Stay safe with right smoke detector - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Stay safe with right smoke detector

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November 12, 2007

Albany --  As you head to bed tonight, how confident are you in your smoke detector? If you have one in your home and you check the batteries regularly, then you've already won half of the battle.

But you might not have the best kind of detector protecting you and your family.

Imagine if a fire happened, how quickly would you get any type of warning? Maybe not too long with one of these, you probably have a smoke detector with an ionization sensor. That responds best to fast flaming fires with little smoke. But, what about those slow burning fires with heavy smoke? A detector with a photoelectric sensor might work best.  

First responders at Owens Community College in Ohio put both detectors to the test.  They bring a chair into the burn building. Then they place a soldering iron in the cushions to set the chair on fire. This will give us a good example of a slow moving fire with heavy smoke.

The Ionization detector is probably the one you have at home. The Photoelectric detector is another type.

The fire is set. And eight minutes later, "A little bit of smoke coming up from the crack between the cushion there. You can actually see it right here around the buttons."

Furniture actually resists the spread of fire so it can take a while to get going. In the meantime, noxious gas builds up in the room. Twenty-one minutes after the fire started, we see results.  The Photoelectric detector is the first to go off. Remember, that's the one you probably do NOT have at home.

Smoke fills the room but still no alarm from the ionization detector. Flames build up, the chair is fully ignited. Twenty-nine minutes into the fire, the other one finally sounds. Eight whole minutes after the photoelectric detector went off, the ionization alarm starts to beep.

Eight  minutes might not seem like a lot to people but in a fire, that's huge.  The size of that fire will more than double, possibly even triple in that amount of time.

Both detectors are now ringing and the firefighters put out the blaze. We showed this experiment to Albany Fire Chief James Carswell. He was surprised. "Well actually I didn't know it would be eight minutes. I would've thought there would've been several minutes separation, eight minutes was kind of long," he said. 

 The message is clear. Chief Carswell says consider getting both detectors in your home. If you already have the ionization detector, it wont hurt to add a photoelectric one as well.

But the big thing is have one. Even though this demonstration showed eight minutes separating the two, obviously the worst case scenario is not having one at all and never waking up to the fire.

We priced both detectors at Lowe's. A basic Ionization detector is $9.96. A basic Photoelectric one is just $16.13. So firefighters say spending a few extra bucks could end up being a lifesaving decision.

  • Here's what CONSUMER REPORTS says you should do to help make any smoke alarm work effectively:

    • Install at least one of each type on each level. Good locations include the basement, central living areas, and inside bedrooms. (See illustration, below.)

    • For large homes, consider interconnecting alarms, which trigger other alarms even when one in a remote area senses smoke. Most are hardwired into your home's electrical or security system; look for battery backup to keep the alarm working during a power failure.

    • Put alarms near but not inside kitchens, garages, and bathrooms to prevent false alarms from cooking smoke, exhaust, and humidity.

    • Mount each alarm at least 4 inches from a corner and 4 inches from walls, but away from windows and heating vents.

    • Maintain them. Test alarms at least monthly using the Test button. Vacuum out dust and other debris. Replace batteries yearly. Also replace alarms every 10 years; check the date stamp on back. "

  • Read more at Consumer Reports

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