Westfield FMBA Local #30

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Remember daylight savings, change the batteries in your smoke detectors.

SMOKE DETECTORS

            SMOKE ALARMS ARE NOT NEW. THE TECHNOLOGY HAS BEEN AROUND SINCE THE 1960'S. THE SINGLE STATION, BATTERY POWERED SMOKE ALARM, SIMILAR TO THE ONE WE KNOW TODAY, BECAME AVAILABLE TO CONSUMERS IN THE 1970'S. THE NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION (NFPA) ESTIMATES THAT 93% OF HOMES IN THE UNITED STATES HAVE AT LEAST ONE SMOKE ALARM.

          ALTHOUGH 13 OF EVERY 14 HOMES HAVE AT LEAST ONE SMOKE ALARM, ALMOST 50% OF HOME FIRES OCCUR IN THE SHARE OF HOMES WITH NO ALARMS. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE DIE EACH YEAR IN HOME FIRES WHERE SMOKE ALARMS ARE NOT PRESENT.

          IN ADDITION, THERE ARE NOW MORE HOMES WITH SMOKE ALARMS THAT DON'T WORK THAN HOMES WITHOUT ALARMS AT ALL. THESE POORLY MAINTAINED UNITS CREATE A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY AMONG OCCUPANTS. APPROXIMATELY 33% OF HOMES WITH SMOKE ALARMS THAT EXPERIENCE FIRES HAVE SMOKE ALARMS THAT ARE NOT WORKING, AND HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE DIE EACH YEAR IN THESE FIRES.

          TRAGICALLY, THE GRAVE IMPORTANCE OF INSTALLING AND MAINTAINING SMOKE ALARMS HAS NOT YET BEEN FULLY REALIZED. MOST PEOPLE WHO DIE IN HOME FIRES ARE NOT IN THE ROOM WHERE THE FIRE STARTS. WORKING SMOKE ALARMS ALERT PEOPLE TO FIRE AND GIVE THEM TIME TO ESCAPE IN A SITUATION WHERE MINUTES CAN MEAN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH.

           HAVING A WORKING SMOKE ALARM CUTS YOUR CHANCE OF DYING IN A FIRE BY ALMOST 50%. BY PROPERLY PLACING, REGULARLY TESTING AND MAINTAINING YOUR ALARMS, YOU CAN ENSURE THAT THEY ARE IN FACT WORKING AND WILL ALERT YOU IF A FIRE BREAKS OUT. MAKE SURE YOU BUY ONLY THOSE ALARMS THAT BEAR THE MARK OF AN INDEPENDENT TESTING LABORATORY. SOME ALARMS OPERATE USING AN "IONIZATION" SENSOR WHILE OTHERS USE A "PHOTOELECTRIC" SENSOR. AN IONIZATION ALARM USES AN EXTREMELY SMALL QUANTITY OF RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL TO MAKE THE AIR IN THE ALARM CHAMBER CONDUCT ELECTRICITY. SMOKE FROM A FIRE INTERFERES WITH THE ELECTRICAL CURRENT AND TRIGGERS THE ALARM. A PHOTOELECTRIC ALARM USES A TINY LIGHT SOURCE SHINING ON A LIGHT SENSITIVE SENSOR. THE ALARM IS TRIGGERED WHEN SMOKE FROM A FIRE INTERFERES WITH THE LIGHT. ALL TESTED AND LABELED SMOKE ALARMS OFFER ADEQUATE PROTECTION IF THEY ARE PROPERLY INSTALLED AND MAINTAINED.

           A RECENT NFPA REPORT ON SMOKE ALARMS FOUND THAT THERE IS A SUBSTANTIAL NUMBER OF HOUSEHOLDS THAT DO NOT HAVE SMOKE ALARMS ON EVERY LEVEL OF THE HOME. THE MAJORITY OF FIRE DEATHS OCCUR AT NIGHT WHEN PEOPLE ARE ASLEEP. NFPA'S NATIONAL FIRE ALARM CODE (NFPA 72) SAYS HOMES MUST HAVE SMOKE ALARMS ON EVERY LEVEL OF THE HOME INCLUDING THE BASEMENT AND OUTSIDE EACH SLEEPING AREA.

