Smoke Detectors Part 1

Our Problem

Whenever firefighters are dispatched to a residential fire, our system has failed. Fire codes, fire officials, fire prevention efforts and a lot of individual homeowners have failed. Although all fires are not preventable, traditional thinking has been directed at preventing them from starting. This is a good plan and has prevented many fires from beginning. However, history has shown that this isn’t good enough. Fires happen in all kinds of homes, big and small, to the rich and the poor. Reasons include, careless cooking, recalled appliances, electrical products of China, careless smoking, candles, children playing with matches, old wiring, and a million others.

Early smoke detection is fundamental to preventing the cause of the smoke to progress into a fire. Most fires occur when the residents are home. How many fire incidents have you seen or read about that have caused you to ask, how did the fire get that big and they were home? This is the first in a series of articles that hopefully will help readers understand the importance of smoke detectors. Most of us have upgraded our computer and phones. Could it be time to upgrade your detectors?

Wireless interconnected smoke detectors – new technology for older homes.


Smoke Detectors part 2

Early Smoke Detection is Essential

Early smoke detection is critical to surviving a residential fire. Many people who awake to the sound of the detector believe the noise has just begun. In fact, the smoke and fire have been present for some time and the smoke has finally reached the detector nearest their bed. Even if there are detectors in the basement and the garage, there is no chance of hearing them in a second floor bedroom during sleep. Different levels of sleep may affect your hearing ability. Deep sleep essentially eliminates hearing. You have shut down. Light sleep may find you partially awake. Some of us older folks don’t hear well even when we are awake.

For people who respect the role of smoke detectors by testing and changing batteries regularly, single station detectors have become obsolete. “Wireless” technology has come to smoke detectors. These are battery detectors which send and receive signals to and from each other. If one wireless detector is in your garage and one is in your bedroom, they both make noise if either detects smoke. You are now alert to the early presence of smoke. They are the equivalent of “hardwired” detectors without the costs associated with their installation. Expanding this concept to meet the National Fire Protection Association standard for detectors, a detector is required in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area (usually a hallway), each floor and the garage. Smoke does not penetrate doors. If you have a room with a door, it is strongly suggested that a detector be placed in the room. A large home will require more detectors than a smaller home. Interconnecting smoke alarms allows for faster notification of occupants in areas remote from where initial ignition occurs in the home.

If your detectors are not connected, your home is not protected.


Smoke detectors Part 3

Smoke always rises.

The heat in the smoke makes it rise until it is trapped by a ceiling. It then spreads out until it again becomes trapped by a wall or door. Without a place to go, it banks down until it reaches the floor. Some smoke will escape through the spaces around the door. The smoke will become denser and hotter with the hottest, thickest smoke at the ceiling and the coolest less dense smoke at the floor. If there is no door to trap the smoke it will continue to rise and spread out. A first floor fire will often be detected by the second floor hallway detector. Fire that is left to continue to generate smoke will accumulate smoke in the second floor hallway where it will become hotter and denser.

From this we learn that:

Smoke detectors must always be mounted on the ceiling where they can detect smoke the earliest. They should be mounted a minimum of 12” from any wall and not near a heating air vent.

If you are caught in a smoky condition, crawl under the smoke.

Although a first floor fire may subject occupants on the first floor to light smoke, any occupants on the second floor will soon become trapped by the heat, smoke and gases. Everyone must get out as soon as smoke is detected.

A basement stairs will act as a chimney for any smoke in the basement. A detector at the top of the stairs will sense smoke earliest for an entire open basement.


Smoke detectors Part 4


Myths have long been associated with home fires.

Myth #1 – Smoke will wake you up. It and the chemicals in the smoke, primarily Carbon Monoxide, will put you to sleep. Light breaths of smoke may displace oxygen in the blood, causing dizziness and bad decision making. Heavy doses of smoke can cause unconsciousness and potentially death.

Myth #2 – I have plenty of time to escape. Home escape times are reduced to three minutes from the time a fire starts. Modern homes contain a large quantity of synthetic furnishings which ignite and burn faster than natural materials such as wood and cotton. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conducted full scale fire tests and concluded that escape time in flaming fires can be as little as three minutes, as compared to 17 minutes in tests conducted in the 1970s.

Myth #3 – I have lived in my home you 50 years and I haven’t had a fire yet. Very few people anticipate having a fire in their home. We are reminded daily that fires occur in all kinds of homes at all times of the day and night. An example of the unexpected is lightning. A rapid discharge of extremely high energy can damage wiring, burn out appliances and sometimes, immediately start the home on fire. The unknown electrical damage may not present itself for day, months or years.

Always prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Don’t wait until it is too late. Install wireless smoke detectors.


Smoke detectors Part 5

Testing smoke detectors

There are two basic components to a smoke detector, the electrical power supply (a battery, 110Volts or both) and the ability of the detector to sense smoke. Pushing the test button only tests the power supply. It says the power (battery or 110 volts) is good. It is essential to have a working power supply, but equally essential is the detector’s ability to sense smoke. If your detectors operate when dinner is done (or a little over done) the smoke condition tests the complete detector. Good test!

Hardwired detectors don’t always work as they should. The sensing detector recognizes smoke and relays the signal to the other detectors to make noise. Unfortunately, the sensing detector fails to make noise and in some cases the receiving detectors don’t make noise either. Smoke detectors that recognize smoke and fail to make noise are worthless. They usually make noise when the test button is pushed leaving the person to believe their detectors are working properly.

Aerosol cans of smoke detector test smoke are manufactured by CRC Industries of Warminster and other companies. Canned smoke can be purchased at most electrical supply stores. Testing detectors with smoke is the only complete test.


