For the last 40 years, I have been attempting to educate people about the need to have a proper number of properly located and...

For the last 40 years, I have been attempting to educate people about the need to have a proper number of properly located and functioning smoke alarms in their homes.

A couple of smoke alarms with a residential sprinkler system and the chance of survival in a residential fire is as close to 100 percent as one can get. Smoke alarms are the most inexpensive piece of the puzzle. The cost goes up a little when you purchase electric alarms with battery backup. For what is being protected, the costs are minimal.

In regard to smoke alarms, building codes base requirements on when a home was built. For new construction, smoke alarms are required in the main living area, inside and outside each bedroom and at least one per level. These alarms are connected in series. In other words, when one goes off, all go off. This solves the problem of people sleeping through smoke alarms. Keep this in mind, smoke alarms are designed to activate immediately when smoke reaches the alarm. An early warning gives occupants the best opportunity to escape by normal means.

For the hearing impaired, smoke alarms are coupled with strobe lights. Depending on the manufacturer, these alarms may be more expensive, but the cost cannot be what stops you from buying them. For these alarms, it is important to put them in the most conspicuous places in living spaces and bedrooms.

Residential sprinkler systems are substantially more expensive than smoke alarms, but the benefits are far greater than the costs. The best time and most cost-effective time to install a residential sprinkler system is during new construction. Retrofitting a home after construction is possible, but costly and requires tearing out and replacement of drywall. Sprinkler systems are designed to extinguish a fire, or at least keep the fire in check, to allow occupants time to escape.

So what is the alternative? Without smoke alarms and a sprinkler system, you are at the mercy of your senses. In other words, the products of combustion have to come close enough for you to see, hear, touch, smell or taste. Early notification goes out the window. With the exception of possibly seeing or hearing a fire, the senses of touching, smelling or tasting mean that you are intimately affected by the fire and its byproducts. There is absolutely no guarantee that, if you are asleep and the smoke reaches you, that you will wake up by smelling the smoke. Hot, choking smoke that will make you throw up is what you or your family could find yourselves in when there are no early warning devices.

Most fire fatalities occur when people are close to a fire. One breath of the toxins contained in smoke could cause you irreparable harm or even death. Smoke inhalation causes disorientation that has led firefighters to their deaths, so what do you think that means for you?