           TO SLOW THE SPREAD OF SMOKE AND FUMES IF A FIRE DEVELOPS, NFPA SUGGESTS THAT YOU SLEEP WITH YOUR BEDROOM DOORS CLOSED. IF YOU SLEEP WITH YOUR BEDROOM DOORS CLOSED, INSTALL A SMOKE ALARM INSIDE EACH BEDROOM. ALARMS SHOULD ALSO BE INSTALLED IN OTHER AREAS OF YOUR HOME WHERE PEOPLE SLEEP. ON FLOORS WITHOUT BEDROOMS, SMOKE ALARMS SHOULD BE INSTALLED IN OR NEAR LIVING AREAS, SUCH AS FAMILY ROOMS AND LIVING ROOMS.

          HARD WIRED SMOKE ALARMS ARE INTERCONNECTED SO IF ONE ALARM IS ACTIVATED ALL OF THE ALARMS WILL SOUND. ALARMS THAT ARE HARD WIRED INTO THE HOME ELECTRICAL SYSTEM SHOULD BE INSTALLED BY A QUALIFIED ELECTRICIAN. IF YOUR ALARM PLUGS INTO YOUR WALL SOCKET, MAKE SURE IT HAS A RESTRAINING DEVICE TO KEEP IT'S PLUG FROM BEING PULLED OUT. NEVER CONNECT AN ALARM TO A CIRCUIT THAT CAN BE TURNED OFF AT A WALL SWITCH. MOST ALARMS ARE BATTERY POWERED AND CAN BE INSTALLED WITH A SCREWDRIVER AND DRILL, AND BY FOLLOWING THE MANUFACTURER'S INSTRUCTIONS.

          SINCE SMOKE AND DEADLY GASES RISE, ALARMS SHOULD BE PLACED ON THE CEILING AT LEAST FOUR INCHES FROM THE NEAREST WALL, OR HIGH ON A WALL, FOUR TO TWELVE INCHES FROM THE CEILING. THIS FOUR INCH MINIMUM IS IMPORTANT TO KEEP ALARMS OUT OF POSSIBLE "DEAD AIR" SPACES, BECAUSE HOT AIR IS TURBULENT AND MAY BOUNCE SO MUCH IT MISSES SPOTS NEAR A SURFACE. INSTALLING ALARMS NEAR A WINDOW, DOOR OR FIREPLACE IS NOT RECOMMENDED BECAUSE DRAFTS COULD DETOUR SMOKE AWAY FROM THE ALARM. IN ROOMS WHERE THE CEILING HAS AN EXTREMELY HIGH POINT, SUCH AS VAULTED CEILINGS, MOUNT THE ALARM AT OR NEAR THE CEILING'S HIGHEST POINT.

          WHETHER YOUR ALARMS ARE HARD WIRED OR BATTERY OPERATED, NFPA RECOMMENDS TESTING THEM ONCE A MONTH TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE OPERATING. TESTING IS THE ONLY WAY TO ENSURE THEY ARE WORKING PROPERLY. TEST EACH ALARM BY PUSHING THE TEST BUTTON AND LISTENING FOR THE ALARM. IF YOU CAN'T REACH, STAND UNDER THE ALARM AND PUSH THE TEST BUTTON WITH A BROOM HANDLE.  

          IF YOUR SMOKE ALARMS ARE BATTERY OPERATED, REPLACE THEIR BATTERIES ACCORDING TO THE MANUFACTURER'S INSTRUCTIONS. THE MEMBERS OF WESTFIELD FMBA LOCAL # 30 RECOMMEND THAT YOU CHANGE THE BATTERIES IN YOUR SMOKE DETECTORS WHEN YOU CHANGE YOUR CLOCKS, TWICE A YEAR. MAKE SURE NO ONE DISABLES YOUR SMOKE ALARMS BY BORROWING BATTERIES FOR OTHER USES. EVERYONE YOU LIVE WITH SHOULD UNDERSTAND HOW CRITICAL IT IS TO HAVE WORKING SMOKE ALARMS.

