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Working smoke detectors, CO detectors can be lifesavers

By: Kara Szymanski | C&G Newspapers | Published March 21, 2018

METRO DETROIT — The beginning of daylight saving time, which occurred earlier this month, is a great time to check the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in our homes. 

Experts recommend that people make it a routine during time changes to check the performance of the detector itself and update the batteries. The detector usually lasts about 10 years and should be changed when the 10 years are up to ensure its effectiveness, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA. 

Batteries should be tested monthly and changed when the system begins “chirping.” An alarm might be heard “chirping” and thought to be broken, but it is actually a warning that the battery is low and needs to be replaced.

“Fire can spread quickly, leaving as little as one or two minutes to get out safely once the smoke alarm sounds. Every year in the United States, there are more than 350,000 home fires, resulting in over 2,500 deaths. A fire can be a huge loss, but does not have to mean a loss of life. Make sure you have working smoke detectors. Consider having them installed around your furnace, outside your bedrooms and on each level of your home,” Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik said in an email interview.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency, the peak time for home fire fatalities is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when most families are sleeping. That is why having alarms to alert you is a key to being safe.

“You can purchase a combination smoke detector and CO alarm. CO (carbon monoxide) is a silent killer, and working CO detectors are a good defense. Also, make sure you have a safe escape plan — that can make all the difference. Be sure your family knows what to do if a fire strikes. How much of a difference can a plan make? A house fire is not bright; it is pitch black,” Cieslik said in the email.

“If you have practiced an exit plan many times, you will automatically know what to do — even in dark smoke. Practice with your children, because they tend to panic in a fire. A common reaction is to hide from the flames. Children who know how to escape won’t lose their life hiding in a closet or under the bed.

“Children under the age of 5 are twice as likely to die in a fire. Plan in advance to help young children escape and make their odds of survival higher. Get into the practice of sleeping with the doors closed to your bedrooms. This simple action can help prevent smoke from entering your room,” he said.

Cieslik said that elderly and disabled family members may need assistance or special accommodations to escape a fire, and those factors should be part of an escape plan.

Many stores offer a variety of options to consumers that can make a home safer from these dangers.

“Battery backup and detectors with internet built into them are the best types of detectors to use, and we have a selection of detectors that can even speak to you and tell you what the danger is inside your house, even while you aren’t home. It can alert your phone and can tell you it is a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Roland Russell, the manager at Menards in Warren.

“We recommend LifeSaver and Kidde detectors that offer a combination of wired and regular and internet connection capabilities and are available at our stores. Every April and October, batteries should be checked and the detector tested once a month to make sure it will work during an emergency,” said Russell.

It is recommended that you place alarms in certain areas of your home to protect you and your home.

“You should have at least one detector per room, or one within 12 feet of your furnace,” said Russell.

Effects of smoke from a fire, carbon monoxide and other gases can be life-threatening and almost undetectable without a properly working alarm.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, weakness, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, confusion and chest pain. However, the gas can cause victims to pass out before they can call for help.

Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed in the hallway outside the bedrooms, as this odorless, colorless gas can be fatal at relatively low levels in the home. If the CO alarm sounds and you aren’t sure whether it is a real alert, leave your home immediately and call 911.

According to LARA, Michigan’s fire departments collectively reported 87 residential fire fatalities in 2017. In more than a third of home fire deaths, no smoke alarms were present.

“Working smoke alarms cut your risk of dying in a house fire in half,” said state Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer in a press release from LARA. “If you have a fire, you will have less than three minutes to get out of your home before the smoke and fire gases become deadly, based on live fire studies conducted by Underwriters Laboratory and the National Institute of Standard and Technology. The early warning given by smoke alarms provide you with extra time to escape, especially children and senior citizens who are most at risk and need extra seconds to get out safely.”

Batteries should never be borrowed from a smoke alarm to use somewhere else. The batteries might not work when they are needed most or never be put back into the alarm. They should also never be removed because the alarm had sounded due to burned food or cooking smoke.

For more information on carbon monoxide and the dangers, visit www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm.

For more fire safety information, visit the Bureau of Fire Services website at www.michigan.gov/bfs.