You still have to provide other pieces of the safety puzzle.
Fire departments and injury prevention organizations like Prevention 1st are celebrating the upcoming implementation of New York State’s new smoke alarm requirements. As of April 1, all smoke alarms sold in New York must have a 10-year, sealed, non-removable battery, which will undoubtedly prevent a significant number of fire deaths and serious injuries.
While most fires happen during the day, most fatal fires occur at night. Having even one working smoke alarm in your home reduces the chance of dying in a fire by more than half. It is difficult to find a more effective, accessible and affordable prevention tool, which is why most states require them in the first place. Yet people still die in fires on a regular basis. Why?
Missing or dead batteries! Well-meaning people, annoyed by the sound of a dying battery, or by one that is doing its job around a smoky kitchen or steamy bathroom, take out the battery. So do people who are in immediate “need” of a battery for a remote control or other device. Regardless of reason, most people have every intention of replacing that battery, but just don’t get around to it, with sometimes tragic consequences.
Ten-year smoke alarms, with long-life batteries that are sealed into the unit, will make a big difference in improving safety. But there are a few things New Yorkers need to know before they install their new ones and forget about them for a decade.
Test your smoke alarm regularly. Long-life batteries are just that – but “long life” may not be ten years. Batteries can and do fail, so continue to test them once a month.
Keep it free of dirt and dust. Alarms are sensitive and finely tuned; like any appliance, they work better when clean! Use a vacuum hose or duster to remove damaging dirt.
Be ready to replace it before ten years is up. A 2008 CDC-commissioned study found that after ten years, 78% of smoke alarms with lithium batteries were that were installed through a public outreach program were still operational. That leaves 22% that were not. Keep testing!
Don’t forget the other pieces of the safety puzzle. The time to figure out who is helping children or elderly relatives escape from fire is not the middle of the night with alarms going off and smoke filling your home. Develop an exit plan with your family and practice it at least twice a year!
The new smoke alarms, while slightly more expensive, will be well worth the cost in lives saved and injuries prevented. But they are not a cure-all, and taking a few additional steps will help make your home and your family that much safer.
This article also appeared as an op-ed piece by Prevention 1st president Molly Clifford in the March 23,2019 issue of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.