Change Your Clock, Change Your Batteries
Oct. 31, 2018
The risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms. So each spring and fall when you change your clocks for Daylight Saving Time, you’re reminded to change your smoke detector and carbon monoxide (CO) detector batteries. Daylight Saving Time this fall is Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018.
In my years as firefighter, I’ve seen many smoke alarm related issues that have, or could have led to homes being destroyed by fire. They include:
- Batteries are removed
- Lack of maintenance (dead batteries, dust accumulation)
- Detectors are damaged (especially common in rental properties)
- Detectors are outdated
- Detectors are mounted in ineffective location
Many CO and smoke detectors use 9-volt batteries for either its back-up or direct power source while some use a 10-year lithium battery. Smoke detectors that are electrically hardwired and interconnected contain a battery that provides backup power when electrical power is out or disconnected.
Electrically interconnected detectors are hard wired into your home’s electrical system and when one detector goes off, they all sound. If one in the basement is activated, everyone on all floors will be alerted. Therefore, these are the best option.
Detectors can be removed from the ceiling or wall by rotating the head counter-clockwise about a quarter turn. Electrically interconnected detectors have a short wiring harness with a quick connect fitting to connect and disconnect them from the home’s electrical wiring system.
You should replace a smoke detector every ten years. A date of manufacture sticker or imprint can typically be found on the mounting plate surface on the detector head.
Check the detector for dust inside the detector’s head. You often can’t see the build-up, but it’s there. Use a shop vacuum to blow it off by attaching the hose to the blower end of the vacuum.
Another common problem is that detectors are mounted in poor locations. A couple of bad spots are near bathrooms where there’s high moisture and in kitchens where the detector gets coated with grease. Grease accumulation will delay or ruin a detector, and high moisture attracts dust. Once the dust is on the detector sensor, high moisture will trigger the smoke detector to activate.
People often get frustrated with the detector going off when someone takes a hot shower or bath, and often remove the detector from its mount. The problem is the location, not the detector. Move it away from these areas and mount it as outlined in the manufacturer’s instruction manual.
Carbon monoxide detectors are getting more common. They present similar issues, but their mounting heights are often lower in the room, as most plug into 110-volt electrical outlets. Some are ceiling or wall mount, however. Keep these detectors clean and dust-free as well.
In one particularly memorable experience as a firefighter, a CO detector, no doubt, saved the lives of a family. I had an engine crew respond to a new, modern home with sounding CO detector. When they arrived they found dangerously high CO levels but had a difficult time finding the source.
Just inside the front door, the crew found the CO levels at 680 parts per million (the level should be 0, and above 80 you can start feeling sick). We searched the home in protective gear but couldn’t find any appliance that was generating the gas. We re-interviewed the occupants and learned they had cleaned out a wood fireplace in the previous 24 hours. They put the ashes in a metal pail that had a lid that was not secured. We located the ashes and found that they were smoldering and generating the CO. Had the occupants of the home gone to bed that night, they would have likely died from the CO levels. However, the CO detector saved their lives.
Smoke and CO detectors are the cheapest life insurance you will ever buy. I’ve seen detectors save lives numerous times. But I’ve also witnessed when the lack of detectors has cost lives. Please take a few minutes to change your batteries and make sure your smoke and CO detectors are in working order.
You can get more information on detectors on the United States Fire Administration’s website check your detector manufacturer’s web site.
Be Prepared. Be Protected.
Fire Safety Planning and Precautions
October 8th, 2018
Today’s home fires burn faster than ever. In a typical home fire, you may have as little as one to three minutes to escape safely from the time the smoke alarm sounds. It takes planning and practice and it’s important to devote time to educate yourself during Fire Prevention Week, in order to keep you and your family safe.
Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, which began Oct. 8, 1871, but did most of its damage on Oct. 9. More than 250 people were killed and the fire destroyed 17,400 structures. While the Great Chicago Fire was the best-known blaze to start during this stretch, it wasn’t the largest. The Peshtigo Fire, that also began Oct. 8, was the most devastating forest fire in American history. That fire roared through Northeastern Wisconsin burning down 16 towns and killing 1,152 people.