Smoke detectors Part 6

Obsolete smoke detectors

By today’s standards, battery detectors that have no ability to send signals to other detectors are obsolete for two reasons.

#1 – If you can hear this type of detector that is how close the smoke is to your location. Example: If the detector outside your bedroom is making noise, the smoke is outside your bedroom and the cause of the smoke may be in the basement.

#2 – You may have them in remote areas of your home. But, because of distance, doors, TV’s, etc. you won’t hear them.

“Wireless” smoke detectors located throughout your home can sense smoke and relay the signal to the detector closest to your location. The smoke can be present in your basement and you will be made aware of its presence immediately. You may even have time to stop whatever is causing the smoke from developing into a fire.

We have all up-graded our phones, computers and electronic devices several times. The early warning provided by a “wireless” smoke detector system offers the opportunity to up-grade the fire safety of any home regardless of age. Don’t trust your safety to obsolete technology. If your detectors are not connected, your home is not protected!


Smoke detectors Part 7

Are Smoke Detectors Expensive?

Statistics show that 80% of residential fires are preventable and 20% are not. We can spend days talking about prevention. Actually, we have talked about prevention for more than 100 years. Prevention is still the way to go, but being prepared for the human mistake and the unpreventable fire is the wise precaution.

“Wireless” smoke detectors cost $38. each. They are powered by a 10-year battery and do not require any special skills to install. All the needed detectors do not have to be purchased at once. An additional detector can be added to expand the system as finances permit. An average home needs 7 detectors (bedrooms, each level, garage and basement). Is $266. an acceptable investment in your family’s fire safety for the next 10 years? Would it be an insignificant expense if you did have a fire? Will you sleep better knowing that you have enough detectors to relay the presence of smoke to your bedroom as soon as the smoke begins? Most insurance companies offer a 2 to 5% discount on fire insurance premiums for a home with a complete system.

Failure to invest in the new smoke detector technology can be very expensive. Don’t wait until it is too late.


Smoke detectors Part 8

Actual Incidents

A lady in Warwick Twp. was cooking dinner and watching TV. A fire had begun in a second floor bedroom from an overloaded outlet. There was no bedroom detector and the door was closed. The fire broke the window and the fire extended into the attic. Her TV flickered and she discovered the fire while investing. The room and attic were well involved in fire when she called 9-1-1.

A woman in Warminster was cleaning up the leaves in her back yard. A fire was developing in a bedroom when a hair dryer was left on a bed. No bedroom detector. The fire developed until she saw smoke coming from the eves. A significant fire destroyed the bedroom and caused heat, smoke and water damage to the home. Had the home had an interconnected smoke detector system, they would have made sufficient noise to get her attention the moment the smoke first began.

A lady in Doylestown was cooking dinner. Her neighbor called and asked if she was ok, “there is a lot of smoke coming from your garage”. No garage detector. A less than 5 month old car had caught fire in the garage. No fire hydrants in the area delayed extinguishment that destroyed the $800K home. Had the fire occurred at 6 AM instead of 6PM this family could have been lost too.

The consequences of these incidents, if the families had been asleep, could have been fatal. Interconnected “wireless” smoke detectors could have made them all non-events by alerting at the earliest presence of smoke. Unfortunately, these are a small sample of home fires that begin as smoke and go undetected when the occupants are home.


More Incidents:

Warwick Township

A home in the Township was destroyed when a faulty electrical control box in the basement caught fire during a power outage and spread through the home before anyone reported the fire. The master bedroom collapsed into the basement and the roof in this area of the home was in the basement too. Fortunately, the owner was not home when the fire began. He reported that there were no smoke detectors in the home. He was lucky he wasn’t home at the time of the early morning fire.

Warrington Township

Several adults smelled smoke and escaped from a noon time fire in their two story home with an attached two car garage. The fire began in an old refrigerator in the garage, spread to a car, consumed the garage and caused some damage to the home. There was no detector in the garage that could have provided an earlier warning. Fortunately, they were awake when the incident began, but the home suffered severe damage.

Morrisville Borough

A fire significantly damaged the second floor and the roof of a two story home as a result of a faulty chimney. Although some family members were home, they were not aware of smoke in the house until the fire was well developed. Smoke detectors in the bedrooms, connected to the other detectors may have provided an early warning.

Middletown Township

A husband and wife died in their home in the early evening when both were awake. There were no smoke detectors in the home to provide any waning of smoke in the house. The fire began in the basement. One person died on the first floor and the other was found on the second floor.

Northampton Township

Six members of a family are hospitalized after escaping from a rental unit when fire swept through it early Thursday. The cause of the fire, which was reported by passersby shortly after 1 a.m. A preliminary investigation found the fire started in the first-floor living room area of the two-story former in-law suite. A male adult jumped from a second-floor window while the female adult lowered the children out of the same window, before escaping herself.

Warminster Township

A late afternoon fire in an attached garage was discovered by the owner after he smelled smoke. Although the fire was small when he discovered it, it consumed the garage and some of the home before firefighters arrived and extinguished it. Had there been a detector in the garage that was connected to the other detectors in the home, he may have been able to prevent the smoking materials from developing into a fire. Fortunately, it didn’t happen at 4 AM. He would not have been able to smell the smoke when he was asleep in the far end of the home.

Richland Township

Residents who were sleeping on the first floor of their two-story home were rescued by firefighters. A passing motorist called 9-1-1 to report the early morning fire. Both residents were removed from the home and transported to the hospital for treatment. They were lucky. A few more minutes and they may have been beyond rescuing. Interconnected detectors may have alerted them of the first smoke condition on the second floor and set off all the detectors, including the first floor detector.