A fire in a single-family dwelling recently occurred in a neighboring jurisdiction. The tragedy was that this fire claimed the lives of two and caused two to have to jump from a second floor window. My thoughts and prayers go out to this family as they deal with this unspeakable loss. As raw as this incident may be, we must talk about this in an attempt to educate. I do not remember if the news reported working smoke alarms, but I am going to present three possibilities, based upon years of experience.
The first possibility is that there were no working smoke alarms in the home. Most fatal fires occur when people are sleeping, and this one was no exception. If you wait for the fire, smoke, or heat to wake you up, can cut off all of your normal exits. The news reported that the two that survived had to jump from a second floor window. This indicates that conditions mandated an immediate escape. Properly located and operating smoke alarms increase the chances of survival exponentially.
Let’s say that there were operating smoke alarms in the house. The next possibility is that there were not enough smoke alarms in the house.
This possibility actually takes the third possibility into account, and that is: there could be the right number of smoke alarms, but they are not located in the proper places. The newest building code requires a smoke alarm in every living space, in the hallway leading to bedrooms, and inside each bedroom. When we built my son’s house, code mandated nine smoke alarms. The fire service used to say one per level, but house configurations and the human factor cause more smoke alarms to be needed to adequately protect a home. New construction also requires that smoke alarms are electrically wired in series, with battery back-ups. Smoke alarms that are connected in series means that when one smoke alarm activates, then all of the smoke alarms will sound. In my son’s case, that’s nine smoke alarms activating at once. The chances of sleeping through a smoke alarm activation is slim and none.
One way to know that you have a proper number of smoke alarms located in the right places will be to conduct a fire drill in your home, after everyone has gone to sleep. Keep in mind; if smoke alarms are not connected in series, then smoke alarms will only activate as smoke sets each one off. Activating the smoke alarm farthest from the bedrooms would be the best test of whether everyone will wake up from this one alarm activating. The answer would be more smoke alarms, progressively leading up to the bedrooms. Do a fire risk analysis of your home, placing the greatest number of smoke alarms between the risk and your sleeping areas.
I recently had a church member state that he cannot hear a normal smoke alarm due to high-frequency hearing loss. In this situation, a hearing impaired smoke alarm is necessary. These alarms are much more expensive, depending on the manufacturer. A hearing impaired smoke alarm has an audible alarm and a flashing strobe that goes off as well. No one should ever depend on another person to let him or her know that a fire is burning in the home, except for a young child or any other person who will need to be assisted out of the home.
Smoke alarms are, in most cases, an inexpensive way of protecting your family, when a fire occurs in your home. It is senseless not to protect a home with smoke alarms. In fact, most jurisdictions have a smoke alarm program, where fire departments will install smoke alarms in a home free of charge. There are some restrictions to this, but the bottom line is that every home should have proper numbers of properly located and properly operating smoke alarms. Take care of this before you lay your head down tonight.