Editorial: Smoke detectors are a simple solution to saving lives

  • In Amherst, 94 Pondview Drive is scene ablaze in the early morning hours of Jan. 23. FILE PHOTO

Published: 1/30/2019 8:11:31 AM

The phrase “smoke alarms save lives” has been repeated so often that it’s easy to file in the “tell-us-something-we-don’t-know” category and move on.

But two times in the last week, the little detectors that make those annoying alarms have saved lives in Hampshire County — at least eight, to be exact. The most recent incident occurred late Friday night when alarms woke a family of six in Goshen with enough time — and only enough time, as half of the house was already in flames — to get out of their 164 Berkshire Trail West home with only their pajamas on.

And a week ago in Amherst, smoke detectors alerted a father and son to a fire in their home at 94 Pondview Drive. The two were able to jump out a window from the second floor, as both floors of the home were already in flames by the time they woke up.

“They’re very lucky,” Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren told the Gazette.

Lucky and wise. Lucky, yes, that the smoke detectors did what they are intended to do. And wise because the detectors were installed in the first place. All too often, the headlines for stories like these are much worse.

In Florence earlier this month, a 69-year-old man died in a fire caused by the improper disposal of smoking materials. Investigators said the home’s two smoke alarms lacked batteries and did not have carbon monoxide detectors.

Which begs the question: Why? Why does any homeowner or tenant take the risk of living with smoke alarms that either don’t work or aren’t installed? The answer likely varies from lack of awareness to forgetfulness, laziness, or, sadly, to finances.

Fire officials constantly encourage property owners to install and maintain smoke alarms — it’s the law, after all — and we’ve routinely encouraged people to do so in this space.

Nationally, fires kill 3,000 people each year in the United States. Almost three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or smoke alarms that weren’t working.

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, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

The association also notes that in fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate, more than two of every five of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries, and that dead batteries caused 25 percent of the smoke alarm failures.

Wherever you live, we encourage you to check the smoke and CO detectors without delay.

The Massachusetts Department of Fire Services offers many tips and guidance when it comes to smoke alarms and CO detectors. Here are a few:

■ Install the alarms on every level of your home, outside bedrooms, at the top of open stairs and at the base of cellar stairs.

CO alarms should be installed within 10 feet of bedroom doors.

■Maintain smoke alarms. Test them once a month. If the alarm uses regular batteries, change them at least once a year. A “chirping” sound indicates that it’s time to change the batteries. Newer CO alarms have a 10-year sealed battery that does not need changing.

■Smoke alarms must be replaced every 10 years. Alarms are labeled with their date of manufacture. If there is no label, they are older than 10 years and must be replaced.

CO alarms should be replaced every five to seven years, depending on the make and model. At 10 years, the entire device is replaced.

Winter is also a time when heating sources are a common cause of fires. According to the Department of Fire Services, space heaters should be kept at least 3 feet away from anything flammable, and disposing of ashes from wood, pellet and coal stoves in a metal container with a lid away from houses, garages and porches.

The department also advises homeowners to routinely maintain their heating system by having the furnace and chimney checked by professionals.

The town of Orange saw two fire fatalities last year due in part to a lack of working smoke and CO alarms, which led Fire Chief James Young to say, “This is a sad way to lose a loved one.”

Sad — and sadly, in many ca ses, preventable.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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