The fires changed the way firefighters thought about fire safety. And while prevention should always be on our minds, October is a good time to focus on fire safety, as it’s typically the start of the heating season for cooler regions in the U.S. and Canada. So it’s fitting that Fire Prevention Week is now used to educate about the importance of fire safety.
Please invest some time in creating a fire escape plan and performing these safety checks.
- Make sure you always have two ways out of each room. It’s extremely important for kids to know the exits. If their main access to the sleeping area is blocked, the back-up exit path will be needed. This is often through a window.
- If a bedroom is on an upper floor, you can get a portable emergency escape ladder. It hooks on a windowsill and drops to the ground. Even if it doesn’t touch the ground it often gets a child close enough to reduce injuries.
- Have a meeting place outside your home where your family will assemble in the event of a fire or emergency. Perform a head count to make sure everyone is accountable. If someone is missing, tell emergency responders where that person might be located.
- Install smoke detectors on each level and outside bedrooms. It’s best if they’re electrically interconnected with battery back-up. Batteries should be changed twice a year, at daylight savings time as a reference.
- Have heating appliances checked for peak efficiency.
- Install CO (carbon monoxide) detectors that have digital readouts.
- Make sure chimney and vent pipes are cleaned, unobstructed and aren’t corroded. Include checking vents from furnaces or water heaters. Animals and bugs can block vents.
- Make sure bedroom windows can be easily opened by children and adults.
- Auxiliary heating devices should be used with extreme caution. Keep combustible materials, like bedding, away from the heaters and be sure the “tip switch” is operable.
- Do not use grills or propane-fired heaters inside the home. Not only do they reduce oxygen (O2) in the room, but they off-gas carbon monoxide (CO2). As the O2 levels go down, the CO levels climb faster.
People often think fire strikes elsewhere. I can say that nearly every fire call I’ve been on, one thing people all say is “I never thought this would happen to me.” It can happen to you. Educate yourself, minimize the risk, and be ready.
Be Prepared. Be Protected.
Don't Be Oversold! - Bigger is Not Always Better
January 2nd, 2018
I walked into my local pharmacy the other day and was stopped cold when I saw a 30lb, high flow ABC extinguisher on the entrance wall. I thought to myself, “Must be a large storage area of flammables liquids here somewhere.” No such area. They sell a few propane tanks now and then, but that’s about it for that kind of flammables.
That extinguisher, in my opinion, looked too big for anyone to use effectively on a 3-dimsional pressurrized gas fire, so I asked an expert, Kim Nessel, retired Eau Claire Fire Dept Battalion Chief. Kim is also a certified Hazmat Instructor, and chief technical support for Rusoh Inc.
Kim says, “Picking the right size of extinguisher for the given environment is extremely important. Many people have the thought that bigger is always better, but in the case of choosing the right size fire extinguisher that decision has important factors that need consideration."
He says portable fire extinguishers are designed for certain types of hazards. "For instance a small, 2.5lb ABC unit is the correct size for your home, kitchen or car. You would not want a 10lb ABC unit for the same places." Kim says it would overpower your space, blasting burning debris everywhere and making breathing very difficult in a few short seconds.”
He also says the same applies for higher hazards, where you have class B stored flammable gases or liquids, or large amounts of class A flammables like paper or trash. "You need the correct size and type extinguisher to do the job.”
For the pharmacy in question, the code standard requires a 10lb or greater "high performance"
or "fast flow" ABC extinguisher rated at 20B or higher due to a LP (liquefied petroleum) gas exchange cage on site. Note: Fast flow describes an extinguisher with measured discharge equal to/greater than 1lb/second. The installed pharmacy extinguisher is 2X the rating required (40B vs. 20B) and 3X the volume required (30lbs vs. 10lbs), not to mention it weighs nearly 60 lbs!
Before you get caught in the up sell from a fire service sales person, know your hazard class and basic requirements. Contact your local fire station if you have questions. It may save you in upfront cost and ongoing maintenance fees. That 30lb unit retails for over $400, vs. $100 for the 10lb unit, plus you’ll pay more every year to service larger units throughout their lifetimes.
Be Prepared. Be Protected.