Fire Safety Tips

Smoke alarms are a Rome, NY success story.

I cringe every time I hear this story: The family was making dinner when cooking fumes set off the smoke alarms. Annoyed and trying to get the evening’s dinner going, someone hurriedly pulled out the batteries or disconnected the wires. Ah, peace and quiet at last, and a pleasant family dinner. But then they forgot about the disconnected alarms. Now what?

As chief of the Rome, New York Fire Department, this scenario is the major reason why smoke alarms are not working in one of every five households here and across the country. And a disabled smoke alarm is a prescription for disaster. When fire strikes, we may have only moments to get out safely. Without working smoke alarms to signal a fire, especially late at night, those are moments we may not have.

If you are one of the people who thinks you will wake up to the smell of smoke if a fire starts, you’re wrong. The toxic smoke is more likely to put you into a deeper sleep. Late at night, the loud sound of a working smoke alarm is the only thing that can give you time to escape when fire strikes. And all kinds of fires can strike when you’re asleep and not able to keep an eye on things – a space heater, a pan on the stove, a discarded cigarette or lit candles.

The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week held October 9-15, says that the majority of fatal home fires occur at night, when we’re sleeping. To prevent these needless deaths, NFPA, the Rome Fire Department and the fire services across the United States and Canada are using Fire Prevention Week to drive home a very important point: Working smoke alarms are absolutely essential in every home, including yours.

Although 96 percent of American households have at least one smoke alarm, NFPA found that roughly half of the home fire deaths occur in that tiny share of homes with no alarms. And, NFPA says that about one fifth of all smoke alarms aren’t working – mostly due to dead or missing batteries. These are problems we can overcome, starting here in Rome, NY.

Just having smoke alarms cuts your chances of dying in a home fire nearly in half. Plan a home fire escape drill and you cut your chances even more. Practice good fire prevention and you do even better.

Here’s an important fact to remember: Seventy percent of all home fire fatalities occur in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

Working smoke alarms save lives and they can save yours. So what’s your story? Right now, look around your home and see if you have working smoke alarms. I’ve seen too much tragedy over my 37–year career in the fire service, and I don’t want the next grieving family to be yours. Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself from deadly fire with the help of home smoke alarms:

  • Install smoke alarms on every level.
  • Place alarms outside each sleeping area.
  • Replace batteries every year, including back-up batteries in electrical alarms; if alarms chirp, replace batteries immediately.
  • Test alarms at least once a month.
  • Install new alarms when the devices are 10 years old.

Never disconnect a smoke alarm or remove a battery in response to nuisance alarms. If steam from the bathroom or cooking fumes causes the smoke alarm to signal, fan the air near the alarm until the signal stops. Later, if you can relocate a smoke alarm farther away from the kitchen and bath, you may be able to prevent future nuisance alarms. Try dusting or vacuuming the alarm, or if it is an older unit consider replacing it.

The most important thing to remember is that you need working smoke alarms. It’s just too dangerous to be without them.

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