3 Things You Must Know Now—Before Your Smoke Alarm Goes Off

It’s midnight. You’re asleep. The smoke alarm in the hallway goes off. Here’s what you need to know—before this happens.

  1. Can you hear it? When you tested that alarm (you do push that “test” button at least twice a year, right?) you may have thought that annoying noise would wake up anyone. But then you were standing only an arm’s reach away. How about now, maybe several floors away? If you use a hearing assistance device during the day, can you still hear the alarm when you take it out at night? Ask someone in your household, or your next visitor, to help you find out – have them push the test button and check whether you can hear it in another room, without assistance.
  • Have more than one alarm if possible. One working smoke alarm on each floor is better, and one working smoke alarm inside every sleeping area is best. The National Fire Protection Association and the International Association of Fire Chiefs recommend installing both ionization and photoelectric alarms, or dual alarms that incorporate both technologies. Ionization smoke alarms respond best to flaming fires, and photoelectric to smoldering fires. And remember to test button on your smoke alarm regularly to make sure it’s still working, even if it’s hard-wired or uses long-life batteries. Nothing is forever.
  • Basic smoke alarms may be difficult to hear because of the high pitched noise that they emit. Consider an alternate type: Pre-recorded Voice Alarms use a recorded voice message alerts you to the fire instead of a high pitched noise. Since speech is somewhat lower pitched and easier to hear, these can be a useful option. Vibrate or Shaker Smoke Alarms use a vibrating device to shake a bed or chair to awaken and alert you of fire. Strobe Alarms use an extra bright strobe light to alert you of fire. Some strobe alarms also include a vibrator device. Learn more about choosing and installing smoke alarms.
  1. How are you going to get out? If you were asked that question in daylight when everything was fine, you’d probably say “I’d run out the door, duh.” But getting out of your bedroom when it’s dark can be very different than in the daytime. If you’re awakened by the alarm in the middle of the night, smoke may already be in your room, and you should stay low:
  • Roll out of bed and crawl to the door.
  • Feel the door with the BACK of your hand. If it’s hot, don’t open it. If possible place a towel under the door to block smoke, and go to the window.
  • If it’s not hot, carefully open it. If there’s smoke outside, don’t try to go through it. Smoke can overwhelm you before you get outside. Close the door and go to the window.
  1. Are the ways out clear of clutter, and well lit? Clutter can be health hazard, as you know if you’ve ever tripped on a toy, shoe, or other object that was left on the floor. Now imagine trying to escape your home in the dark with smoke alarm sounding. Keeping pathways clear and having nightlights, especially around stairs, helps everyone get out quickly and safely.
    • Having trouble getting your kids to pick up? Mikey Makes a Mess helps kids and parents learn together about the importance of putting things away.