An alarm to live with

Smoke detectors save lives, property

–LEWISTOWN — There are multiple types of alarms that people are accustomed to hearing on a daily basis. From car alarms to clock alarms for a morning wake-up call, it’s hard to imagine going a day without having these essential alarms. However, there are people who live without one of the most important of alarms – a smoke alarm.

The National Fire Protection Agency reports that smoke alarms provide an early warning for a fire, and should be in every home.

“Everybody needs them,” Scott Mauery, Mifflin County Regional Police Fire Investigator and department chief, said.

“We gotta focus on the facts,” Mark Wolfgang, chief of the Decatur Fire Co., said. “The fact is you need smoke detectors and alarms.”

According to NFPA statistics, between the years 2009 and 2013 smoke alarms were present in almost 73 percent of, and sounded in more than 53 percent, of home fires reported to the fire departments.

“In 2016 we had 16 building type fires,” Wolfgang said. “In those fires, only 19 percent had working smoke alarms.”

The question remains though, why is it so crucial to have alarms in private households, especially in rural communities?

During a recent drill, Ron Byler addressed this question, stating that he was on site and the fire alarm was activated for a fire drill. He said it took five minutes after the alarm was pulled at the nursing home before his department pager sounded for the call. Then he said the department had to get in the apparatus at the station and then drive to the nursing home.

“Depending on the time of day there isn’t always someone sitting at the station,” Byler said.

It is this reason, particularly in an area with so many volunteer departments, that the time of response and time to arrival on scene is why Byler advocates for homes to have smoke alarms.

“We have been able to save houses because smoke alarms are alerting residents sooner,” he said. “That, in turn, alerts the fire company sooner.”

Wolfgang said, that is why rural firefighting is the toughest, not because the fires are different, but because it takes longer to get to the fire.

“Our [Decatur Fire Co.] average response time is 7.13 minutes,” he said. “That is just to get one piece of fire apparatus out the door.”

However, early warning and detection is only half of the reason fire officials stress the importance of smoke alarms.

According to NFPA statistics, smoke alarms activated 87 percent of the time because the fires were large enough to sound the alarm. That is what, fire officials say, is the key to saving lives.

“They truly could be your first warning that something is wrong,” Larry Carter, of the Brooklyn Hose Co., said.

Statistics show that three out of every five home fire deaths from 2010 through 2014 were in homes with no smoke alarms or no working alarms.

“35 years as a volunteer I have never had a fatality in any building or home with a working smoke detector,” Bill Fike, chief of Highland Park Hose Co., said. “Plain and simple, they save lives.”

The NFPA reports that the death rate per 100 reported homes fires was more than twice as high in homes that did not have any working smoke alarms, because no alarm was present, or an alarm was present but did not operate properly. The death rate from reported fires in homes that had at least one smoke alarm was 40 percent lower than in homes that had no smoke alarms at all.

The NFPA recommends changing batteries every six months, typically when the clocks change in the spring and fall.

“It doesn’t matter when you change them,” Mauery said. “Just change them, pick two dates a year, that are six months apart and change the batteries.”

However, if building a home, Neal Wilson, of the City Hook and Ladder, recommends getting some that are also wired-into the electrical system.

“Then you don’t always have to worry about changing the batteries,” he said.

According to the NFPA, when a smoke alarm fails to operate it is because the batteries are disconnected, dead, or missing altogether.

As to where to place smoke detectors, “You should have them on every floor, in every room,” Greg Espigh, captain of United Fire and Rescue, said.

This, according to the NFPA makes it easier to hear, which alerts the resident to the fire in a more effective manner.

“Multiple smoke detectors are truly the best way to go,” Barry Sunderland, Assistant Chief McVeytown Fire Co., said.

The NFPA says that smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking. Additionally, alarms should be mounted high on walls or ceilings, however if mounting on the wall they should not be father away than 12-inches from the ceiling.

“Do not install smoke alarms near air supply vents or direct airflow areas,” Mike Force, Lewistown Borough fire investigator, said. “Also avoid dusty areas as dust particles could cause failure or false alarms.”

The NFPA also recommends using interconnected smoke alarms, that way when one sounds, they all sound.

“If a resident can be woken up by an alarm, then we have a better chance of saving the home or lives,” East Waterford Fire Chief Mike Bard said.

The final step, according to fire officials and the NFPA, is to test the alarms once a month. Alarms should never be tested at the same time.

Ed Mann, chief of the East Derry Fire Co., says alarms should be tested at night to see if sleeping children hear it.

“I bet they don’t hear it,” Mann said. “Children are just heavy sleepers.”

That is why it is suggested to have the interconnected alarms and have one in every room.

Ultimately, local fire departments agree unanimously, detectors save lives.