Smoke alarms are considered one of the critical things needed in today’s households to safeguard a home from smoke and fire. They help in alerting the residents in the event of potential danger, by detecting smoke and emitting a loud beeping noise. This gives the occupants enough time to reach safety, contact the fire department for any assistance that may be needed, and protect the house from a devastating situation (Istre 2000). This paper will detail the value of installing smoke detectors in homes as a way of safeguarding them from possible fire risks.
A fire tragedy is a feared condition that can be caused by gas leaks, short circuits, or overheated appliances. Smoke alarms are beneficial in considerably reducing the chances of fire hazards in homes. Nevertheless, given their life-saving ability and low cost, many households have failed to install smoke alarms, or have been negligent in maintaining the mounted detectors. Like any other battery-operated device, smoke alarms also require regular maintenance to ensure they are in good operating condition and at the time of a hazardous situation have enough batteries (UL 2011). Efficient and reliable smoke detectors are readily available at relatively low prices while more sophisticated models can be connected to a protection network that notifies the fire department automatically.
According to a recent study by the US Fire Administration (USFA), the number of household fires has increased on a year-on-year basis by almost 2%, resulting in an overall loss of over 2,500 lives and 6.5 trillion dollars (USFA 2011). Another study undertaken by the National Fire Protection Association ( NFPA) found that 96% of all households have a smoke detector, but only 70% are in working condition. However, 72 percent of the deaths were caused by either an unstained or missing smoke alarm (NFPA 2011), out of the 400,000 household fires that were known about. Also, most of these fires cause injuries, which can lead to disfigurement and other mental effects (Miller et al. 1982). A work smoke alarm doubles a fire’s chances of survival (NFPA 2011).
Most fire hazards occur at night, particularly when people are asleep and the smoke or fire that spreads can not be noticed. By alerting everyone in the household when smoke is detected, smoke detectors keep the danger down. It helps the occupants find a safe passage out of their homes before they become trapped in the fire. Most of the deaths that occur are usually due to smoke suffocation or other gaseous substances that are invisible to the human eye and that can spread rapidly around the house. Therefore, without smoke detectors, smoke is likely to go unnoticed, especially during the night, posing a great danger to the house’s occupants (DOS 2007). However, with a functioning smoke detector, the residents can easily discover and sense if there is smoke spreading in the place and save themselves and their loved ones from possible dangers. Smoke alarms do not prevent fires, but because they provide warnings of small fires or smoke, that can be easily extinguished, they reduce the number of fires that become Serious enough to cause injury or burning which leads to death.
A family used a space-heater to heat their house in a recent tragic accident. Their house had installed no smoke alarm. Unfortunately, the heater failed, causing a small local fire which became unnoticed due to the lack of a smoke alarm. The fire spread rapidly, and the fire had engulfed the house in a few minutes, trapping the entire family inside. Unfortunately the family members were seriously wounded by the time the fire department arrived at the scene.
They were immediately shifted to a hospital, where three children succumbed to their injuries and passed away. The parents are still recovering from severe burns and serious injuries. Minor negligence resulted in significant consequences for this family. Similar is the case with other families who have either not installed smoke alarms or have not been able to maintain them as required.
Although smoke detectors help sense smoke and fire hazards, it is also essential to train the family members in how to respond to situations like these, instead of panicking. A fire escape plan should be prepared, and fire drills should be performed regularly to get occupants accustomed to the frightening situation that may arise (DOS 2007). It is usual for people to start panicking in such situations if they are not prepared well. Safety is always the most important, and smoke detectors help loved ones to prepare for possible evacuation that is safe and quick. People are tempted in these situations to grab some of their essential belongings, leaving young children to escape by themselves. Grown-ups need to lead family members out of the house towards safety first and request for help immediately by dialing the fire department. If the intensity of the fire is not strong enough, then they may return to collect very crucial belongings, like identification documents and money, but only if the situation is safe to do so.
Since smoke alarms have a very high-pitched beep, they can alert neighbors and other people nearby, in case the residents are away from their house. By alerting those nearby, the neighbors can keep the fire from spreading and request help to arrive before the flames consume the entire house. With a more sophisticated smoke alarm, the triggering of the notice by smoke can send a message to the nearest fire department automatically (DOS 2007). This will help in saving more time for the rescue team to arrive at the site. Such steps will also contain the spread of fire to that particular house only, instead of affecting the neighboring places also. People need to realize that due to their negligence, the lives of their loved ones, their neighbors, and other nearby people may also be affected, apart from their own life.
The USFA recommends highly that smoke detectors should be installed in different parts of the house, especially near bedrooms and outside the home. They should be placed on the ceilings, where they can easily detect smokes, and warn the residents well before the situation becomes uncontrollable. It is also recommended that smoke alarms should be installed at places where it can be heard throughout the home clearly – especially at locations of sleep. Warnings should not be installed near fireplaces or above stoves, where they are bound to generate false alarms regularly (Istre 2007). Regular false alarms can annoy the residents and may force them to resort to unplugging the smoke alarm for their comfort. This could result in a dangerous situation, in the case of a potential fire. Therefore, it is better to ensure installation is done away from fireplaces, and done in central locations only, like lounges and hallways.
The USFA has been forcing residents to install smoke alarms in their houses and has been educating them on fire prevention and the benefits of smoke detectors. One smoke alarm is not sufficient in catering to a whole house, and the USFA recommends a couple of sensors in critical locations around the house. The USFA has also been advising the installation of fire sprinklers to control and extinguish small fires automatically. Residents should also be made aware of the different types of smoke alarms present and the benefits of each kind. They should be encouraged to buy better quality, long-lived smoke alarms, which reduces the maintenance of these alarms regularly. Smoke alarms reduce deaths, injuries, and property losses.
- DOS, Department of Services. Queensland Government. Smoke Alarms – Installation and Maintenance. July 2007. Web. 15 December 2011. <Fire.QLD.gov.au>
- Istre, Gregory. “Smoke Alarms and Prevention of House-Fire.” West J Med 173 (2000): 92-93. Print. 15 December 2011.
- Miller, RE, KS Reisinger, MM Blatter, and F Wucher. “Pediatric Counseling and Subsequent Use of Smoke Detectors.” American Journal of Public Health. 72.4 (1982): 392-3. Print. 15 December 2011.
- NFPA, National Fire Protection Association -. Smoke Alarms in Reported US Home Fires. September 2011. Web. 15 December 2011 <NFPA.org>.
- UL, Home Safety – The Importance of Smoke Alarms for your Family.2011. Web. 15 December 2011 <SafetyatHome.com>.
- USFA, US Fire Administration -. USFA Fire Estimates. 5 December 2011. Web. 15 December 2011 <USFA.FEMA.org>.