Daily Archives: October 10, 2007

National Fire Prevention Week

This week is National Fire Prevention Week. Every year, the National Fire Protection Association sets a theme for National Fire Prevention Week and this year’s theme is E.D.I.T.H. or Exit Drills in the Home. For specifics of how to plan an exit drill from your home, please visit the NFPA website.

Instead of talking about how to plan an exit drill from your home, I want to talk about smoke alarms and fire extinguishers int he home. For those of you who have not yet read it, Scout had a little visit from the fire company last night at her house. Her son smelled something and asked what the smell was. Scout’s instincts were right to call 911 right away. Her husband’s instinct was a typical male one in that he wanted to look for the source. They were very lucky in that it was the AC unit that had shorted out. When AC units short out, they produce smoke and generally do not catch fire. (Although this is not to say that it doesn’t happen.)

Scout stated that their smoke alarms did not go off. There are many reasons why her smoke alarms did not go off. There are two types of smoke alarms on the market. The first is called an ionization smoke alarm and activate when a fast moving flame fire is detected. The second type is the more common type found in homes and it is called a photo electric alarm. A photo electric alarm will detect a smoldering smoky fire. You can buy smoke alarms that are called dual sensor smoke alarms which are a combination of the two alarms. They do cost more but they are worth the money. For a really good explanation of how both types of smoke alarms work, click on this link.


Depending on when your house was built and the type of heating system in it, your house may have a hard wired system. A hard wired system basically means that each and every smoke alarm in your house is connected to the other one electrically. Hard wired systems also have battery backups in each alarm in case of electrical outage.

To understand how a hard wired system works, I am going to use my house as an example. I have a hard wired system in my house because I have oil heat on the first floor and a heat pump for the second floor and attic. My furnace and oil tank are located in the basement. The furnace and the oil tank are in separate rooms in the basement and each room has a steel door closing it. There is nothing stored in the oil tank room. The smoke alarm for the basement is in the furnace room but it is not located near the furnace. There is a second unit on the first floor and the there is a third unit on the second floor where I sleep. The wiring for a fourth unit is installed in the attic in case I ever finish it off since I have a huge attic. The first floor is larger than the second floor so I have a battery powered smoke alarm on the first floor as well. If something was to happen in the furnace room, all 3 of the hard wired systems will activate at the same time. And considering that I have heard the battery one go off upstairs, I know that I will hear the hard wired ones go off. (And the battery one went off because my brother was testing it.)

Scout also stated that she did not know where her fire extinguisher in her house was located. One of the many misconceptions that the general public holds is that a fire extinguisher will put out a fire. Yes, it will, but the size of most of the fire extinguishers in homes is not big enough to put out anything more than a tiny fire, if that. By having a fire extinguisher in your home, you get a break on your fire insurance and that is about all they are good for.


As a fire fighter, I have had training in how to properly use a fire extinguisher and how to pick the right extinguisher for the job. There are techniques for using a fire extinguisher to put out a fire without spreading the fire. There are calculations for figuring how much square footage you can safely extinguish using a fire extinguisher. Fire extinguishers in public buildings and on fire apparatus are required to be inspected on a regular basis. There is nothing requiring fire extinguishers in residential structures to be inspected. Stop and think about when the last time you looked at the fire extinguisher in your house? It has been awhile hasn’t it?

There are some key things to remember about smoke alarms and fire extinguishers –

If your smoke alarm in your house is more than 10 years old, you need to replace it.

In a telephone survey in 2004, 98% of homes in the US has at least one smoke alarms. But the survey did not indicate how many of those smoke alarms were operational.

There is an average of 11 deaths every day in the US from residential fires.

The batteries in smoke alarms should not be taken out so some one can use it for playing an electronic game.

Fire extinguishers need to be replaced on a periodic basis. If your fire extinguisher is more than 5 years old, consider replacing it.

When you replace your fire extinguisher in your house, take the old one down to your local fire house. We use the contents inside the fire extinguishers to make chimney bombs. Chimney bombs are what we drop down your chimney to put out a chimney fire.

Call your local fire company and they will be more than happy to teach you to properly use a fire extinguisher. We will do this for businesses as well.

Get to know your local fire company. If you live in an area where the fire company is a volunteer company, consider becoming a member and helping out on either the operational or administrative side. If you live in an area where you have a career fire fighter system, stop by the station and see what you can do to help them. Volunteer or career, we can all use the help.

For more information about smoke alarms, please check out the National Fire Administration’s website and the National Fire Protection Association’s website. You can also check out How Stuff Works to see exactly how a smoke alarm works. To learn more about fire prevention and the history of fire prevention, check out this link.

The fire service is the only business that is actually in the business of trying to put itself out of business. We want to make things safe as we can. We like to see everyone but we would prefer it not be because of a tragedy.

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