Ask The Contractor: Smoke alarms, planning ahead saves lives

Good rule of thumb: change batteries in your smoke detectors each day light saving time change. (File image)

Good rule of thumb: change batteries in your smoke detectors each day light saving time change. (File image)

Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 8 through Oct. 14, 2017, is the longest running public health observance.

President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week on Oct. 4-10, 1925, beginning a tradition of the President of the United States signing a proclamation recognizing the occasion. It is observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which Oct. 9 falls, in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began Oct. 8, 1871, and did most of its damage Oct. 9.

The horrific conflagration killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres.

Blame it on the cow. According to popular legend, the fire broke out after a cow -- belonging to Mrs. Catherine O’Leary -- kicked over a lamp, setting first the barn, located on the property of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary, then the whole city on fire. Chances are you’ve heard some version of this story yourself; people have been blaming the Great Chicago Fire on the cow and Mrs. O’Leary, for more than 130 years. Mrs. O’Leary denied this charge. Recent research by Chicago historian Robert Cromie has helped to debunk this version of events.

So with that being said:

Fall is in the air. Farmers Almanac says snow and rain will be above average for our area so we can expect a cold winter. This means fireplaces, heaters and keeping warm. October is National Fire Prevention Month and now is an excellent time to think about preparedness should you experience a fire. Is your home at risk for fire? Do you have a home fire escape plan? Have you changed smoke-alarm batteries within the last year? Do you know the main reasons for fires starting in or around the home?

Working smoke alarms can make a life-saving difference in a fire. Working smoke alarms do save lives and they should be tested every month. Every homeowner and apartment dweller should be prepared for the possibility of fire. Said in another way — if it’s predictable, it’s preventable!

Let’s all take steps to lessen the risk of a fire in our homes. Did you know there between 350,000 and 400,000 house fires in the United States every year — 85 percent of all fire deaths occur in the home. Home fires are the biggest disaster threat to families in this country, above floods and hurricanes.

There are two key fire safety steps: installing smoke alarms and developing a fire escape plan. Smoke alarms save lives and smoke alarms that are properly installed and maintained play a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries. If there is a fire in your home, smoke spreads fast and you need smoke alarms to give you time to get out.

It is recommended to check each smoke alarm in a home by pushing the test button at least once a month and replacing batteries every year. Fire escape plans should include at least two escape routes from every room in the home and a convenient meeting place at a safe distance from the home.

All smoke alarms should be interconnected. When one sounds, they all sound. And for people who are hard-of-hearing or deaf there are special alarms. These alarms have strobe lights and bed shakers.

All smoke alarms should be replaced when they are 10 years old.

Half of home fire deaths result from fires reported between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

One-quarter of home fire deaths were caused by fires that started in the bedroom. Another quarter resulted from fires in the living room, family room or den.

Three out of five home fire deaths happen from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

On average, seven people die in U.S. home fires per day.

Cooking equipment is the leading cause of home fire injuries, followed by heating equipment.

Smoking materials are the leading cause of home fire deaths.

Most fatal fires kill one or two people.

Three out of five home fire deaths in 2010-2014 were caused by fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home fires in half.

In fires considered large enough to activate the smoke alarm, hardwired alarms operated 94 percent of the time, while battery powered alarms operated 80 percent of the time.

When smoke alarms fail to operate, it is usually because batteries are missing, disconnected, or dead.

An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires.

How they work: Ionization-type smoke alarms have a small amount of radioactive material between two electrically charged plates, which ionizes the air and causes current to flow between the plates. When smoke enters the chamber, it disrupts the flow of ions, thus reducing the flow of current and activating the alarm.

Photoelectric smoke alarms are generally more responsive to fires that begin with a long period of smoldering.

How they work: Photoelectric-type alarms aim a light source into a sensing chamber at an angle away from the sensor. Smoke enters the chamber, reflecting light onto the light sensor; triggering the alarm.

For each type of smoke alarm, the advantage it provides may be critical to life safety in some fire situations. Home fatal fires, day or night, include a large number of smoldering fires and a large number of flaming fires. You cannot predict the type of fire you may have in your home or when it will occur. Any smoke alarm technology, must perform in order to provide early warning of fire at all times of the day or night and whether you are asleep or awake.

In addition to working smoke alarms all homes should have a portable fire extinguisher which can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives; but portable extinguishers have limitations. Because fire grows and spreads so rapidly, the #1 priority for residents is to get out safely.

Fire extinguishers are one element of a fire response plan, and again, the primary element is safe escape. Use a portable fire extinguisher when the fire is confined to a small area, such as a wastebasket, and is not growing; everyone has exited the building; the fire department has been called or is being called; and the room is not filled with smoke.

In a fire, seconds count. Seconds can mean the difference between residents of our community escaping safely from a fire or having their lives end in tragedy.

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KQNA 1130 AM/99.9 FM or 95.5 FM or the web kqna.com. Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry; meet your local community partners and so much more. It is a great way to start your weekend.

Sandy Griffis is executive director of the Yavapai County Contractors Association. Email your questions to her at ycca@cableone.net or call 928-778-0040.