke detector,” said Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik.

Anything that burns fuel can potentially become a source of carbon monoxide — an invisible, odorless gas that can kill — so fire officials say homeowners should also make sure to have CO detectors in their homes.

“Carbon monoxide is a concern throughout the winter months because people are using their fuel burning and heating equipment in their chimneys and they haven’t been using them for a while, so it’s so important to have those inspected before using,” said Lisa Braxton, a public education specialist with the National Fire Protection Association.

CO alarms, she said, should be installed in a central location outside each bedroom and on every level of the home. Just like smoke alarms, homeowners are advised to change the batteries, test and interconnect their carbon monoxide detectors, if possible, and make sure the vents for their gas appliances — like the fireplace, dryer, stove and furnace — are free and clear of snow or debris.

Today’s home fires burn faster than ever, according to the National Fire Protection Association, which said that in the past, people had approximately 17 minutes to escape a typical home fire from the time that the smoke alarm sounded. Now, they may have as little as two minutes to get out safely.

While NFPA statistics show that the number of reported U.S. home fires in 2018 was half that reported in 1980, the death rate has remained steady, reflecting the continued challenges of safely escaping today’s home fires.

“It’s partially because of home construction. People like the open concept design, so they don’t have all those walls in their homes to block and stop the fire, and more synthetic materials are used to produce furniture and homes, and they burn faster and the smoke is more toxic,” Braxton said.

Rochester Hills fire and life safety educator John Lyman said that residents should always sleep with their bedroom doors closed.  

“‘Close before you doze’ is the saying we use in the fire service. Closing the door keeps smoke out of your bedroom, giving you more time to escape a fire,” he said.

To prepare for an emergency, fire officials recommend that every family have a home escape plan in place that they practice at least twice a year, during the day and at night.

A home escape plan includes working smoke alarms and CO detectors on every level of the home, in every bedroom and near all sleeping areas. It also includes two ways out of every room — usually a door and a window, with a clear path to an outside meeting place (like a tree, light pole or mailbox) that’s a safe distance from the home.

“When it comes to smoke alarms, we advise that people test their smoke alarms once a month using the test button. As you are testing your smoke alarm, go ahead and have a home fire drill. Press the test button, then have everyone walk out quickly outdoors to the safe meeting place and shut the doors behind you as you are leaving the home. Get to your established meeting place that everyone has agreed on, so in a real emergency everyone can be accounted for at that location,” Braxton said.

For instructions on how to make a fire escape plan, visit firepreventionweek.org.