Texas Wildfires and Smoke Alarms

Bastrop Fire September 6, 2011

Bastrop Fire Map courtesy of

The media coverage of the wildfires raging through Texas cannot emphasize enough the importance of being prepared for housefires and blazes. I spoke with a customer on Saturday who called about his proximity to the fires in Texas and the lack of water as a resource because of the drought. We are mindful of those who are suffering as a result of such fires.

As of today (09/06/11), thousands of people have been evacuated and reports of over 1,000 houses have been lost due to fire.

Check out this video which you can see on YouTube:

Today's post includes life-saving and surprisingly simply information about residential smoke alarms. NOTICE- Smoke alarms and detectors are NOT exact synonyms. The International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) enlightens us perfectly:

“Smoke alarms are the devices typically installed in residential occupancies. These devices combine a smoke detector with a local notification appliance [smoke alarm]. When activated, smoke alarms emit an audible alarm to notify occupants of the presence of smoke.

Smoke detectors differ from smoke alarms in that they do not include a local notification appliance…” Fire Detection and Suppression Systems, 4th. edition, p.25

Here is some more great and simple information which is calculated to save lives as well as property:

Why should I have a working smoke alarm?

A properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the only thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether you’re awake or asleep, a working smoke alarm is constantly on alert, scanning the air for fire and smoke.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2003-2006, more than 66 percent of home fire deaths occurred in homes without a working smoke alarm. A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly home fire.

What types of smoke alarms are available?

There are many different brands of smoke alarms available on the market, but they fall under two basic types: ionization and photoelectric.

It cannot be stated definitively that one is better than the other in every fire situation that could arise in a residence. Because both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms are better at detecting distinctly different, yet potentially fatal fires, and because no one can predict what type of fire might start in a home, the USFA recommends that every residence and place where people sleep be equipped with:

  • Both ionization AND photoelectric smoke alarms, OR
  • dual sensor smoke alarms, which contain both ionization and photoelectric smoke sensors

In addition to the basic types of alarms, there are alarms made to meet the needs of people with hearing disabilities. These alarms may use strobe lights that flash and/or vibrate to assist in alerting those who are unable to hear standard smoke alarms when they sound.

What powers a smoke alarm?

Smoke alarms are powered by battery or they are hardwired into the home’s electrical system. If the smoke alarm is powered by battery, it runs on either a disposable 9-volt battery or a non-replaceable 10-year lithium (“long-life”) battery. A backup battery is usually present on hardwired alarms and may need to be replaced.

These batteries must be tested on a regular basis and, in most cases, should be replaced at least once each year (except for lithium batteries). See the Smoke Alarm Maintenance section for more information.

Are smoke alarms expensive?

Smoke alarms are not expensive and are worth the lives they can help save. Ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms cost between $6 and $20. Dual sensor smoke alarms cost between $24 and $40.

Some fire departments offer reduced price, or even free, smoke alarms. Contact your local fire department’s non-emergency phone number for more information.

Install smoke alarms in key areas of your home

Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement. Many fatal fires begin late at night or early in the morning, so the U.S. Fire Administration recommends installing smoke alarms both inside and outside of sleeping areas.

Since smoke and many deadly gases rise, installing your smoke alarms at the proper level will provide you with the earliest warning possible. Always follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions.

Some fire departments will install battery-operated smoke alarms in your home at no cost. Contact your local fire department’s non-emergency phone number for more information.

Hardwired smoke alarms should be installed by a qualified electrician.

Smoke alarm maintenance

Is your smoke alarm still working? Smoke alarms must be maintained! A smoke alarm with a dead or missing battery is the same as having no smoke alarm at all.

A smoke alarm only works when it is properly installed and maintained. Depending on how your smoke alarm is powered (9-volt, 10-year lithium, or hardwired), you’ll have to maintain it according to manufacturer’s instructions. General guidelines for smoke alarm maintenance:

Smoke alarm powered by a 9-volt battery

  • Test the alarm monthly.
  • Replace the batteries at least once per year.
  • The entire smoke alarm unit should be replaced every 8-10 years.

Smoke alarm powered by a 10-year lithium (or “long life”) battery

  • Test the alarm monthly.
  • Since you cannot (and should not) replace the lithium battery, the entire smoke alarm unit should be replaced according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Smoke alarm that is hardwired into the home’s electrical system

  • Test the alarm monthly.
  • The backup battery should be replaced at least once per year.
  • The entire smoke alarm unit should be replaced every 8-10 years.

Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking

A smoke alarm is just doing its job when it sounds while you’re cooking or taking a shower with lots of steam.

  • If a smoke alarm sounds while you’re cooking or taking a shower with lots of steam, do not remove the battery. You should:
  • Open a window or door and press the “hush” button,
  • Wave a towel at the alarm to clear the air, or
  • Move the entire alarm several feet away from the location.

Disabling a smoke alarm or removing the battery can be a deadly mistake.

State-by-State Residential Smoke Alarm Requirements

The USFA compiled state-by-state residential guidelines for smoke alarms. Families can find life-saving fire safety tips required or suggested by their very own state. The guidelines include instructions on the installation and maintenance of smoke alarms. The tips will help families do their part to protect themselves and the firefighters who protect their lives!

The “State-by-State Residential Smoke Alarm Requirements” is available for download from the Campaign Materials page and is also available on the free Toolkit disc. (English only)

Source: U.S. Fire Administration Website-Learn About Smoke Alarms


-The Berkey Guy

4 Responses to Texas Wildfires and Smoke Alarms

  1. Bonnie September 6, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    I seriously, suggest the people around there get a Shaman to dance in the rain. At this point, you’ve got NOTHING to lose.

  2. John Dubyna September 6, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    Your article pertaining to smoke detection is a great service to the public, and is valuable as well as educational for the residential homeowner.

    Although the ‘Fire Detection and Suppression Systems, 4th, edition, p.25’ from The International Fire Service Training Association (FSTA) from which you reference describes the ‘smoke alarm’ as having a local notification appliance, and a ‘smoke detector’ as not having one, this paragraph fails to further add that single or multiple smoke detectors are installed in a system which not only have local notification appliances, but in addition, have the ability to notify Fire Fighters of an existing smoke condition for which an emergency response is required.

    It not only has a rechargeable standby battery in case of power outage, but is fully supervised to alert the homeowner, neighbors, or relatives of faulty smoke detectors, or low voltage in the standby battery. Yearly changing of batteries is removed from your ‘to-do’ list. The standby rechargeable battery lasts for over 6 years. The system is always ‘on’ and working.

    With a ‘smoke detection system’ installed in a home there is much less chance of a homeowner removing a smoke detector without the proper authorities being notified.

    It is a given that ‘smoke alarms’ save lives, but one must acknowledge and agree that ‘smoke detectors’ save not only lives but property as well. Given the choice it would be prudent to have, at the very least, smoke alarms installed, and at the very best, have installed a supervised, central station monitored, smoke detection system.

    • admin September 8, 2011 at 10:50 am #

      Great comment John. I agree that there is definitely much more information that could be included. In the interest of time and to not overwhelm with information, we strive to keep it simple. You might consider writing a guest blog post for us in your area of expertise!

      -The Berkey Guy

      • John Dubyna September 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

        Thank you for extending the offer. It would be my pleasure. I would also encourage readers to post questions if they are considering installing a ‘smoke alarm’ or ‘smoke detection system’ in their homes or businesses. All questions will be answered.

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