With the chill of fall in the air and the promise of colder weather on the way, the number of home fires will begin to rise. In fact, half of all home fires and more than half of home fire deaths occur from November through March. As we head into this high-risk time of year, your local firefighters want to remind you that you one of the best ways to keep your family safe is to have working smoke alarms on all levels of your home.

For more than 30 years, Energizer Batteries has partnered with the International Association of Fire Chiefs to help keep families safe by reminding people of the simple, life-saving habit of changing and testing the batteries in their smoke alarms when they change their clocks at the beginning and end of daylight saving time.

There are several reasons why you should be sure that you have working smoke alarms in your home this time of year. The colder months are actually a perfect storm of fire risk. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), cooking is the leading cause of winter home fires and claims nearly 550 lives each year. Each year home heating equipment is to blame for almost 60,000 home structure fires and responsible for nearly 500 deaths. The fast-approaching winter holidays will have families spending more time cooking to prepare holiday feasts and treats and finding ways to stay warm.

Smoke alarms that are properly installed and maintained with good, fresh batteries play a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries. If there is a fire in your home, smoke spreads fast and you need smoke alarms to give you time to get out.

According to the NFPA, 40% of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms, and 20% of deaths were in homes that did not have working smoke alarms. In fact, the death rate reported in home fires was more than twice as high in homes that did not have any working smoke alarms compared to the rate in homes with working smoke alarms.

The key to maximizing the amount of escape time for you and your loved ones is having working smoke alarms that are properly located throughout your home. Fire research has demonstrated that with today’s modern synthetic furnishings, fires can spread much more rapidly than in the past when more natural materials were used.

Your local firefighters recommend that smoke alarms be installed inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the living room near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations. Smoke alarms installed in the basement should be installed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs.

Since smoke rises, smoke alarms should be mounted high on walls or ceilings. To minimize false alarms when cooking, smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet from a cooking appliance. Smoke alarms cannot tell the difference between steam or smoke, so be sure to choose a location for your smoke alarm that is away from bathroom doors. This will prevent steam from hot showers from activating the alarm. Smoke alarms should also be installed away from windows and doors where drafts might interfere with their operation.

Installing the smoke alarms is only half the battle. Once installed, firefighters urge you to keep your smoke alarms in working condition. The NFPA reports that 71% of smoke alarms that failed to operate had missing, disconnected, or dead batteries. The results of a recent survey done by Kidde, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fire safety products, is even more alarming. Kidde reports that 60% of Americans still do not know that batteries should be changed every six months and, as a result, have left their alarms without a working battery. This information reinforces how important it is to take this time each year to check smoke alarms and to replace the batteries.

Firefighters recommend you test the batteries in your smoke alarms at least once a month using the test button. This is a great way to familiarize your family members with the sound of the smoke alarm so that they understand what to do when they hear it. Some smoke alarms have non-replaceable 10-year batteries that are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. Smoke alarms with any other type of battery need a new battery at least once a year. No matter what kind of alarm you have, if it chirps or makes intermittent short beeps, it is warning you that the battery is low and it needs to be replaced.

Modern technology has our smart phones and devices changing clocks without our help. The safety of your families depends on this simple life-saving habit. Please take the time this weekend to change your batteries in your smoke alarms. Working smoke alarms are crucial to your life safety. Something as simple as a new battery may save your life. You can learn more about which smoke alarms are best for you and your home at www.safety.com.

This column was written by Jane Perkins, Fire Safety Specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and Captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at askafirefighter@yahoo.com.

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