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Some smoke detectors aren't as good as you'd think

According to an episode of Dateline NBC that aired on March 24, statements made by both First Alert and Kidde brought to light several disturbing facts. Mostly concerning the problem that smoke detectors used in our homes won't do the job we hope they will. In other words, your family and pets could be in danger should a fire break out in your home.

There are two basic forms of smoke detectors used in homes in the U.S. They use either ionized or photoelectric technology. The problem is, the majority of detectors sold don't use both in the same device. This is now known to be dangerous because ionized detectors respond to different smoke particles than photoelectric detectors. Individually, neither may be enough to get you out of your home in time to escape a house fire.

Fire experts from the National Fire Protection Association, the National Institute of Standards, Underwriters Laboratories and the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission have confirmed this.

I watched this show on Dateline NBC the other night. Couch cushions were set on fire and the detectors tested didn't go off until the couch was ablaze. Since smoke (carbon monoxide) is the big killer, the response time of most detectors isn't within the time frame necessary to escape. Smoke detector companies were put on the spot by the host of the show. Let's just say they were blindsided when faced with filmed evidence their detectors didn't work.

So what should you look for in a smoke detector? Look for a detector that meets or exceeds standards set by the American National Standards Institute/Underwriters Laboratories. They do the most accurate tests and get input from fire services and government agencies. Most products are sure to advertise this as a selling feature. It should be listed somewhere on the package.

Another problem with smoke detectors involves children. It's been shown that children sleep deeper and longer than adults. A test was conducted where smoke detectors were activated and the children slept right through the alarm. It's suggested to get a smoke detector that allows the parents to record a message in their own voice telling the children to wake up and get out of the house. One good suggestion brought up on Dateline NBC was for each parent to be responsible for a certain child to help escape.

For the record, First Alert offers detectors that have voice and location capability.

I realize this is an article more about fire safety in general rather than pets. With the recent fire at Last Chance Cat Ranch where more than two dozen cats lost their lives, I thought this article appropriate for those who have pets.

Homes with a properly working smoke detector increase the odds of surviving a house fire by up to 50%. New homes in many areas of the U.S. now require a smoke detector outside of every bedroom. An inspector will come into the home and must approve the detectors are present and in operating order before signing off for electricity to be turned on at a new residence. We passed this type of inspection in April 2006.

Also remember to change the batteries twice a year. A good time to do this is when the time changes. I purchased several new detectors after our fire. One has a 10-year battery. Another has a light that comes on when the detector is activated.

It's also important to have a working fire extinguisher near the kitchen area in your home. Having one for extra protection in the master bedroom is also a good idea. You may need it to get to your children or pets. And don't put the extinguisher in a location you can't reach should there be a fire. Under the kitchen sink is NOT a good idea.

Should the worst happen and a fire occur in the home, hopefully you'll have enough of a warning to save your pets. All of our cats were hiding under the beds or under the heavy armchairs. Cats may also run into closets or jump behind the washer or dryer. Dogs like to hide under the bed when under stress. It's unlikely any of your pets will be out in the open waiting for you to rescue them.

Readers, can you think of anything I need to add? Comments? Any of you ever had a detector that didn't go off?



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