          JUST AS YOU CLEAN YOUR HOME, YOUR SMOKE ALARMS NEED TO BE CLEANED ALSO. MAKE SURE YOU FOLLOW THE MANUFACTURER'S INSTRUCTIONS ABOUT CLEANING. COBWEBS AND DUST CAN USUALLY BE REMOVED WITH A VACUUM CLEANER ATTACHMENT. IF YOU ARE GOING TO BE DOING WORK NEARBY THAT COULD SEND DUST IN THE AIR, COVER THE ALARM WITH A SHIELD. ALSO, SHIELD THE ALARM IF YOU ARE PAINTING AROUND IT, AND NEVER PAINT ON IT. REMOVE THE SHIELD PROMPTLY AFTER WORK IS COMPLETED.

          REGULARLY CLEANING YOUR SMOKE ALARMS AND FOLLOWING THE MANUFACTURER'S INSTRUCTIONS MAY HELP STOP "NUISANCE" OR FALSE ALARMS. IF THIS DOESN'T STOP THEM, INSTALL A FRESH BATTERY IN THE ALARMS THAT KEEP ACTIVATING. EVALUATE WHERE YOUR ALARMS ARE PLACED IF THE PROBLEM STILL PERSISTS. COOKING VAPORS AND STEAM CAN SET OFF A SMOKE ALARM. IF THE ALARM IS NEAR THE KITCHEN OR BATHROOM, TRY MOVING IT FARTHER AWAY. IF NUISANCE ALARMS CONTINUE, INSTALL A NEW SMOKE ALARM.

          FIRE PROTECTION IN THE HOME MUST START WITH SMOKE ALARMS. THERE ARE MANY OTHER KINDS OF ALARMS WHICH MAY BE DESIGNED TO DETECT SUCH FACTORS AS HIGH TEMPERATURES, RAPID CHANGES IN TEMPERATURE AND CERTAIN GASES PRODUCED IN FIRES. HOWEVER, THESE ALARMS ARE NOT AS EFFECTIVE AS SMOKE ALARMS IN GIVING THE FIRST WARNING WHEN A FIRE BREAKS OUT. NFPA DOES NOT REQUIRE HEAT ALARMS IN HOMES, HOWEVER, THEY MAY BE USED FOR OPTIONAL EXTRA PROTECTION IN AREAS LIKE KITCHENS, ATTICS AND GARAGES, WHERE SMOKE ALARMS ARE SUSCEPTIBLE TO NUISANCE ALARMS.

          TESTS PERFORMED ON THE SPEED OF WARNING GIVEN BY SMOKE ALARMS AND HEAT ALARMS FOR MANY TYPES OF TYPICAL HOME FIRES SHOWED SMOKE ALARMS CONSISTENTLY GIVE FIRST WARNING, OFTEN BY ENOUGH OF A MARGIN TO MAKE A MAJOR DIFFERENCE IN YOUR CHANCES OF ESCAPING ALIVE. SMOKE AND DEADLY GASES SPREAD FARTHER AND FASTER THAN HEAT.

          CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, THE SMELL OF SMOKE MAY NOT WAKE A SLEEPING PERSON. INSTEAD, THE POISONOUS GASES AND SMOKE PRODUCED BY A FIRE CAN NUMB THE SENSES AND PUT ONE INTO A DEEPER SLEEP.

          A BATTERY OPERATED SMOKE ALARM FOR THE HOME RETAILS FOR LESS THAN $10. SMOKE ALARMS WITH EXTRA FEATURES CAN COST UP TO $25. BATTERIES COST $1 TO $2, DEPENDING ON THE BRAND. A SMOKE ALARM FOR A HARD WIRED SYSTEM COSTS $14 TO $18. SMOKE ALARMS FOR PEOPLE WITH HEARING IMPAIRMENTS COST APPROXIMATELY $100 EACH. IN 1994, HOME FIRES CAUSED $481,000 IN DAMAGE EVERY HOUR.

* SMOKE ALARM INFORMATION PROVIDED BY: NFPA