With less time to escape home fires, Butler County officials stress smoke detectors more than ever

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Middletown division of fire distributes smoke detectors through a grant from Middletown Kiwanis club.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Fire officials say the deaths of five children — ranging in age from 8 months to 7 years — this month in a Pennsylvania day care center may have been avoided if the center had more working smoke detectors.

Erie Fire Chief Guy Santone told a news conference after the fire that state officials who inspect home day care centers do not check for smoke detectors. City authorities and state legislators there are working on legislation that would make home day care centers register with the city, so it can deploy inspectors.

Smoke detectors offer occupants early indication of a fire, said Hamilton Deputy Fire Chief Joe Stamper. Over the past few decades the amount of time occupants have to escape a fire has greatly decreased, he said.

Due to changes in home construction and the types of furniture and contents in homes today, fire spreads much quicker than in years past, he said. Thirty years ago, people had 15 to 17 minutes to escape a house fire, Stamper said. Today, people have about three to five minutes, he said.

In Ohio, every apartment or rental property must have a smoke alarm installed in the immediate vicinity outside of all sleeping rooms and inside each sleeping room. Alarm signaling devices must be clearly audible in all bedrooms within the unit when all internal doors are closed. Outside of the apartment units, property owners are required to have alarms installed in or near the return air stream for each floor.

If the apartment does not have central return air systems, alarms need to be installed on each floor on the corridor or lobby side and within five feet of all stairway and elevator doors. If the apartment complex has fire walls and fire doors, smoke alarms must also be placed on each side of, and within 15 feet of, the fire doors.

Ohio also requires the smoke alarms to be interconnected within each unit and to have the primary power for smoke alarms to be from the building wiring with a battery backup.

Middletown Fire Capt. Jon Harvey said “it’s frustrating” when firefighters arrive on the scene, and later determine the structure didn’t have smoke detectors or the smoke detectors were not functioning. He said smoke detectors can save lives and also reduce the amount of damage done to the structure.

He said the newer-model smoke detectors alert residents earlier when the fire is in its “infancy stage.”

He recommended having separate smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors so there’s “no confusion” whether there’s a fire or high CO.

While the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that 94 percent of U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm, 50 percent of the home fire deaths occur in the 6 percent of homes with no smoke alarms. Homes with smoke alarms typically have a death rate that is 40-50 percent less than the rate for homes without alarms, according to the NFPA.

The association also recommended practicing home fire drills to be certain everyone is familiar with the smoke alarm signal and determine if there are any obstacles to a quick and safe evacuation.

Make sure everyone in your home can hear and recognize the sound of the alarm and knows how to react immediately, according to the association. The NFPA recommends that people with hearing impairments install smoke alarms with louder alarm signals and/or strobe lights to alert them to a fire.

Install at least one smoke alarm on every floor of your home (including the basement) and outside each sleeping area. If you sleep with the door closed, NFPA recommends installing smoke alarms inside the room. In new homes, smoke alarms are required in all sleeping rooms, according to the NFPA.

Why do smoke alarms fail? Most often because of missing, dead or disconnected batteries, according to the NFPA. The association said home owners should test smoke alarms at least once a month by using the alarm’s “test button” or an approved smoke substitute.

Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms once a year, or as soon as the alarm “chirps,” warning that the battery is low. Schedule battery replacements for the same days you change your clock during Daylight Savings Time in the spring and fall.

Facts and figures about smoke alarms

In 2012-2016, smoke alarms sounded in 53 percent of the home fires reported to U.S. fire departments.

Almost 60 percent of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (40 percent) or no working smoke alarms (17 percent).

No smoke alarms were present in two out of every five (40 percent) home fire deaths.

The death rate per 1,000 reported home fires was more than twice as high in homes that did not have any working smoke alarms compared to the rate in homes with working smoke alarms (12.3 deaths vs. 5.7 deaths per 1,000 fires).

In fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate, more than two of every five (43 percnt) of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries.

Dead batteries caused 25 percent of the smoke alarm failures.

Source: National Fire Protection Association

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